Drought tolerance

Remember last summer when all we did was complain about the rain? Do you really, because this summer we’re complaining about how dry it is.

A long time ago when I used to do a bit of contract writing/editing work for the council the message was to plant drought-tolerant gardens and mulch, mulch, mulch to save the municipal water supply. Since then smart city dwellers have put in rain-water tanks to see them through the worst of the summer, thoughtful gardeners know to mulch, water meters have been introduced and give pause for thought before the hose goes on, and “spiky, stony” gardens have gone out of fashion.

Putting aside garden trends and council imperatives, there are some  remarkable plants that will do well through the hot, dry months – and plenty of advice on positive action to take is available on the net.

Pachystegia insignis is a great drought-tolerant native, read more about it at the Tawapou Coastal Natives website, a Northland business with an informative website. Note the gorgeous leaves that are stiff and tough.


Pachystegia insignis, the Marlborough rock daisy, is not only tolerant of drought conditions, but also salt-laden winds. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One topic that doesn’t get a lot of play is how unsustainable lawn is – water-hungry (but with high rates of evaporation), energy-hungry, spray-hungry and noise polluters (especially on a Sunday morning!). Would you be less happy with less lawn?

Plectranthus ornatus flowers in my garden for months over the hottest part of the year. It forms a spreading mat so can be used as a groundcover or in a rockery (and doesn’t mind being cut back). It covers itself in sky-blue flowers that are attractive to bees and butterflies and can be easily grown from cuttings.


Plectranthus ornatus (dog bane). Photo: Sandra Simpson

One of my cuttings ended up at the butterfly garden at Te Puna Quarry Park (always on the lookout for floriferous plants that are a bit tough) and volunteer Shona Purves says it has a bit of a funny odour (hence the common name of dog bane, supposedly it keeps cats and dogs away) if you happen to stand on it.

The Fragrant Garden Nursery in Feilding offers it for sale, along with a number of other Plectranthus and the show garden is home to the North Island Plectranthus collection.

And here’s a useful list of fire-resistant plants (mostly trees) – natives and exotics.


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