Long dry conditions, water restrictions and the high cost of water are all here to stay. It's not all bad news, though. Low-level water restrictions shouldn’t restrict gardening, as they actually reflect best practice when it comes to watering. The cool of the early morning, or overnight when evaporation is low as mandated by water restrictions, are the best times to water. Additionally, by not watering every day, gardeners are more likely to give their plants a deep watering. This means the soil is wet more thoroughly, which is better for your plants.
Many established gardens are already water-wise – after all, they’ve survived previous dry spells and water restrictions and are still thriving. Many of the world's best gardens, which continue to stand the test of time, are filled with water-wise outdoor plants.
Today’s new gardens, too, must be planted to be sustainable and do well with reduced water - but they don't have to be dull or boring. Indeed, they can be something to aspire to!
Jennifer's top drought-resistant plant picks
The following are drought-resistant plant suggestions for garden features most gardeners want to have. These suggestions are just a starting point, but you can also observe local gardens, parks and even road plantings for other planting ideas.
Remember, though, that no plant is truly drought-resistant until it is well established. Water new plantings regularly until they are growing strongly, then supplementary watering can be reduced. When conditions are very dry, and especially if the plants are losing leaves or looking stressed, provide extra water (within the constraints of any water restrictions).
Some of the best dry-loving plants can’t cope with periods of very wet soil. In areas that can be dry for months and then very wet after prolonged rain, protect plant roots from inundation by planting into slightly raised garden beds. This way soils drain quickly and the drought-tolerant plants can keep growing.
Hedges can be naturally dry places, so starting with a drought-resistant plant choice means a thriving hedge whatever the weather outlook. Top choices for tall flowering hedges include bottlebrush (Callistemon spp.), correa (Correa alba), grevillea, sasanqua camellia, photinia or westringia. For a small, fragrant hedge consider lavender or rosemary. For a good all-rounder that’s very drought-hardy, plant Japanese box (Buxus microphylla var. japonica).
Trees have many functions in a garden, from adding flowers or fragrance to throwing patches of welcome shade where we can sit or play, or that shade the house from hot sun. Drought-tolerant choices to plant include frangipani, olive, and some small gum trees including Eucalyptus ‘Summer Red’ and ‘Summer Beauty’.
Plants that cover the ground to act as living mulch are a vital part of a drought-tolerant garden. Many cope with sun or shade and can be tall and grassy such as liriope or mini mondo grass, or flat and flowery such as Spanish shawl (Heterocentron elegans), catmint (Nepeta x fassenii) or deadnettle (Lamium maculatum), which comes with variegated leaves and a choice of white, pink or yellow flowers. In a shady spot, try ajuga.
A drought-tolerant garden doesn’t have to be dull. You can fill yours with flowers, from annual cosmos to salvias, iris and agapanthus. Even roses can thrive when it’s hot and dry with the occasional drink.
Most edible plants do need regular water, but many herbs can get by with less frequent drinks including lemon grass, rosemary, thyme and oregano. Traditional vegetables can also get by with less water if they are shaded from the hot sun and well-mulched. While fruit trees, too, need regular water, especially to support a large crop, there are some that are adapted to dry conditions including carob and quince. Bush tucker plants, such as pigface (Carpobrotus rossii) and native spinach or Warrigal greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides), also cope with dry conditions.