You’ve probably heard the term “Mediterranean climate” bandied about. Yes, that is the official name for the pattern of cool, wet (usually) winters and hot, dry summers found in El Dorado County below about 3,000 feet.
Did you know just how rare this climate is? In the whole world, only California west of the Sierra and Mojave Desert, countries around the Mediterranean Sea, and small parts of South Africa, Chile and Australia have this climate.
Gardening here, then, is not like gardening in England, Kansas or even Arizona, where they actually receive summer rain.
So why not embrace this climate, create gardens that make sense here and focus on plants adapted to this kind of weather?
First, let’s focus on low-water use plants: a key is to get them established first. That usually takes one to two growing seasons of regular water. Remember, the pots have not allowed the roots to grow well and you need to give plants water until the roots have grown out and down to gain enough moisture on their own.
Fall is generally the best time to plant shrubs, trees and perennials, as long as you remember to water the first summer or even two.
Rosemary and lavender are two plants from the Mediterranean basin that thrive here: they even aren’t eaten by deer.
Other beautiful Mediterranean shrubs that need little or no summer water are rockrose, santolina and Jerusalem sage. These all have a profuse show of flowers in spring and/or summer.
You may recognize some of these easy-care plants from other Mediterranean climate countries: Amaryllis (Hippeastrum), zebra aloe and cape plumbago (Plumbago capensis) from South Africa; eucalyptus (frost intolerant) and kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos) from Southwestern Australia and rock purslane (Calandrinia umbellate) from Chile.
Last but definitely not least are the California native plants. Not only are many of these well-adapted to the foothill climate, they are also adapted to the unique and diverse fauna.
California wild lilac (Ceanothus), inland (not island) bush poppy (Papaver), flannel bush (Fremontodendron), matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) and western redbud (Cercis) are all spectacular flowering shrubs that grow in foothill gardens without supplemental water once established.
There are also many native perennials to consider such as milkweed (Asclepias subulata), western goldenrod (Solidago), foothill penstemon and coyote mint (Monardella villosa).
As the number of native California plants grows in your garden, so too will the numbers and diversity of songbirds, butterflies, native bees and other beneficial insects.
These are just a smattering of a long list of plants adapted to Mediterranean climates, the diversity of which is much larger than the small size of land they are native to would suggest.
California alone has more than 6,000 native plant species, most of which are low-water users.
Some places to start researching plants are arboretum.ucdavis.edu/plant_search.aspx, and slobg.org/our-gardens/what-we-grow/.
A garden full of low-water use plants adapted to the local climate will save money, precious water resources and time. Best of all the plants will be resilient to the droughts that frequent California. Choosing plants native to dry areas of California will also give the garden a sense of place, as well as providing habitat for the diverse wildlife with which we share these wonderful Sierra foothills.
There is no Master Gardener class Saturday, May 3. Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions at the annual Home and Garden Show at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds, 100 Placerville Drive in Placerville.
Master Gardeners are also available to answer home gardening questions at the office Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m.-noon. Call 530-621-5512 or walk-ins are welcome at 311 Fair Lane in Placerville.
For more information about the public education classes and activities go to the Master Gardener Website at ucanr.edu/sites/EDC_Master_Gardeners/. Sign up to receive the online notices and e-newsletter at ucanr.edu/mgenews/. You can also find Master Gardeners on Facebook.