GROWING CONCERNS: Is your garden X-rated?

In the July 7 issue we discussed gardening successfully in Whidbey Island’s Yin-Yang climate of dry summers and soggy winters. Now we’ll spotlight some plants that can take our wet, windy winters and parched, windy summers and still look great. I’m going to use the “xeriscape” bed here at Flying Frog Gardens as an example, but I welcome other gardeners to share their success stories, as well.

First, let’s talk about the “X” word: xeriscape. It’s coined from xeros, the Greek word for dry, and it simply means using plants selected for water efficiency to create an attractive landscape. A xeriscaped garden can use less than half the water of a traditional one. Once established, it should require less maintenance than turf-centered gardens. This doesn’t mean giving up your lawn, nor does it imply that your yard will be landscaped with truckloads of rocks, some driftwood, and a juniper or two. These types of landscape can be very attractive, but this article is directed toward the gardener who enjoys plunging a trowel into sweet-smelling soil on a regular basis, while saving money on the water bill.

When I began working my 20-foot-long xeriscape bed it contained nothing but wallflower, a good choice for its west-facing location. It gets full afternoon sun and is regularly slammed with strong wind and rain direct from the strait. Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri) is a colorful, fragrant, self-seeding spring-flowering perennial that’s evergreen in this area. It stands up well to wind and weather and requires little care, but 20 feet of it was more than I wanted. Besides, the snails and slugs just love wallflower!

I left stands of it on either side of the bed and relegated the rest to the compost pile. I then planted several compact lavenders (Lavandula augustifolia “Munstead”), interspersed with ornamental grasses, including the mounding “Elijah Blue” fescue, Mexican feather grass, and leather leaf sedge (in a pot sunk into the soil to prevent it from spreading). There’s also a “Tuscan Blue” rosemary, variegated sedum “Autumn Joy,” and the sprawling purple sedum “Bertram Anderson,” as well as lavender thyme softening the rock border.

Several other sedums and tricolor Hebe add to the mix. A big “Plum Pudding” heuchera stands out against the soft, fuzzy leaves of white artemesia. Nearby is one of my favorite annuals, the blue-green Cerinthe major, with purple bracts enveloping violet and magenta flower tubes. Five-foot tall chocolate-purple Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) is a colorful background for this mix of mostly greens, purples, lavenders and blues.

Last year I seeded California poppy to add zing, and they reseeded this year. I cut them back once or twice to keep them from flopping over the pathway, and a little neon orange goes a long way.

I water this bed just once a week, even during hot spells, and I think it may be the most attractive part of the garden. It’s not only visually appealing, but fragrant, and the grasses add grace and motion. Bees and butterflies love it and slugs don’t seem to bother anything except the remaining wallflower. Best of all, it’s low-maintenance. The plants grow so thickly that there’s no room for weeds. In early spring I clip the dead lavender blossoms, and that’s about it.

Although it was unintentional on my part, this bed has a distinct Mediterranean feel to it. Interesting, since it’s thought that xeriscaping originated in that part of the world.

If your garden isn’t rated X, give it a try; parental discretion not required.

E-mail Island County Master Gardener Mariana Graham at

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