Water saving techniques

Back to the water saving agenda. This week’s fun time is to be spent mainly discussing an alluring display of plants. They are all frost hardy! Important I think for those of you in the mountains, and all enjoy the sunshine to a greater or lesser extent. Some, as described when you read the list, want to be ignored, baked, and abused. A small number will benefit from the dappled shade created by the trees on the list and all have minimum water requirements, once established.


A word or two about establishing a plant. Simply put as usual. Protect it, Water it. Stake it and care for it.


When you buy it, transport it home with a little care. Don’t, in any circumstance put a deciduous tree or bush sticking up out of the sun roof. You will kill the plant. Guaranteed. It may not happen straight away, but it will die and you will blame the nursery. Wind burn, as I think I discussed before is the most damaging thing to plants. When you get it home, water it well. Prepare the hole and water that. Leave plant attending in water for an hour or so and plant in the evening. Add a little water retaining gel if you can get it. If it is big, stake it, a lot or a little depends what you need. Water it the next day and then every other day or so for a while. Reduce over time. Nursery stock gets watered everyday and the plant has to get out of the habit.


This list of plants is not definitive, nor particularly extensive, but it is quite a good list none the less. Using some or all of these plants to create your backbone planting will allow you to develop your garden at length, picking up the specialised plants to fit in with your structural planting later, thus creating cohesion and form. Marvellous!


Mostly, the entire species carries the same characteristic, but its worth looking them up if you don’t know them, as some plant families are so huge that they change requirements and frost tolerance quite dramatically.


Some may be difficult to find at the moment. It is entering high summer and availability becomes harder. However, your garden is a long-term project that can be added to at length. I have not included anything form previous lists, you can get those via my email if you wish. There is some confusion in the taxonomy between Campsis, Tecoma and Bignonia, but I think I am right about the varieties


Abutilon palmeri

An ideal plant for hard baked areas with very little water requirements. Its soft leaves may drop in extremes of heat but will re-grow. Beautiful multi flowering habit on dense grey-green foliage. Drench occasionally. Needs good drainage. Also Abutilon vitifolium and A. suntense hybrids


Acacia pendulata

A small and densely crowned tree up to about 8 meters if you let it. It provides good shade for less tolerant species and enjoys the sunshine. Rather nice narrow silver grey leaves with yellow flowers in early spring Acacia farnessii is slightly smaller and quite thorny so don’t put it next to a path.


Agave albomarginata

Agaves are wonderful architectural plants. Loads of varieties, some more vicious than others. As the name suggests, this variety has a white edged leaf. Prefers good drainage and should produce a huge flowering stem. If there is no water at all, this will survive with a drenching every month or so. There are many, many varieties but Agave sislana is frost hardy to 4 or 5 degrees and A.yuccifolia will survive to about -10.


Aloe petricolor

hardy down to about minus five, a bit smaller with bluish leaves. As an example, all succulents will withstand several weeks without a drop of water, but will need drenching atv somepoint. Good flower spikes and strong colours when in bloom. (Illustrated, A. ferox)


Artimisia ‘Powys Castle’

Artimisia are wonderful for their feathery silver foliage. Prefers a light soil and good drainage, but will tolerate fairly poor conditions. As with all these plants, a low water requirement once established. Artemisia schmidtiana is not as heat tolerant but will but fine in an ordinary garden setting. For a smaller plant, try ‘Silver Mound’


Bougainvillea glabra.

Not much more can be said about the Bougies than so many other people have written. Fantastic colour and little need for water. Glabra is a traditional red variety. There are many colours to choose from, but the red and purples are slightly tougher, having generally not been forced so hard in the nursery. The native purple is more or less evergreen. Very low temperatures will kill the branches, but the roots will survive to minus 5, and the top will re-grow. ‘Crimson Glow’, ‘Raspberry Ice’ and ‘Superstition Gold’ are also quite nice


Brachychiton populensis

This evergreen tree is hardy to about minus 6 and has wonderful clusters of cream/pink blooms. Provides good shade, is very happy in full sun, and is a little unusual. A word of caution about the fruit though. The prickles can get in your skin, but there is always a price for beauty.


Brahea edulis

A little more needy than some, Brahea needs a small amount of regular water, but as it is particularly friendly and un spiky I thought it worth a mention. Grey-green arching habit up to about 10 meters if your lucky. Its described as ‘self cleaning’ so it should look after itself and not need trimming. Other Brahea include Barbate and B. brandegeii as described in previous articles. Nice, big and blue-grey arching habits. Excellent specimen trees.


Callistemon citrinus

An evergreen shrub, which may grow to a small tree if you let it. Comes with standard bottlebrush flowers but has added interest in the new growth, which is golden or copper coloured. Variety ‘splendens is hardy to minus 10 and all tolerate full sun, with low but regular water.

Callistemon sieberi will tolerate lower temperatures as well.


Calylophus hartwegii

Here is a plant that keeps changing its name, however it has beautiful flowers of orange and gold and is worth tracking down if you can. Its small but beautifully formed and you need it for filling in some hot gaps


Campsis radicans.

Quite common but much tougher than its look-alike, Bignonia, although it is from the same family. Needs regular water but in can tolerate droughts. God drainage required for best results and it doesn’t mind you taking out your frustrations at pruning time.


Cassia nemophyla

Not immediately attractive, but improves with age. God heat tolerance and is slightly scented. Happy with that burning heat you can get of glass from the conservatory or pool cover. Greyish-green leaves and quite fast growing and, once established hardly needs any water at all. As long as your beds were prepared properly, that is. Cassia afrofistula will also tolerate low temperatures. C. phyllodinea has a slightly more silver leaf and a deep golden flower


Chamerops humilis

Absolutely as tough as old boots. Cant kill it!


Convolvulus cnoreum

Grey green foliage with a white flower. Native to southern Europe anyway, so not a surprise it grows well. Good back bone planting for the border and useful in pots too. Hardy and very drought tolerant.


Cycas revoluta

Much tougher than I was ever lead to believe. They will tolerate 10 degrees of frost and don’t need too much water. Not very happy in the wind and the leaves don’t recover from damage, so threat them with care. Better as under planting in dappled shade, although they are on every roundabout in Javea in the glaring heat!


Dalea bicolour

These are lovely plants. A gorgeous blue, pea like flower and very tolerant of drought. They develop an extensive root system to find it. Ever green to about 3 or 4 feet tall. Dalea frutescens and D. versicolor offer a slightly different coloration, if you like purple.


Dyssodia pentachaeta

Low growing gap filler, this is extremely tough. Golden flowers on feathery foliage. The picture doesn’t do it justice.  Hardy and needs very little water to survive Dyssodia tenuiloba is similar but shorter lived, but should self seed into cracks and gaps between plants to fill out a little as time passes in the establishment of the garden


Gazzania rigens

Well known to gardeners in the UK. Gazzania thrive in the hot Mediterranean. They prefer a lighter soil if you can manage the digging but will reward you by almost constant flowering. Good gap filler once again. Replace them as they go over with age.


Lampranthus copiosus

Real in your face colour, and that has its place in every garden. It is a hardy succulent, which is unusual, although you may get some die back. But it will spread and fill quite well




Lavandula stoechas

Spanish Lavender, so it should be on the list. All lavenders do well in full sun and have minimum water needs. Prune well back after flowering to stop them getting leggy. Can be used as hedging or edging as well as on there own. Good, versatile and fragrant. Lavendula angustifolia, L. dentata, L. intermedia, L. latifolia. All good


Leucophyllum candidum ‘Thunder Cloud’

Evergreen shrub about a meter tall with strong blue/purple flower and interesting, contorted leaf. Needs little water and god drainage.


Limonium perzeii

This perennial is quite low at under a foot, but produces tall flower spikes. Takes the heat well and needs little water once established, although it does prefer good drainage


Linum grandiflorum ‘Rubrum’

Linum is an annual, but is included because of the striking colour and its habit. Tolerant of full early summer sun it doesn’t need the cosseting that most annuals do. This applies also to Tagetes and Scabiosa  Try scattering wild flower seed over the bed once you’ve done you main planting, to fill in the gaps in the first year. Its very effective.


Mimosa borealis

Frost hardy in its native Texas, it’s a beautiful mimosa, unusual flower and has a slight citrus fragrance. Difficult to find good, hardy Mimosa. Most sold as such are Acacia or even Psuedoacacia. Mimosa dysocarpa needs more water, but mimosa biuncifera is a suitable alternative


Nandina domestica.

Sacred Bamboo, or Heavenly Bamboo. Nice, compact shrub. Evergreen and hard as nails. Interesting flower spikes and produces bright berries once the flowers set. Needs regular water, but that doesn’t mean it needs a lot. Will tolerate a bit of drought, but needs a soak afterwards.


Nolina bigeloveii

Interesting grass looking, clump forming sub-shrub form the agave family. After time it develops a trunk. Fully hardy, down to about minus 12, but really included here because I couldn’t resist the name. A lot of grasses will withstand full sun and cold weather. Used well, can create an interesting, classic landscape.


Oenothera berlandieri

There are several Evening Primrose. Surprisingly tough, O. berlandieri ‘Sisikyu’ has pink flowers and a sweet fragrance. O. ceaspitosa has large, 10cms, white flowers and equally sweet smelling. All are hardy to at least minus 5. A good perennial for inter-planting.



Repeat flowering, low growing plants. Over winter well and will last 2 or 3 years, but ought t be hoiked out and replaced at the end of their 2nd year to keep them fresh. The picture is Osteospermum fruticosa ‘Whirligig’, simply because it makes me laugh. It is of almost no garden use at all, unless you have very carefully designed around it. All is possible of course.


Penstemon baccharifolius.

Penstemon generally are a good bet. As are Phygellia Many sizes and colours of semi evergreen. i.e. sometimes it all falls off, but will re-grow. Full sun and good drainage. P. bacchaflorius has an intense red bloom and copes with some serious conditions as an example, but may be hard to find. P. gloxinoides hybrids and P. barbata are also able to cope with less water.


Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spires’

Another taxonomy nightmare because ‘Blue Spires’ is a cross between this and another plant. However, it is a good full sun plant, low water requirements and the leaves are scented. Tall blue flower spikes from late spring. Prefers good drainage.


Phlomis fruticosa

Excellent architectural flower heads get better and better with age. Good dried out too. Strong yellow flowers on a grey- green background. Some think it is a bit ugly, but the choice is yours. Tough, hardy, and low water requirements.


Pittosporum tobira ‘variegata’

Evergreen shrub or even a small tree. Familiar, I expect with most of you. Tough, hardy and able to withstand short drought periods if drenched occasionally. Although this does better with a little and often, it will soon search out its own water with an extensive root system. Good for informal hedging.




Polygala dalmasiana

Evergreen shrub which may reach about 5 feet withstands heat well once established. Should flower continuously with pink- purple flowers.


Prosopsis juliflora

Useful, tough tree to provide shade in the hottest of gardens. Has a habit of spreading by seeds and suckers so use it carefully. Similar to the Jacaranda but not so massive.


Punica granatum

Pommegranite. Excellent tree in spring and summer, although you will need to ensure some water for good fruit. It can look a bit untidy in the winter and is prone t sooty mould. Can be kept low with pruning, or even as a hedge. Will make a tree of about 4 metres with time. Var. ‘Wonderful’ has the best fruit


Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldstrum’

Powerful and superbly coloured daisies. Big heads of golds and purples depending which you buy. Well drained sol and regular water will give the best results, but able to put up with intense sunlight during the day. Var. ‘deamii’ is yellow, more readily available are all hardy but most will need more water than these two.


Rhus virens

Generally grown in thickets, Rhus are leafy small trees. R.virens is evergreen, the leaves turn colour in the cold of winter. Fragrant white flowers and orange seed heads in autumn. R.kearneyi is a good alternative, with a smaller leaf and better in the full sun


Rosmarinus officianalis, Thymus vulgaris and Salvia vulgaris

Rosemary, thyme and sage. Well fragranced herbs with attractive flowers. Several varieties of thyme offer citrus aromas and sage offers variegated leaves in greens and purples and different flavours and fragrances. Rosemary is happy to grow tall if you let it. All dislike water logging and seam to thrive on being abused.


Sophora secundifolia

Evergreen shrub or small tree, depends on the gardener. Tough, hardy and striking blue flowers. Also Sophora japonica for a pale yellow/ cream flower and subtle fragrance. Needs good drainage but little water once established




Tecoma ‘Burnt Out’

Very similar to Campsis. Large evergreen climber with little need for water once established. Will withstand several degrees of frost. Tecoma grandiflora and T. radicans are suitable alternatives


Verbena rigida

Excellent perennial for inter planting. Provides a blue haze within the border. Good with Dill and Bronze fennel. Verbena bonariensis creates the same effect but higher up at about 4 feet.



Vitex agnus-castus

Produces spikes with ringlets of lavender or white flowers over a leaf base of small palmate leaves. Your neighbours will think you are growing something you shouldn’t be, but its perfectly ok if you can find it. Makes for a very large shrub up to 6 metres by 6 metres. Needs a drenching every now and again to maintain its blooms and does better on poor soil.


Zinnia acerosa

Probably not what you recognise as a Zinnia, slightly more marguerite in form. Tough, full sun lover. Zinnia peruviana is slightly more interesting with stems that go yellow or purple. Annual/Perennial for colour. Very little water needed for survival but a drenching to encourage the blooms.


Well, I hope that is of some use. I think you will agree that it is eclectic but whilst including common forms the list also moves the boundaries a bit. Plants are truly wonderful things and I do hope you like them as much as I do.


This weekend (29th), I shall be at the Country Gardens Garden Centre in Caudete. I will be answering questions and showing what I have been preaching these past few months. Feel free to bring me whatever you like, with regards to problem plants, but don’t bring them into the Centre in case they are contagious, I don’t think Quentin would like an infestation of thrips. I am intending to demonstrate some planting associations and possibly talk about Xeriscape to those who are interested.





Water Saving tips and ideas


Save excess water

Proper drainage to known points in your garden can channel water to be recycled. Including ALL landscape features; patios, expanses of gravel and lawns. Install a new deposito especially for your garden.


Grey water systems

Recycle the waste domestic water from bathrooms, sinks, and washing machines, via a fat eater, for use on the garden.


Automatic Irrigation

Correctly installed this gives the best control over the amount of water you use.


Correct preparation of the soil

Working the soil to give a good open structure, with organic matter and grit will mean you have soil that absorbs and keeps the water it gets. Providing correct drainage will collect the excess in heavy rains.


Correct planting

If you are short of water, try to avoid thirsty plants. Large, luscious green ones generally. Look for plants that follow a few basic rules of small leaves, grey or hairy leaves, leathery leaves. These allow the plant to tolerate strong sunshine and control the amount of water that evaporates from them.


Collect plants that require similar treatment together. Arid plantings need only be watered occasionally, saving the water for other areas of your garden.


Protect from the wind

Wind will kill plants. All except the toughest will suffer some damage in the drying winds of Spain.



Shade more delicate plantings from intense sun



Very important for retaining what moisture is there. 4 inches is the rule. This excludes light to stop weeds competing for water and nutrients


Water retaining Gel

Locate water retaining Gel to add to your pots and troughs. This remarkable stuff will hold up to 40 times its weight in water and release it slowly. Ideal for pots also useful in the beds around thirstier plants. Reducing the amount of water you need to use.


Use larger pots, containing good compost. These will retain more water preferably glazed on the inside to prevent evaporation. If unavailable, paint with rubberised paint. Inside only though, right?



And all those things with plastic bottles, bags full of ice cubes and capillary matting, are all good, all work and all look ugly. Nevertheless, sometimes they are necessary.


That’s about it then. Hope to see you on the 29th   at the caudete Garden centre fun day.  As usual, please feel free to mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with suggestions or things you would like to know. I even reply to the scammers who write to me offering the contents of bank accounts, but most of that is unprintable. Or, phone my good friend and colleague Steve on 679 464 857




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