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I like to surround myself with plant “work horses” in my garden. My house sits on a little ridge overlooking the town of Ramona, in the “Valley of the Sun”, east of San Diego, which the Sunset Garden book places into zone 20. Temps here get easily to the upper nineties in summer, and into the low 100’s, but don’t get very low in winter; night temperatures might dip to the low 20s.
 
 
Thanks to my geographic situation I was spared the extreme cold that other areas saw in the February 2007, the “Big Freeze”, although some of my plants looked like a torch had been held to them. However, the fact that in my garden the cold air can drain away to lower valleys prevented it from doing much damage, and that has saved many of my plants.
 
Graptopetalum paraguayense
 
Thanks to my geographic situation I was spared the extreme cold that other areas saw in the February 2007, the “Big Freeze”, although some of my plants looked like a torch had been held to them. However, the fact that in my garden the cold air can drain away to lower valleys prevented it from doing much damage, and that has saved many of my plants. 
 
My soil is not the easiest to work with, although it is “light”: Decomposed granite (often called DG), mixed with sandy loam. It drains well (too well to my liking), and the DG doesn’t hold many nutrients. I have experimented with many drought tolerant plants and found that many of those that in other areas of San Diego County are considered drought tolerant, need more water in my garden than I want to give them. Now, with several years of trial and error, I am putting my list of “work horses” together that I like to use also in my designs and that I would like to share with you.
 
 
One of my favorites plants is Graptopetalum paraguyense (Ghost Plant). I don’t know which aspect of this plant is more endearing: Elegance, low water needs, extremely low maintenance requirements, ability to fit into different design types, low height and handy size, readiness to grow from leaves, stems or divisions…
 
calylophus hartwegiism .jpg
It is a clumping succulent from Mexico to 7 in. high whose branching stems, ending in rosettes, will spread to 1 ft wide and slowly to two and more feet, which makes it very easy to control. With its grayish/bluish thick fleshy leaves it adds to or contrasts elegantly with any color. I like to combine mine with either the blue of Salvia chamaedryoides (Gentian Sage) which also provides a nice contrasting texture, or the lovely perennial grass Muhlenbergia rigens (Deer Grass), the soft yellow of Calylophys hartwegii Trailing Buttercups, or the red Salvia grahamii (Dwarf Crayon Sage), as contrasting under-planting. It’s extremely low in water use and maintenance and grows well in part shade or full sun. In fact, planted under my native oaks I water it perhaps 2 or 3 times during the summer, just to let the leaves plump up again when the long dry season has let them shrivel up a bit.
 
It is suitable as a groundcover in areas where there is no foot traffic, or as filler in rock gardens, or as spiller from hanging baskets and pots. Plants will turn gray-blue when grown in shade and grey with a tinge of pink in full sun. Sprays of white or yellow flowers appear on this plant which needs warm dry conditions but will tolerate temperatures down to about 25 F.
 
Leaves will break off easily so handle it with care, and the nice bonus of this plant is that new plants grow readily from these leaves, from cuttings or divisions.  
 
Christiane is owner of Christiane Holmquist Landscape Design. You can learn more about Christiane by visiting her website www.cholmquistgardens.com.


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