New Zealand Flax for Foundation Planting

With new Los Angeles Department of Water & Power water restrictions starting Monday, people are creating gardens that only need watering twice a week, since Mondays and Thursdays are the only days sprinklers can legally operate. You can water with a hose every day of the week, as long as you do so before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m., but it is unlikely that most people, except those with small gardens, will do their watering “up close and personal” with a hose.
Two public libraries, one at Tyrone Avenue and Moopark Street in Sherman Oaks, and the other at Whitsett Avenue and Moorpark Street in Studio City, can offer guidance on garden design for this new era of minimal watering.
I am not referring to the book collections inside, although I know for a fact that they include volumes on water-saving gardens.
Instead, you need only look at the plants on display in front of the libraries themselves to learn something about garden design for twice a week watering.
Both library gardens include New Zealand flax (Phormium) as a foundation plant. Foundation plants are those that frame a house or building, situated in front of it or on both sides, exposed to public view and complementing or softening the structure’s architectural lines. New Zealand flax, with its unmistakable spear-shaped leaves radiating from the center, can grow in either wet or dry soil conditions.
The Sherman Oaks Library garden features plants with contrasting foliar color. For vivid garden color, annual flowers are typically used. However, annual flowers such as petunias, marigolds and lobelia generally require more than twice a week watering and their gradual disappearance from foundation plantings, especially those exposed to afternoon sun, is inevitable once water rationing takes hold.
At the Sherman Oaks Library, two cultivars of mock orange (Pittosporum) and golden euonymous (u-ON-i-mus) offer intriguing contrast to the bronze flax. Pittosporum Tobira ‘Variegata’ has lime green and cream colored foliage and Pittosporum Tobira ‘Wheeleri,’ a dwarf, has a glistening green look. Golden euonymous has green and yellow foliage. It is planted to give a continual sunny disposition to the garden, although it may become mildewy where it receives less than six daily hours of full sun exposure.
At the Studio City Library, in addition to New Zealand flax, mounds of blue fescue grass (Festuca ovina glauca) provide perpetual foliar color at the front corner of the foundation planting. White ‘Iceberg’ and red ‘Flower carpet’ roses also have been planted. ‘Flower Carpet’ roses are highly drought tolerant once established in the garden as are ‘Knock Out’ roses, the latter not planted here but available in a variety of colors and excellent candidates for twice a week watering.
All of these so-called landscaping roses are not noted for their fragrance, but make up for this deficiency with nearly year-round bloom and disease resistance.
Deep yellow and orange-red daylilies add a delightful finishing touch to the Studio City Library planting. The advantage of daylilies in the garden is that, once flowering stops and their leaves being to pale, they can be cut to the ground with confidence in their quick rejuvenation and reflowering.
Cheek by jowl planting is a water-conservation tactic on display at the library gardens. When shrubby plants are placed right next to each other, their foliage shades the earth, acts as a living mulch and reduces evaporation from the soil surface.

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