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Xeriscape Garden Shows that Some Plants Grow Well with Little Water

Xeriscape Garden
Michele Skalicky

If you drive south on National from Grand, go past the Springfield Art Museum and keep driving just a short distance to the south, you’ll see a garden on your right.  If you stop, park the car and take a closer look you’ll see that paths take you through the little oasis in the midst of urban life.  Part of the garden is a xeric garden—thus the name of the place—the Xeriscape Garden.

Greene County Master Gardener Barbara St. Clair who is chair of the Xeriscape Garden, says xeric is an old Greek word for dry.  About two-thirds of this particular garden has an irrigation system and receives regular watering.  But a third of it is completely unwatered expect for just after the plants are put into the ground.

It was put to the test this summer when temperatures remained in the upper 90s into the 100s for many days in a row with little to no rainfall.

Surprisingly, that part of the garden is still lush and beautiful with a variety of blooming and non-blooming plants…

"This summer the plants are really proving who is tough and who is not." 

The Xeriscape Garden contains a variety of plants including yuccas, sedums, agastache, Russian sage—which are typically associated with dry landscapes, but also those that aren’t including crepe myrtle and an annual with beautiful purple flowers called gonfrena, which, St. Clair says, wasn’t expected to do as well as it is…

"Annuals tend not to do well in the xeric area because they don't have time to send down the deep roots that you would normally expect a plant to develop in order to withstand dry weather, but that particular annual has just been blooming its little heart out." 

Another plant that’s done well in the Xeriscape Garden is a self-seeding tobacco plant—necotiana—capped with beautiful white flowers.

These plants received plenty of water when they were first planted in the spring.  But once they had a chance to develop deep roots—by the first of July—they were on their own. 

St. Clair says a key to successful xeric gardening is lots of mulch.  And she suggests planting on mounds in soil that’s not too rich.  Marginally drought-tolerant plants should be planted where they can receive some shade in the afternoon.

And while some plants might appear dead this time of year, she encourages people to leave them alone until spring since they might come back.

She says anyone can plant a successful xeric garden, and they can visit the Xeriscape Garden to get ideas…

"This is evidence that you can grow a colorful, blooming, lush-looking garden and it doesn't need to require hundreds of dollars worth of water a month."

According to St. Clair, some of the plants in the Xeriscape Garden had to be mail-ordered but many are available locally…

"The crepe myrtles, the berberis, the Russian sage, the asters, that annual grass--pena sedum rubrum, which is doing spectacularly well.  I certainly didn't expect it to, the artemisia powis castle, the groundcover sedums--all of those are available locally at good nurseries." 

Plans are in the works for programs on xeric gardening, which will be offered at the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center. 

St. Clair, who’s been working at the garden for about six years now, can’t wait to share what she’s learned with the public.

The Xeriscape Garden will celebrate its 20thyear with a birthday party sometime in the spring.

For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.