Book of the Month for Jun 2012

Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens: 200 Drought-Tolerant Choices for All Climates
Rand B. Lee

Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens: 200 Drought-Tolerant Choices for All Climates, Lauren Springer Ogden and Scott Ogden, Timber Press, Portland, Oregon (2011); 249 pages, 245 color photos, softcover; publisher’s price: $24.95; Amazon price $16.47.

Drought cycles and increased public water demands are straining gardeners’ water budgets, particularly in the Mountain West and other naturally arid regions. Coping strategy number one? Grow plants that thrive on less water. But how, given the bewildering array of plants available, does one zero in on which plants will do best? “If a plant is beautiful, well adapted to the site and region, and not overly aggressive or invasive, it deserves consideration,” opine the authors, Lauren Springer Ogden and Scott Ogden. “If it needs little input in terms of soil amendment, fertilizer, or ongoing care, better yet. If it supports a range of creatures with food, cover, or nesting places, it’s a win-win for all.”

These are the criteria the authors considered when selecting 200 plants for their latest book, Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens, which they describe as a “distillation of our three decades of experience designing and tending gardens in [USDA] zones 4 through 10.” This practical handbook offers detailed, illustrated descriptions of water-thrifty trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, perennials, annuals, succulents, and other plants — many of which are natives — suited to a wide range of climates and humidity levels.

The selected plants all have conservative moisture needs: one inch of rain or irrigation weekly during their first growing season (trees sometimes for a second season) and, once established, one inch every two weeks during the hottest part of the year. As an added benefit, the authors claim that none of the plants in this book require any fertilizer in order to thrive in garden situations.

To my mind, the book has a couple of minor drawbacks. First, the authors fail to list which plants are adapted to heavy soils — an important consideration for those who garden in clay soils. Second, the copious photo­graphs, though beautifully composed, have a slightly dulled, washed-out quality that doesn’t do justice to the full beauty of their subjects. Those quibbles aside,Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens is a useful and authoritative guide to some of the most drought-tolerant options available.

Rand B. Lee gardens in Aurora, Colorado, as much as the bionic squirrels will let him.
This review originally appeared in The American Gardener. Reprinted with permission of the American Horticultural Society.