One crucial aspect of survival gardening is the ability to plan ahead, while staying flexible and adaptable. The weather can be unpredictable, but sometimes we have some clues about what to expect. Right now, we’re being warned that we're headed into an El Niño weather pattern, bringing hot weather. Some of us are already experiencing unusually warm springs, and it is wise to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Our previous article on Planting a Drought Resistant Vegetable Garden is a great resource for getting started. It has practical strategies for maintaining a healthy, fruitful garden despite the challenges that come with warmer, drier weather patterns. To truly maximize your harvest and the health of your garden, it’s quite important to include flowers and herbs, too.
Flowers improve your garden’s ecosystem by attracting pollinators and providing them with food. Although your vegetables will also produce a few flowers, flowering plants that have an abundance of fragrant blooms in your garden will ensure that far more bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, beetles, and other pollinators visit because your garden is a friendly place with lots of food to enjoy. Flowers are also good for you, too. Natural beauty can be hard to come by during drought conditions, and flowers have been shown to have emotional benefits like helping us manage stress, feel happier, and show more optimism.
Herbs also help improve the garden environment by attracting beneficial insects. Herbs have flowers, and they’re also quite fragrant. The aromatic compounds in many of these herbs can deter pests while attracting pollinators. Herbs also make food much more delicious and nutritious, with a high concentration of antioxidants and other nutrients. Most herbs are so healthy, they can be used in highly effective natural medicinal remedies, salves, tinctures, or teas.
We’ve created a collection of some of our favorite herbs and flowers that can thrive in drought conditions. This collection can create a lovely little xeriscape oasis by itself, or they can be incorporated into your larger vegetable garden. Some of these plants also can survive indoors if given enough light. Here are the stars of our Drought Resistant Flower and Herb Collection:
We’ve chosen the classic vibrant orange variety to add to your drought-resistant garden. California Poppy is a hardy wildflower with a knack for surviving in tough conditions. It’s especially beautiful in mass plantings and will provide a stunning bit of color contrast when it blooms in spring and autumn.
This perennial herb comes from southern Europe and northern Africa. It’s not surprising that thyme is adapted to dry conditions and rocky soil that is characteristic of the Mediterranean region. This charming herb’s tiny needle-like leaves and tiny flowers reduce evaporation and help to shed heat, making it super easy to care for. It thrives both indoors and outdoors, with minimal care - making it perfect for both droughts and forgetful gardeners. Plus, its aromatic leaves are delicious and extremely healthy.
Both a flower and an herb, lavender adds beauty and fragrance to your garden with its lovely purple blossoms. Lavender has been used through the ages for its calming fragrance and therapeutic properties. It’s also useful for baking, crafting, and making fragrances. It’s a great companion plant that draws in beneficial insects while discouraging pests - including scorpions! Another Mediterranean native, lavender has impressive drought tolerance due to its thin, waxy leaves that prevent water loss. It loves rocky, gravelly soils and plenty of heat.
Victoria Blue Sage
Victoria Blue Sage is also known as mealycup sage because of the powdery dust that covers its blue cup-shaped flowers. It is native to warmer climates in North America, particularly Texas and Mexico where it comes back year after year as a perennial. In colder climates, Victoria blue sage will be killed by frost and must be grown as an annual. This fast-growing plant does require regular watering when young to establish strong roots but afterward will adapt to either drought or humid conditions. The plant will start flowering in about four months and has a long blooming season, making it a favorite for hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.
Known also as Buffalo Sage, White Sage is a unique plant with a rich Native American heritage. Its white leaves reflect the light. In the wild, it usually grows on slopes in rocky terrain, which helps improve drainage. This popular herb is in high demand to create smudging sticks, and its native Southern California habitat is being harmed by poachers and unsustainable growing and harvesting practices. Growing your own white sage at home is a better option for those who want to enjoy the benefits of this herb without contributing to harmful agricultural practices.
A must-have in any kitchen, Culinary Sage has an unmistakable intense flavor and fragrance. This hardy perennial produces beautiful lavender flowers in early spring, attracting insect friends. Sage has potent antioxidant content and is a useful addition to the survival garden for its therapeutic uses. It is excellent at withstanding hot and dry spells because of its shallow root structure and slightly fuzzy gray-green leaves that reflect the light.
Marjoram is another Mediterranean herb that has many culinary and medicinal uses. This low-growing plant has gray-green leaves with a sweet, mild flavor. It spreads easily with its shallow rhizomes and can be cultivated by division. To encourage bushy growth pinch back and prune stems through spring and summer. Although it is low maintenance, marjoram does not enjoy cold weather and is only hardy in Zones 9-10. If you want year-round fresh marjoram, consider growing it in containers and bringing it indoors once the temperatures approach 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Often confused with marjoram, oregano has a very similar appearance with flat, fuzzy, green leaves that are slightly larger and more olive green than marjoram’s. If you’re still confused, the flavor of oregano is much bolder, with a spicy, pungent flavor. Oregano grows quite vigorously and can take over the garden if you aren’t careful, so some gardeners choose to grow it in pots to keep it contained. Oregano is another drought-adapted Mediterranean herb that requires very little water, and it’s almost impossible to kill. It also provides habitat for beneficial lacewings that will feed on pests like cabbage moth caterpillars, aphids, and whiteflies.
Don’t let the dire predictions of upcoming El Niño weather keep you from enjoying a beautiful, healthy garden. You can contribute to your local ecosystem, provide for your family, and save on water use at the same time by making smart choices. These resilient and drought-resistant herbs and flowers are wonderful additions to the garden at any time, but they are particularly good choices in times of water shortage and hot weather. When used in conjunction with a well-planned and executed water reduction plan, these plants will form a foundation for a stunning, fragrant, useful oasis in your survival garden.