Interesting year-round

Drought-tolerant native evergreens provide interest in every season
With small white or pink flowers in the spring followed by red berries, several kinds of manzanita are appropriate for garden use. (Photo by Nancy McClain)

With our wet winters and dry summers, Southern Oregon is well-suited to the water-efficient, Mediterranean style of gardening that relies on plants to store water through the winter and survive the summer with little or no irrigation.

"Native, drought-tolerant evergreens do well in a Mediterranean garden because they have adapted to our seasonal pattern of wet and dry," says Linda McMahan, an Oregon State University Extension horticulturist. She recommends several evergreens to keep a Mediterranean garden green year-round.

Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is native to the West Coast from British Columbia to Northern California. With shiny, dark-green leaves that look like holly, it grows to 6 feet. Several can be planted together and pruned as a hedge. The leaves are sharply spiked, and birds are attracted to its yellow blooms and purple berries.

Native to dry, open, rocky areas, common juniper (Juniperus communis) has stiff, needlelike leaves and purple berries. It forms a dense, low-growing mat. Common juniper tends to have sparse foliage and needs good drainage and very little summer irrigation. Junipers often fail with too much moisture.

Arbutus menziesii, our native madrone, is unique to the Pacific Northwest. It is difficult to transplant because of its reliance on fungal hyphae (which, together with the plant roots, form a system called mychorrizae.) If you are lucky enough to have a madrone in your garden already, McMahan suggests making it a focal point in your Mediterranean landscape.

A close relative to madrone, the smaller Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree), has dark-green leaves and reddish bark. Native to southern Europe, it is a popular lawn and garden tree in California. As a single tree, it grows slowly to about 30 feet. Or several strawberry trees can be planted close together and pruned as a hedge or screen.

Similar in appearance to Arbutus, manzanitas (Arctostaphylos) are a large group of evergreen shrubs native to western North America. Manzanitas have shiny, dark-green leaves and twisted branches with reddish bark. One of the most popular varieties is kinnikinnick (A. uva-ursi). With small, shiny, dark-green leaves, it forms a low-growing dense mat up to 15 feet across with small white or pink flowers in the spring followed by red berries. Several cultivars of kinnikinnick are appropriate for garden use.

Some evergreens native to Mediterranean climates, such as Cistus, (also known as rock rose) actually grow best without summer water. Sun-loving and hardy, Cistus varieties range from dwarf to 6 feet tall, with blooms from red to pink to white, blooming from May into late fall, often with gray-green foliage. Cistus grows well in poor soil and requires good drainage.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus), the familiar culinary herb, is another evergreen Mediterranean native with varying forms and heights, from small and rounded to upright and 6 feet. Like Cistus, it is sun-loving, adapted to poor soils, doesn't appreciate extra water and requires good drainage.

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