The Hot, Dry August Garden

August is typically a brutal month for gardeners in my region. We have dry summers that are increasingly hotter and now with wildfires added into the mix it makes for poor air quality. This year is no exception, but our dry garden style at Chickadee Gardens helped us keep our sanity, and the garden looking like a garden, albeit a garden with little crispy edges. 

Below is a broader look around the gardens to gain a sense of what dry gardening can look like, though it must be noted we have watered more than ever before. I do plan on backing off and just allowing plants to either thrive, go dormant or, well, die. The heat dome in June was unprecedented, and I think we reacted to that positively, but it's time to let things be. Let this post act as a photo document of a dry garden in mid-August that has received regular watering (about once a week, more for a few new plants) on a sunny site with well-drained soil. 

Olearia lineata 'Dartonii', common name of twiggy tree daisy, is a New Zealand native small tree or large shrub. It is evergreen, has narrow willow-like foliage and can be pruned. It grows rapidly and would make a great hedge. Needs virtually no supplemental water. In other words, I never water it directly. I have pruned it to be able to see textures and colors in the background and to create a canopy.

Another willow-like small tree that actually is a willow. Salix eleagnos var. angustifolia has thrived in my low-water garden. When I hand-water, I do give it a drink every now and then, but I should test how much water it really requires. I've pruned the bottom limbs to give a similar appearance to the olive in the previous photo. To the right, is a rather large stand of Solidago 'Fireworks' that is incredibly drought tolerant and when it blooms late in summer it is a feast for all manner of flying insects.

In the foreground is Teucrium chamaedrys, wall germander. It is so useful, I can't sing its praises enough. Incredibly drought tolerant, I give it no summer water. It is evergreen, small -  great for the front of the border and if I wanted a little clipped hedge, this would do the trick. It blooms for weeks and is incredibly popular with flying insects. Behind it is a Hylotelephium cultivar and the pink fluffy is Cotinus 'Pink Champagne'. The white flowers are Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius 'Silver Jubilee', an evergreen shrub that also receives no supplemental summer water. 

The reality: The shrubs and drought adapted plants in this area receive little summer water and they look pretty good. The "lawn" however goes completely dormant. FM says its so dry even the yard weeds have thrown in the towel or sponge or whatever one throws in. 

The same region but to the right a little. This tree in the foreground is Acer circinatum, our native vine maple that was here when we moved in (in full sun, mind you - I think of this as a woodland plant). I have cleaned it up but never water it and it looks pretty good. I can't figure this one out - that is to say why it looks so great with no summer water at all. The rest of the background plants are at the edge of the labyrinth and have all fared quite well.

More reality shots. This illustrates the three outbuildings on this part of the property, two of which FM built. My blue garden shed, the new chicken coop in the center and the hoophouse on the right. Again, the "lawn" - this area is the worst for grass, it is brown much of the year. The oak tree at the left is surrounded by Ceanothus gloriosus, a prostrate evergreen ground cover native to the West Coast. It's drought adapted too and looks generally splendid, although many stems died off this summer in one section. Not sure why.

The rose you see in the previous photo is this, Rosa pomifera. You can see a trace of black on the hips, this is from the June heat dome. Otherwise, it looks fine. It receives very little supplemental water, perhaps once every two or three weeks.

Nassella tenuissima pops up here and there in the gravel garden. Also Erigeron 'Profusion', Thymus 'Pink Ripple' and a few hebes play well together in this low water bed. Arctostaphylos 'Sentinel' and 'Saint Helena' are also incredibly drought adapted.

Rosa glauca is very drought tolerant in my garden and has three seasons of interest - spring with its fresh leaves and single pink flowers, summer with clean foliage and the start of hips that last well into autumn and throughout winter if it's mild. A very low-water rose in my garden.

In the meadow area, many plants surprisingly need more water than one would expect. Rudbeckia hirta is the first to flag or sag when its feet are dry, it's an indicator plant that tells me when it's particularly dry. The agastache now that it's established is drought tolerant but not for prolonged periods. It needs a drink every week in super hot weather, less for mild summers. 

Through the labyrinth garden with Teucrium chamaedrys lining the edge of the path. Miscanthus s. 'Cabaret' has been given a small drink maybe twice this summer. Hebes get a little more water but not a lot.

This is the other side of the labyrinth/gravel garden/meadow garden and its entrance. To the left is Arctostaphylos 'Sentinel' with Thymus 'Pink Ripple' at its feet. In the center is an Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku' we inherited, it seems to do well in this location with no supplemental water. The fluffy shrubby looking plants in the center are Amsonia hubrichtii and they too receive no supplemental water. Note the dormant lawn. I mean how can you not. FM says it resembles pie crust. Hmm, pie!

Echinops ritro, globe thistle gets no supplemental water from me, but it would probably appreciate a drink or two. I deliberately don't give it much so it won't get so tall, top heavy and then flop over as it's beginning to do here.

Another edge of the labyrinth garden shot on the other side of the Teucrium chamaedrys. You can spot Cotinus 'Pink Champagne' and its fluffy pink flowers to the left, excellent in terms of drought adaptability. A variegated ceanothus in the foreground and many Sedum 'Stardust', a white flowered form of sedum along with a purple leaved unknown variety in the center.

Agastache 'Licorice Candy' in the meadow adds height and color. Now that it's established it receives only occasional water.

A wider shot with Ceanothus gloriosus lower the right and Sedum 'Starlight' on the left. Azara microphylla in the center area that almost never receives supplemental water.

Closer shot highlighting Muhlenbergia rigens, deer grass, a West Coast native backed by more Miscanthus s. 'Cabaret' in the background.  

My garden shed with a few pots added this year for some color. Containers of course receive regular water.

Stipa gigantea, a no summer water plant.

Moving around to the north side of the house and garden, against the retaining wall, the berm garden is looking okay. It does get regular summer water in most areas, about once a week.

Looking in the opposite direction. Gaura 'Belleza White' in the background on the right, Rosmarinus 'Huntington Carpet' draping over the wall.

Agapanthus 'Nigrescens' mixed with the gaura. The gaura likes a drink of water every week or so, the agapanthus could go a lot longer without any but it's in the same neighborhood so it gets water, too.

Under the carport looking east to the area in the previous shots. The area to the left is in a significant amount of shade and is comprised of many ferns and ophiopogon species.

Eryngium giganteum, all volunteers, received no summer water. Their beauty now is in their dried stage which I find quite attractive.

Atriplex halimus, salt bush, is another plant of the future for my part of the world. It is evergreen (silver), grows quickly, can be cut back very hard to maintain shape, is edible, beautiful, receives reflected south facing sun and gets zero water. None. This could make great hedges or be incorporated into permaculture landscapes or as I have it, a specimen plant in a very inhospitable location.

Down in one of the four corners of our property near our gate is a native aster seedling and Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Hortensia’. Both do well with very little summer water, about once every two weeks. Asters in general, by the way, have been incredibly durable with little to no summer water.

Erica terminalis in the same bed as the previous shot. From Xera Plants' website (which is where I purchased it, by the way):

Tree heathers fascinate us and this widespread species of southern to northwestern Europe makes a fantastic, drought adapted garden plant. Fine needle like green foliage lines strongly vertical growth. In mid summer the tips of the stems produce many urn shaped pale pink blossoms that are showy for up to 6 weeks. Following the bloom period these remain on the shrub and turn a russet color adding to its charm. To 3′ x 3′ in 4 years. Full sun and well drained average soil with light summer water to establish. Once you have it going it requires no supplemental water. Great for dry areas, gravel borders, hellstrips. Excellent fine textured shrub that develops a shredded gnarled brown trunk with time. Moderate deer resistance. Gains drought adaptation with age. As with most ericaceous plants it must build up a large root system over time and then it is drought adapted and will sail through the driest summers without fainting.

A great plant to know about for low water gardens.

Lastly a shot from the edge of the veggie garden which I think deserves a post next time. It's where a lot of my energy goes these days.

There you have it, a record of a few drought-adapted plants in my garden here in Saint Helens, Oregon. I have a feeling I will be multiplying these and cutting back on anything that requires "regular water." I foresee taking out a few things as they fail to perform in the coming months and years. I think I'll take on the opportunistic approach, however, allowing plants to adapt or not - and removing those that do not rather than actively removing live plants at this point. At least that's the plan.

There are of course many other plants that have done quite well in this heat and low water environment, a few of which that were not mentioned here include fescues, most native plants, Brachyglottis grayii, lavender, Dorycnium hirsutum, dianthus, cistus, agave, cotoneaster, yucca, artemisia, phlomis,  penstemon, oregano, nepeta, osmanthus, Gaultheria shallonLonicera nitida sp., epimedium, aucuba, oxalis, sarcococca, Polystichum munitum, spiraea, caryopteris, stachys, achillea, callistemon, and so many more. 

A few plants that I have my eye on as water hogs are of course Hydrangea macrophylla sp., kirengeshoma, podophyllum, Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola', fuchsia, Rudbeckia hirta, phygelius, primula and geum to name a few of the worst offenders.

Time will tell how this garden will be edited one way or another, but for now I have a list and that's a start. I hope my lists are helpful.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing about what you are all up to! Happy gardening!


  1. August is usually the most brutal month for gardens but there is still lots to admire in your garden. This year it seems like the whole summer has been 'August'. However, weather like this really highlights the toughest of the tough. Surprised to see you list Phygelius as maybe going. I have two in pots which seem incredibly drought tolerant mind you we only get to the 90's not 100's.

    1. Gosh, "this year it seems like the whole summer has been 'August'" INDEED.

      Yes, I have a few Phygelius that are water hogs. It could be where I have them, though - I'll have to do a little experimenting!

  2. I am so pleased to have found you and your garden. I live in Eugene and share your gardening philosophy. I grow many of the same plants. The atriplex halimus caught my eye, especially as it has silvery grey foliage. I'll keep my eyes peeled for it. I don't really see myself buying more plants for a while--I'm focusing on propagating the stuff that I already have that does well.

    1. I'm so pleased you found us too! OOOh, yes, get that Atriplex if you can find it. It's one that is worth adding in a time when many of us are subtracting. Propagate away, if you want cuttings of the atriplex let me know.

  3. Fascinating and helpful. I am slowly switching out my garden to drought and heat tolerant plants except for a few areas. I have a high producing well on my city lot because my house is old, but for how long? I'm sick of watering all the time and never being able to go anywhere in the summer. AND, because the S. Oregon climate is so hellish in the summer, even watering cannot make my plants look good. So that's a goal too, stuff that looks good in August. I'm glad you're still blogging because it's so informative! Thanks!

    1. Sounds like a good plan, Barb - slowly switching. I too am sick of watering all the time - it's like being married to the garden and not getting the joys out of it when it looks dried up and frazzled. I get it. Many of us do! Thanks for your words of encouragement, too - sometimes I get a little weary of blogging because...well...who is listening? You are and that counts for a lot. Thank you!!

  4. Your garden is doing admirably well, Tamara, especially given your heat dome experience. August is usually a depressing month here and this year is no exception. Even large swaths of my creeping thyme have died. I'm also conducting an assessment of what has to go and I'm in the process of considering alternatives. Leucadendrons, the larger Grevilleas and succulents are generally good choices but I've already got a lot of those. I hope to squeeze in another tree or two. I planted an Olearia albida to fill in the space left by a huge native Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) felled by Phytophthora ramorum but it's barely hanging on so I may try a fruitless olive tree or a crape myrtle instead (assuming they aren't also susceptible to that pathogen). I'm hoping we'll get more than 4 inches of rain next year too.

    1. Ooh, I bet August is tough on you Kris. I feel for you guys down there. Ouch. Even the thyme has died? That's a blow and I for one totally sympathize with you.

      Your plant choices are fabulous - good to know what southern California climates can grow. It's great to share that information for anyone else who is gardening in your climate.

      Maybe someday soon I'll be growing those same things!

      Hang in there and I really REALLY hope you get bunches of rain this fall/winter. Crossing all my fingers for you and all of us.

  5. I just found your blog through "Garden Design" I live in Ontario zone 5 I guess USDA zone 4. I grow some of your plants under mulch Agapanthus Phygelius, Fuchsia When I see your garden it reminds me of Beth Chatto and her gravel garden So much to learn from that She also has no rain
    I get summer showers which just keeps things from withering. i am always trying to push the zone to expand the plant varieties But we cannot have Hebes or Ericas and roses are just wishes ( I am in the alkaline sandy Toronto area ) At the moment I am working on " the feeling of the garden " not so much the plant selection
    Gaura is very hardy and seeds around without watering but your observation on Rudbeckia hirta is also my experience It easily wilts
    In Ontario we do not have access to the diversity of plants that you have, several specialty nurseries have closed and we rely on Seed exchanges which is a long haul
    Thank for your photos series It was fun and helpful to see how you garden in the Pacific northwest


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