Beauty in a dry place

Finding inspiration from drought-tolerant plants

After a brief wet reprieve from a nearly eight-year drought, most of Northern California is returning once more to drought conditions; Solano County, exceptional in so many ways, is no exception here. If you live in a golden (read: grassy) part of the Golden State, it’s getting drier. The Drought Monitor puts Solano at the southern end of a D2 “severe” drought region that reaches to the Oregon border.

But beauty endures amid the hardship, and there is much to learn from the native plants that survive droughts. By preserving lands full of hardy native species, Solano Land Trust properties provide a gallery of what an enduring landscape might look like: a safer appearance to emulate than wet green lawns and flammable pine trees.

On our properties

At Lynch Canyon, drought-resistant native plants like oaks, buckeyes, madrones, and elderberry are being planted along the riparian corridor. A stand of white poplars near a spring was removed in 2018, and since they are no longer soaking up water, the volume of water in the stream from the spring has noticeably increased.

Water considerations also influence the materials and equipment choices on the property. On Rush Ranch, the water filtration system—which uses desalination and ultraviolet light—produces a small amount of waste product that gets pumped into a nearby field. Elsewhere on Rush Ranch, the American with Disabilities Act upgrades underway will include the installation of permeable pavers to let water return to the ground.

Go local

Hardscaping materials like pavers are among the topics addressed in this beautifully illustrated guide to landscaping with native plants from the California Native Plant Society, created by Kathleen Catton of the CNPS Willis Linn Jepson Chapter. Catton recommends using Calscape to enter street addresses and find plants native to that area, filter the results according to water and sun needs, and then do advanced searches for plants sold nearby. Catton’s favorite plant is Dudleya cymose, canyon live-forever, which naturally grows between rocks and on inland cliffs and thrives alongside rock walls or in terra-cotta pots with afternoon shade.

The native plant garden at the Rush Ranch visitor center showcases a lovely diversity of drought-tolerant species like Cleveland sage, California fuschia, and coyote mint. Nola Kinaston, who has volunteered for a year, loves tending the garden.

“I find it a good stress reliever,” Kinaston says.  “It’s so peaceful getting out of town, just hearing the sounds of the birds, horses, and cattle. I’ve learned not to be afraid to prune back some of the more vigorous growing plants in the fall. In nature, browsing animals, like deer, do this.”

As we prepare for drought, consider native plants along with the tips listed here, and visit our properties for ideas. Just leave the plants where you find them!

Photos courtesy of Kuo Hou Chang and Jennifer Leonard.