In summer’s hot, dry weather, plants accustomed to wetter and cooler climates tend to lose their lustre and droop, even if we throw way too much water at them.
The alternatives can be just as beautiful, colourful and interesting, yet fare much better in the Okanagan Valley’s near-desert climate.
Xeriscape is gardening, or landscaping, with the natural conditions you live in, rather than fighting against them. It involves the use of drought-tolerant plants here in the dry Okanagan, so is a great way to conserve water. The Okanagan’s second largest use of water is on outdoor landscapes, with agriculture/food production at the top of that list.
As executive-director of the Okanagan Xeriscape Association, I suggest you consider trading in your water-sucking cedars for yew, privet, Oregon grape, mock orange or lilacs, and toss out that stressed hybrid tea rose and plant drought-tolerant perennials such as purple, red or white echinacea, yellow rudbeckia, blue Russian sage and/or red stonecrop.
For best results, plan ahead so your garden is a kaleidoscope of colour from spring through fall, and remember foliage colour counts as well as flowers. Shape is important in the garden as well, and remember that shorter perennials or annuals show up better in front of taller ones.
Don’t try to re-plant all of your landscape at one time. Instead, pick a sunny irrigation zone with which to begin your transformation. Then you can reduce the amount of water for that zone in the coming year or two as new plants become established.
Fall is a good time of year to introduce new plants to the garden because they then have a chance to become more established during cooler weather and by spring, they’re ready to take off and produce a show for the summer.
Remember too, bulbs are perfect drought-tolerant patches of colour for the spring garden, but many need to be planted in the fall. Their foliage will die down by the heat of summer, and they won’t need water at that time of year.
One exception is the autumn crocus, which provides a surprise patch of pretty colour when many other flowers are wrapping up their show for the season.
That long blue lake along the bottom of the Okanagan Valley is deceptive, suggesting there’s plenty of water to withstand drought in the Okanagan, but in fact, if we draw it down too far, it can’t recover each winter and spring.
We rely on spring snowmelt to be stored in upland reservoirs around the valley, where we can control flows for summer needs on the landscapes and farmland in the valley below. Mining the big lake for water is not an option.
For examples of landscapes and plants which can happily withstand this valley’s dry summer weather, visit the Xeriscape Demonstration Garden, created by the Okanagan Xeriscape Association, the UnH2O Garden, in front of the H2O Aquatic Centre on Gordon Drive in Kelowna or, visit the new West Kelowna Xeriscape Spirit Square Garden, behind the Dairy Queen in downtown Westbank.
Sigrie Kendrick is a Master Gardener and executive-director of the Okanagan Xeriscape Association. Connect with her at [email protected] or call 778-363-8360. Visit the website at: www.okanaganxeriscape.org
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.