The Water-Saving Garden book party and giveaway!

The Water-Saving Garden

My new book, The Water-Saving Garden: How to Grow a Gorgeous Garden with a Lot Less Water, is officially published! To celebrate, I’m throwing a book-release party, and you’re invited!

Six garden blogging friends are joining me today to host on our blogs 7 giveaways that help people save water in their gardens. Woot! So come on in and enjoy the party, and be sure to visit each blog and leave a comment to enter the giveaways.

But first, I’d like to tell you a little about my book. The Water-Saving Garden is for anyone who cares about conserving our most precious resource: water, specifically our supply of freshwater. Offering smart gardening information about making a drought-tolerant garden, holding onto rainwater when it comes, keeping runoff-borne pollutants out of waterways, and irrigating efficiently, the book also gets creative with design ideas for evoking water in a dry garden through clever plant choice and stonework. My aim was to write a practical and accessible book that also inspires with beautiful photos of water-wise gardens from all parts of the country. An index of 100 water-thrifty plants helps you figure out good choices for your own particular region.

Would you like to read an excerpt? Visit The Water-Saving Garden webpage at Penguin Random House and click on “Read an Excerpt” or “Look Inside.” If you like what you see, you’ll find it available for purchase on Amazon, other online retailers, and anywhere books are sold.

And now it’s time for the book-party giveaways! Blow your party horn and toss the confetti, and take a look at all these water-saving goodies for your garden! Enter all 7 giveaways detailed below (quick links appear at the end of this post) to maximize your chances of winning.

GIVEAWAY at Clay and Limestone:
55-Gallon Black Rain Barrel from Epoch Rain Barrels

Epoch Rain Barrel

Want to collect free rainwater? This 55-gallon rain barrel from Epoch Rain Barrels will help you save water and store it for a non-rainy day. Epoch’s rain barrels are upcycled from food-grade drums, so you have the satisfaction of knowing they’re keeping materials out of the landfill too.

Epoch says that social responsibility is part of everything they do. According to their website: “We are not into mass produced, cheap products made overseas with inexpensive labor and manufacturing that affects the environment negatively. Exactly the opposite….We work to take waste products and re-purpose them into conservation products.”

Gail at Clay and Limestone is hosting this giveaway. Gail’s passion is wildflowers and other native plants that sustain pollinators in her Nashville, Tennessee, garden. She writes, “I’ve been gardening here for 30 years. Plants have to be rugged to survive our wet winters and dry summers. That’s why I plant Middle Tennessee and Cedar Glade natives that will grow and thrive in clay and limestone.” Gail also serves on the advisory committee of the Garden Bloggers Fling.

GIVEAWAY at Danger Garden:
Circle Pot from Potted

Circle Pot from Potted

Hang a mod Circle Pot — you choose the color! — from your porch roof, pergola, or tree to display your favorite water-thrifty succulents in style. The Circle Pot is an original design by Potted, a hip Los Angeles garden shop with an online store. I have a red one hanging in my own garden, and I love it!

Potted is owned and operated by the creative duo of Mary Gray and Annette Goliti Gutierrez (whose Hollywood Hills garden I visited last fall). They write, “In 2004, we opened what we envisioned to be a mecca for like-minded, design-loving, garden enthusiasts – people like us who wanted to shop for the outdoor area of their homes with the same choices and style they have for their interiors. As we’ve evolved, we realized that what sets us apart is our continued desire to create our own products. This blend of original pieces coupled with our love of seeking out other unique artisans has helped us to develop our diverse style – from kitsch to cottage and vintage to modern.”

Loree at Danger Garden in Portland, Oregon, is hosting this giveaway. She declares, “Nice plants are boring – my love is for plants that can hurt you. Agave, yucca, anything with a spike or spur!” She has an artist’s eye for displaying these drought-tolerant beauties in contemporary pots — including a chartreuse Circle Pot of her own. Loree is a partner and the communications director at Plant Lust, and she serves on the advisory committee of the Garden Bloggers Fling.

GIVEAWAY at Red Dirt Ramblings:
65-Gallon Rainwater Urn from Gardener’s Supply Company

Rainwater Urn from Gardener’s Supply Co.

This shapely, terracotta-lookalike Rainwater Urn from Gardener’s Supply Company fits gracefully into any garden style. Made of UV-stable, scratch- and chip-resistant polyethylene, it has a matte-textured finish, spigot, and 5-foot hose with shut-off valve. The removable top includes a recessed basin that can be used to display a potted plant.

Based in Vermont, Gardener’s Supply is 100% employee-owned and donates 8% of company profits to “programs and organizations that are using gardening to improve the world.” Its mission since its founding in 1983 has been, “We are in business to spread the joys and rewards of gardening, because gardening nourishes the body, elevates the spirit, builds community, and makes the world a better place.”

Dee at Red Dirt Ramblings is hosting this giveaway. She writes about gardening sustainably in rural central Oklahoma, amid challenging weather conditions that include heat, drought, and the occasional tornado. The author of The 20-30 Something Garden Guide, Dee is also a contributor to Oklahoma Gardener and a gardening coach.

GIVEAWAY at Gossip in the Garden:
Live Succulent Planter from Boxhill

Boxhill Live Succulent Planter

This beautiful, 8-inch succulent planter from the well-curated online shop Boxhill arrives pre-assembled and ready to display, and it even includes a blank gift card in case you have the willpower to gift it to someone. Succulents are water-thrifty plants, making this planter especially easy to care for.

Elizabeth Przygoda-Montgomery, a Tucson, Arizona, garden designer and stylist, founded Boxhill as an online garden boutique selling modern, stylish furniture and accessories for outdoor living. Boxhill’s mission is “to bring you products that you can’t find ‘just anywhere.’ Our curated selection will help you to find and define your personal style, through products that combine quality craftsmanship with thoughtful design. Explore our inspired collection of outdoor and covered patio items, ranging from fire pits and dining tables, to the finest linens, to outdoor pillows, pots, and more.”

Rebecca at Gossip in the Garden is hosting this giveaway. As owner and garden designer at Harmony in the Garden in northern California, she creates gardens that are not only beautiful but water-wise. She’s the author of Refresh Your Garden Design with Color, Texture and Form and co-author of Garden Up!, as well as a contributor to Horticulture and other magazines.

GIVEAWAY at North Coast Gardening:
3 bags of pumice from General Pumice Products

Pumice from General Pumice Products

Three lucky readers will each win a 15-pound bag of high-quality, 1/8-inch pumice from General Pumice Products. Pumice is ideal for planting water-thrifty plants like succulents that need excellent drainage. Mix it into your potting mix or add it to raised beds to provide excellent drainage for succulents and cacti.

Owner Lexi Petelski is enthusiastic about the benefits of using pumice in a water-saving garden. She explains, “Pumice is rich in nutrients that boost growth in a variety of plant life, and it helps maintain healthy water absorbency in soils. Unlike perlite…pumice is completely organic and chemical free, and actually adds over 70 healthy minerals to your soil and plant life….[U]sing pumice in soils has proven to cut water usage by a huge percentage.”

General Pumice Products sells its pumice to nurseries and growers all over the U.S., and they also run an online store, where you can order pumice by the bag.

Genevieve at North Coast Gardening is hosting this giveaway. Gen is a landscape designer who also operates a landscape maintenance business in Arcata, CA. She’s also a contributing editor and staff writer for Garden Design magazine. On her blog, she shares reviews of garden tools and the best “garden tricks and organic solutions that aren’t fiddly and stupid.”

GIVEAWAY at Rock-Oak-Deer:
50-Gallon Rain Barrel and Chesapeake Stand from The Rain Barrel Depot

Chesapeake Stand from the Rain Barrel Depot

Rain barrel from the Rain Barrel Depot

The Rain Barrel Depot is offering two items to one lucky winner: a 50-gallon rain barrel and a stand on which to elevate it for better flow. The green rain barrel is made of 100% recycled plastic, and the Chesapeake Stand, constructed from pressure-treated Southern pine, is 12 inches tall and sized to hold a 45- to 55-gallon rain barrel.

Headquartered in Atlanta and owned by Gene and Peggy Kelly, the Rain Barrel Depot offers many different styles of rain barrels to suit your aesthetic, as well as kits for making your own rain barrels if you like to DIY. It also carries garden and kitchen compost bins. Gene says, “Our mission is to help people conserve water resources and be better stewards of the water we have been given.” As his company’s website points out, “We have all the water we will ever have, at this very moment.”

Shirley at Rock-Oak-Deer is hosting this giveaway. A retired interior designer for commercial and public-sector projects, Shirley lives and gardens in San Antonio, Texas, where she plants for water thriftiness and deer resistance. On her blog, she shares her efforts in creating a low-water garden with year-round interest, especially out front, where she ripped out the thirsty lawn in favor of structural xeric plants.

GIVEAWAY at Digging:
$100 Gift Certificate from High Country Gardens

Gift Certificate from High Country Gardens

High Country Gardens, whose tagline is Pioneers in Sustainable Gardening, sells low-water plants and eco-friendly landscapes through its online catalog. Founded by Santa Fe horticulturist David Salman, High Country Gardens is a leader in water-wise plant offerings for dry regions of the U.S., and for those who just enjoy growing dry-loving plants. Today it’s owned by American Meadows, and David is still hands-on, propagating plants for the catalog in his Santa Fe greenhouses and writing about his favorites on High Country’s blog.

I’m hosting High Country’s giveaway here at Digging. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post. The giveaway ends next Sunday at 11 pm CST, and I’ll announce the winner here on Monday, March 7.

There are a few rules: One entry per person per giveaway, and you must provide a valid email address (will be kept private) when you enter. Winner must reside in the continental U.S. (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) for shipping purposes. The winner will be notified by email on March 7 and must contact me with his/her mailing address within 5 days to claim the giveaway; otherwise a new winner will be chosen. Good luck to you!

Update: The randomly chosen winner is Ally (comment #59). Congratulations, Ally! I’ll send you an email and will need your confirmation and mailing address. Look in your spam folder if you don’t see my email today.

Thanks for playing, everyone!

For quick access to all the giveaways in The Water-Saving Garden book party, follow these links:

Clay and Limestone:
55-Gallon Black Rain Barrel from Epoch Rain Barrels

Danger Garden:
Circle Pot from Potted

Gossip in the Garden:
Live Succulent Planter from Boxhill

North Coast Gardening:
3 bags of 1/8-in. pumice (to 3 winners!) from General Pumice Products

Red Dirt Ramblings:
65-Gallon Rainwater Urn from Gardener’s Supply Company

50-Gallon Rain Barrel and Chesapeake Stand from The Rain Barrel Depot

$100 gift certificate from High Country Gardens


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All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Dry and Mighty: How to design a dry garden

If gravel accented with a few lonely cacti and a cow skull is all that comes to mind when you think of a dry garden, it’s time to update this dusty Old West vision. Drought across the western U.S. and widespread interest in gardening more sustainably, with less water, are inspiring a renewed appreciation of dry gardens. These are, quite simply, gardens that thrive on rainfall alone or an occasional deep watering but can do without regular irrigation. Dry gardens can be surprisingly lush, layered with plants adapted to sparse rainfall, tolerant of periods of drought, and stoic in harsh conditions that make thirstier plants shrivel their toes and droop in protest.

“Water is a finite resource. It’s a commonsense thing to do,” says Julie Marcus, senior horticulturist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. “Also, people’s lives are busy. They don’t want to have to spend a lot of time on their yard, but they want it to look good. Plant selection is important in those cases.” Native plants, uniquely adapted to local climate, are a logical choice for dry gardens, so long as you choose those that naturally grow in dry soil, rather than along moist stream banks. (Save those for rain gardens.)

But how do you make a garden with the endurance of a camel look attractive year-round? Many dry gardens are showiest in spring, when abundant rain and pleasantly warm days entice even the most rugged plants into colorful bloom. Come summer, however, when the heat kicks in, rain clouds vanish, and spring-flowering annuals and perennials go dormant, you’ll still want your dry garden to look good.


Evergreen plants are key players in a dry garden, providing greenery and structure that comes to the forefront when spring flowers fade. Shrubs like agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata), with its handsome, holly-like leaves, or grassy mounds of red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) enliven the quieter seasons. And layering in lushness from sky to soil conquers the underplanted dry garden stereotype.

Desert willow

Start with the upper layer. The shade of a tree, even an airy ornamental like desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), cools surrounding plants and soil, preserving precious moisture.

Arizona cypress, autumn sage, and Mexican feathergrass

Trees also make good windbreaks. A staggered row of Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica), for example, disrupts desiccating winds and shelters plants on the leeward side.

‘Tangerine Beauty’ crossvine

Let vines like ‘Tangerine Beauty’ crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) clamber atop an arbor to shade a patio.

Turk’s cap

Fill the garden’s mid-level with shrubs and masses of summer- and fall-blooming perennials like Texas lantana (Lantana urticoides) and Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) to brighten the view long after the riot of spring.

Texas sedge

Sprinkle in ornamental grasses like pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia) for touchable texture and a long season of interest. Below this, diminutive plants like four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa) and Texas sedge (Carex texensis) can be used en masse to carpet the garden floor — or at least make a few nice throw rugs.

Cenizo, or Texas ranger

One of the biggest challenges in designing a dry garden is battling the dreaded little-leaf syndrome. Supremely drought-tolerant plants like cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) tend to have tiny leaves with gray-green or silver-blue coloring, a survival mechanism that reduces water loss and reflects sunlight. An entire garden of such plants blurs into an undifferentiated scrim of fine texture.

For the cure, seek out drought-tolerant plants with bold foliage for contrast. The oval, flat pads of spineless prickly pear (Opuntia ellisiana) and sword-shaped leaves of Harvard agave (Agave havardiana) stand out amid fine-textured plants, each complementing the other. For an even bigger pop, choose a bold-leaf plant with colorful foliage, like yellow-striped Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’.

American agave, bamboo muhly, and woolly stemodia

A dry garden benefits, perhaps more than any other style, from creatively evoking the idea of water with plants and rocks. A silvery pool of woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata) visually cools the garden, while an undulating river of ornamental grasses — try ‘Blonde Ambition’ blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) — creates a sense of watery movement.

On slopes, a cascade of half-buried boulders and flat ledgestones becomes a dry waterfall; on flatter ground, a meandering shallow trench filled with varying sizes of river rock makes a convincing streambed. Evoking water without using any is a dry-garden sleight of hand that goes all the way back to the Japanese Zen garden tradition, and it’s just as magical in today’s dry gardens.

Let your creativity flow instead of the hose. A dry garden filled with carefully chosen, hard-working plants can be as beautiful as a more-pampered garden. And in making one you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re saving water for a rainy day.

How to Create Your Xeric Garden

“Your garden should not die when the power or water is shut off,” says Phoenix landscape architect Steve Martino. Using dry-adapted native plants is key to creating a garden that isn’t tethered to the hose, but you can’t just plant them and walk away. Even tough natives need some TLC when they’re getting established. To ensure their success, follow these guidelines when making your dry garden.

Being “native” does not necessarily make a plant suitable for a dry garden; seek out natives from your region that require good drainage or grow naturally on dry, rocky slopes and that prefer the same sun or shade conditions as your garden offers. If your yard is consistently moist, forget about making a dry garden except in containers. Plant needs must match the site. Minor soil amendments can be useful, however. If your soil contains a lot of clay, add compost and decomposed granite to loosen soil and give your plants better drainage.

Dry-loving plants can be susceptible to rot during periods of heavy rain if they lack sharp drainage such as they’d enjoy on a slope or in rocky soil. To keep their crowns dry, try planting on berms built up with gravelly soil. Shape a berm so that it curves in a gentle arc and merge it with the larger garden in order to avoid the “burial mound” look of a berm plopped in the middle of a lawn. In drier climates, where rot is seldom a concern but thirst is, harness rainwater by planting in broad, shallow basins. Such basins collect rainwater, preventing it from simply running off the surface and allowing it to soak deeply into the soil, nourishing plants’ roots.

Plant shrubs and trees in autumn rather than in spring. They can grow their roots all fall and winter (in mild climates) without the stress of summer heat and drought. By the time warmer weather does roll around, they’ll be primed to put on new top growth.

Many native perennials can be planted in fall too. Some, however, like blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum), dislike winter moisture and may rot if they aren’t well-established; plant these in spring. Of course, climate varies considerably across the country, so follow appropriate planting instructions for your region and your particular plants.

A common mistake in dry gardening is thinking you can plant it and forget it. But even the most xeric — i.e., dry-loving — plant needs regular water to get established. Horticulturist Julie Marcus agrees. “I’ve heard people say [after losing a plant], ‘I thought that was supposed to be one of those zero plants.’ But it has to be established before it can be xeric.” She advises watering trees and shrubs regularly for the first two years after planting; perennials for one year. Over time, lessen the frequency of irrigation, giving an occasional deep soaking only during unusually hot, dry periods. In dry-summer, wet-winter Mediterranean climates like the West Coast, established natives prefer to receive moisture during winter, not summer.

Bare soil dries out quickly, stressing plants. Give your dry garden a leg up by mulching to preserve soil moisture. An inch of mineral mulch or one to two inches of wood mulch keeps soil cooler and roots moist. Mineral mulches like decomposed granite and pea gravel look best in sunny gardens that don’t get a lot of leaf litter, and they helpfully drain moisture away from the rot-prone crowns of certain plants. However, gravel is a perfect nursery for weed seeds, so regular weeding is essential. For dry shade gardens, shredded hardwood or pecan shell mulch looks natural and suppresses weeds too.

A version of this article first appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Wildflower magazine under the title “Dry & Mighty.”

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Read This: The New Southern Living Garden Book

The New Southern Living Garden Book

South by Southwest (SXSW) is not only the name of Austin’s famous music/film/interactive festival, but it also happens to be descriptive of our gardening culture. Here, the South meets the Southwest, with the Balcones Fault roughly delineating the division. Deep clay soil tends to be found east of the fault line, thin soil atop chalky caliche to the west. Both types run alkaline, making it challenging to grow acidic-soil Southern staples like azalea, dogwood, and camellia.

Although I’ve gardened on both sides of the fault line, and despite my South Carolina upbringing, I prefer Austin’s rugged, dry-adapted Hill Country style to Deep South verdant greenery. My own garden is definitely SxSW, but in gardening books I gravitate toward those with a Southwestern sensibility, not Southern. So it was with a little hesitation that I cracked open The New Southern Living Garden Book (Oxmoor House, 2015), edited by Southern Living magazine’s garden editor Steve Bender, aka the Grumpy Gardener.

I needn’t have hesitated. While the introduction plays up the history and gardening culture of the Deep South, the meat of the book is its plant reference section, which covers the South from Maryland to Florida and from North Carolina to central Texas. The South is, of course, geographically large and climatically diverse, ranging from mountains to low country, subtropical to temperate. With that in mind, not every featured plant is suitable for all parts of the South. But you’ll find plenty of plants listed for each growing zone and soil type, including the limestone soils of central Texas. With coverage of 8,000 plants (including many edibles) and 2,000 color photos, this textbook-sized paperback is jam-packed with information. Just thinking about all the research, writing, and editing it required makes me want to collapse on a porch rocker, under a haint-blue ceiling, with a glass of sweet tea in my hand.

I see this book as being most useful for researching plants you’ve encountered in a nursery or online and wondered how they might perform in your garden, rather than as a book to read straight through. Your intrepid garden blogger did, however, read through it page by page, quickly scanning some plants and reading others in detail. I found the descriptions of familiar plants to be not only accurate but detailed, well written, and occasionally witty. This is dense but not dry reading!

Experienced gardeners will enjoy reading up on less-familiar or zone-pushing plants they’re thinking of trying, while newbie gardeners will find solid information about plants commonly found in local nurseries or passed along from gardener to gardener. Also, new gardeners will especially appreciate the final section, which contains practical gardening how-tos, from preparing soil and proper pruning techniques to growing edibles and gardening for wildlife. All in all, this is an excellent reference for Southern gardeners (including us central Texans) and anyone on the fringe of Southern states.

I have two minor complaints. There’s a briefly confusing copy-editing error on page 64, with text that clearly belongs in a different section. Also, the font size in the plant reference section is so small I had trouble reading it. This section spans pages 124 to 651, so that’s a lot of squinting.

Even so, a few new crow’s feet are a small price to pay for the wealth of information and generous plant photos that make this book such a good resource for those of us gardening in hot and humid, long-summer climates. Add The New Southern Living Garden Book to your reading list this summer, as you lounge on the porch (or inside with the A/C), sip your iced tea, and await the fall gardening season.

Disclosure: I know editor Steve Bender personally. Oxmoor House sent me a copy of The New Southern Living Garden Book for review. I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.