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Get water wise

Landscape designer Franchesca Watson shares her top 11 plants for a drought-proof garden

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Get water wise
Get water wise

Landscape designer Franchesca Watson shares her top plants for a drought-proof garden

PORTULACARIA AFRA

This succulent is on everyone’s wish list: Its round, bright green leaves add great texture and pattern and it has burgundy petioles – a designer couldn’t have done better. The trick is to trim it into hedges or undulating shapes, otherwise it can  be a bit formless and awkward.

BOUGAINVILLEA

An all-time favourite for colour and drought-resistance, this plant actually thrives on a bit of abuse in terms of glaring heat and little water. Great for security, too. Just remember, bougainvilleas are big things – they need a lot of space or firm training, or both.

SCHINUS MOLLE

Ever since I first went to Matjiesfontein years ago, I have been in love with this incredibly water-wise tree. Every single one develops character, and it has great fissured bark, fascinating bendy branches and a cloud-like canopy of fine, trailing mist. 

OLEANDER

Dare I say it – I adore oleanders. Not the pink one that is such an invader, but the sterile white ones that don’t spread and the small hybrids in reds and apricots. It flowers constantly and is easily managed, as it only needs a good prune every couple of years.

AGAVE ATTENUATA

My passion for this agave just goes on and on. It takes full sun and a little shade, has a wonderful sea-green colour, the smartest rosettes of leaves ever, and can be planted as a cutting without roots. However, it doesn’t like to be bashed around – the leaves will bear scars forever so avoid positions where it can get damaged by people or animals, although it will happily take a lot of wind.

SERSIA GENUS OF SHRUBS

Apart from Rhus crenata so beloved by the nursery trade, there are a number of other marvellous ones like the robust olive green Rhus angustifolia – lovely for big, water-wise hedges or windbreaks. I’m also mad about Rhus glauca, which has a fascinating powdery blue tinge – also hard to get hold of, but truly marvellous.

PROTEA REPENS

This large, happy protea is relatively easy  to grow. It has a pink and a white form,  and I love the shape of the leaves – the gorgeous flowers are just a big bonus. And the sunbirds will be so happy.

FRANGIPANI

A wonderful, tropical-looking small tree which will no doubt bring back childhood memories. With a great  form and scent, it will take drought  and wind, propagates from cuttings  and looks incredible lit up at night.

ARTEMESIA AFRA

Needing only modest water, I like this plant for its colour and texture, and use it to bring a frothy note into mixed shrubberies. It does not have enough form to really stand alone, so needs to be grouped and surrounded with other plants. A really good cut back fairly often will help it develop some shape.

INDIGENOUS GRASSES

Grasses will survive most drought conditions. Choose the ones that go blonde rather than brown and adjust your aesthetic standards – it helps if they are mass planted. And watch them go when the rain does come.

PHORMIUMS

I am crazy about these New Zealand flaxes, but hate them dotted around like you generally see them used. It is wonderful in big swathes, and come in all sorts of jazzy colours and stripes now. Big, bold and very modern. 

Franchesca Watson 

082 808 1287 

franchescawatson.com

Photography Mike Hall