Inferno Strips

Every garden has one of those
difficult spots that is impossible to water or maintain. It could be a sidewalk
strip, a bed alongside a driveway or garage, or just a corner of the yard that
the hose can’t reach. In those places,
you need some plants that can stand up for themselves.

The first step is to improve the
soil as much as you can. Dig out as
much dirt as you can (pick a day when the earth is damp but not soggy), and
fill in with rich, aged compost or a bagged planting mix. Work about one-third native soil back into
the bed. Pile the mixture high; it will
settle during the first year.

Next, walk the neighborhood and
look for plants that flourish under the same conditions. The importance of microclimate cannot be
underestimated here; the best plants for a difficult spot are the ones that
already have a proven track record nearby, maybe even in your own garden.

It’s tempting to plant an invasive groundcover in a
place like this, especially if it seems like it would be contained by
concrete. However, there are some
excellent California native choices. In
a large, dry area, a ceanothus (there are many varieties available) will bloom
its heart out in summer and provide a mass of shiny, dark green leaves the rest
of the year. It will also crowd out

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium
) is an excellent choice for a smaller area that gets some water—try
it in a low spot in the garden, for instance. The plants reach up to two feet high, and in springtime they produce
lovely bright purple-blue flowers. For
a meadow look, mix in perennial, clump-forming ornamental grasses and scatter
poppy seeds (Eschscholzia californica) every fall. Beautiful!