Drought-Tolerant Gardens: Ugly or Beautiful?

Drought-Tolerant Gardens: Ugly or Beautiful?

Drought-Tolerant Garden

When you think about what a drought-tolerant garden looks like, this is probably NOT what you envision.

Maybe the photo, below, is what you imagine a landscape with drought-tolerant plants would look like…

Barren Landscape 2

This landscape is probably what most of us think of when people talk about drought-tolerant landscapes and let’s be honest – while it is drought-tolerant, this landscape is rather ugly.

Drought-Tolerant Garden

However, this beautiful garden is is also drought-tolerant.  The majority of these plants can survive short periods of drought.

Trailing rosemary spills over the rock border in the front with low-growing pink bougainvillea located just behind.  The orange, spiky flowers of Aloe arborescens and Tropical Bird-of-Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) create a bright spot of color alongside the bougainvillea.  If you look closely, you can see the flat paddles of prickly pear cacti and the variegated spikes from a century plant (Agave americana ‘variegata’).

Drought-Tolerant Garden

Now, just because a plant is called ‘drought-tolerant’, that doesn’t mean that it never needs water.  Established drought-tolerant plants can survive on natural rainfall when provided with supplemental water during dry periods when rainfall is largely absent.  Most drought-tolerant plants will need regular watering until they are established, which can take 1 year or more after planting.

In the garden, above, a California pepper tree (Schinus molle), a large Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis), Mexican fan palm (Washingtonia mexicana) and yucca look over a flowering aloe, the columns of cereus cacti and bougainvillea.

If you look carefully, you can see the tall flowering stalk from an agave between the two palms.

barren landscape

Do you think that it is time to update our perceptions of drought-tolerant landscapes?

 While a landscape filled with colored gravel and a couple of cactus is certainly drought-tolerant; why settle for one, like the one pictured above, when you can have a beautiful garden filled with a variety of plants that is also drought-tolerant?

Drought-Tolerant Garden

I don’t know about you, but I would choose a garden like this one filled with the spiky green Spanish dagger yucca (Yucca aloifolia)the orange-spiked flowers of Aloe arborescensthe gray/blue spikes of century plant (Agave americana), the bright magenta brachts of bougainvillea and the icy-blue ice plant (Senecio mandraliscae).

Which drought-tolerant landscape would you choose – one filled with a variety of plants or one with colored gravel and a couple of cacti?


There are drought-tolerant plants suitable for every climate – whether you garden in the desert, the tropics or cooler climates.  Check out Birds & Blooms “Top 10 Drought-Tolerant Plants” for plants that will grow in your where you live.

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Noelle Johnson
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. When she is not writing or helping other people with their gardens, you can find her growing fruits and vegetables, and planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.