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Drought Design, Garden Art, and Luscious Liqueurs

A few weeks ago, I severely whacked back Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’. Already, this section is sending post-Valentine’s kisses.

Relaxing in dry summers, its energy returns in fall, along with ours!
Since long periods of dry, hot weather are now the norm, this week Mary Irish encourages us with passion, enthusiasm, and on-target details about beautiful plants that love living with us.

Mary’s experience as a drought-design expert, author, and landscape consultant working in California, Arizona, and Texas comes through in her many books, including many for Arizona. Here are the ones I rely on:

After 25 years in Arizona, she and husband Gary moved to Castroville, near San Antonio, where they started over on blank ground.

In just four years, they transformed it into a mixed border of stunning, drought-durable plants for pollinators and birds.

Two plants she mentions are ones that I’ve cut back recently in my garden. I trimmed back Skeleton-leaf goldeneye (Viguiera stenoloba) to remove dead growth and fluff up its current gangly look so it’ll look like this again in late spring and fall.

Shrubby boneset/white mistflower (Ageratina havanensis) blooms in fall, attracting all kinds of pollinators, including Painted Lady butterfly.

Its seeds feed birds in winter, so I delayed pruning until last weekend when I cut browned branches to about a foot above ground. I just lightly trimmed this young one that didn’t freeze back. Its job is to hide the drain cleanout cover and frame the front porch. I bet it will reach its goal this year.

Here’s Mary and Gary’s plant list.

Meeting Mary (and Gary!) years ago was one of my luckiest days. You’ll see why when you watch now!

Since we can also go from drought to deluge in a few hours, Daphne explains why dry-times plants exit drenched soil. My ‘Hot Lips’ can handle both extremes. But drenches in winter or humid summers can wipe out dry-feet plants like succulents, lavender or artemisias in my garden.

Conversely, Daphne notes how the “permanent wilting point” impacts them (like our trees) when there is no rain for extended periods.

Watch now for the whole story!

Drought-tough plants are good for another reason: luscious liqueurs! Alejandra Rodriguez Boughton from La Flaca urban farm mixes up yummy concoctions with Mexican mint marigold, mint, calendula, and lavender.

Watch now to see how to do it!

On tour, when Kathy Payne and Greg Bright moved to rocky Lago Vista from Houston, they could still grow some of their favorite plants. The rules had changed, though, while Kathy’s design vision simply adapted for rocks, flooding slopes, and deer.

To deal with their sloping, flooding hill, Greg designed and built a multi-level retaining wall that stops roadway runoff from heading to the house.

Kathy approaches her designs with a question: “If we were painting a painting, what would we do with the space?” She balances textures and colors with succulents, culinary herbs, and perennials that resist browsing deer while attracting pollinators.


She pairs dramatic, large leaves like agaves with smaller ones, including mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea), selecting plants that withstand dry times.

Society garlic and ‘Santa Rita’ prickly pear.

A spider got into the artistic spin.

Along the front porch, Kathy wanted the essence of water while keeping a low profile. She presented Greg her design for ground level art.


“Beaches” of sandy gravel bank the winding river of cool gray Mexican river stones. She swirls in color with recycled red glass.


Her stacking technique prevents shifting and allows firm footholds to navigate.


They turned a chunk of backyard limestone into a disappearing fountain. Kathy wielded a rock bar to pummel into stone for the 15-gallon basic that recirculates gently flowing water to attract birds, pollinators and lizards.

Greg engineered its hole diameter for the perfect spout. He also took over irrigation and electricity.

Kathy said, “We are such a great couple when it comes to projects like that. We have very complimentary skills, so it’s really fun to work together. Greg is so good at the technical; he can make art out of a hunk of wood or a piece of metal or some concrete. And I like to design through plants and shapes.”

Even in a few hours, the site goes from shade to full sun and back again to shade.


So, when Kathy tucked in the plants, she chose various varieties of thyme and succulents that accept light variations and brief irrigation.

On Greg’s Fix It Wise website (and YouTube), he presents how-to tips and videos of all kinds of home projects, including step-by-step instructions of their rocky river.

Watch their inspiring (and how-to) story right now!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

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