GARDENING IN SUMMER DRY CLIMATES with PHOTOJOURNALIST SAXON HOLT
In our second episode focusing on the inspiring beauty of dry gardens and the plants and people who love them, we’re joined this week by photojournalist Saxon Holt. The sole photographer on more than 30 garden books, Saxon is also owner of the PhotoBotanic Garden Library and director of the Summer-Dry Project.
Saxon’s most recent book is a second collaboration between he and writer Nora Harlow: Gardening in Summer-Dry Climates, plants for a lush, water conscious landscape, published by Timber Press in 2020. The vision of the Summer-Dry Project is that in the midst of tumultuous climate change, it’s all the more important that gardeners be stewards of the land, attuned to the local environment on behalf of all creatures. The Summer-Dry Project provides gardeners in summer-dry climates authoritative plant information and inspiring photos that encourage sustainable garden practices.
One of the resources that Saxon works with and serves as an advisor to as well I believe is something called WUCOLS. A service of the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, WUCOLS stands for Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. This searchable database compiles the water usage and drought tolerance of plants based on specific locations across the state of California, many of which would be comparable to other locations in other western states.
One of my favorite things about WUCOLS is that from Abelia to Zinnia acerosa (desert zinnia), you can look a plant up and see how much water use it requires in your region and OFTEN WUCOLS will simply say to you: INAPPROPRIATE. Meaning, this plant uses far too much water to be appropriate in your location. I love that clear message. Inappropriate. Like the plants compiled in Saxon and Nora Harlow’s Gardening in Summer Dry Climates, WUCOLS provides more information for all us to consider as we consider our own gardens and how to support them not just with beauty but with the wisdom and strength our climates and worlds need – now as ever.
Photos in this week's show notes are courtesy of Saxon Holt and the PhotoBotanic Garden Library.
You can follow Saxon's work online on at Saxon Holt, PhotoBotanic Garden Library, at the Summer-Dry Project, and on Instagram @saxonholt or @summerdry.gardens
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Thinking out loud this week:
Hey It’s Jennifer –
In this conversation, I especially love Saxon – as a really successful photo journalist – emphasizing his responsibility for the work he does – its impact and its messages. I like his goal to help shift the aesthetic for what we all as gardeners see as beautiful and worth working toward or for.
In last week’s episode with Daniel Nolan, I inaccurately described Los Angeles climatically as a 'desert'. This is a misrepresentation born of gross generalization on my part, and I want to thank listen Krista Nicholds for her note about this. While the Los Angeles basin is a summer-dry, winter-wet environment – also known as a Mediterranean or dry subtropical climate with annual precipitation totals somewhere around 15 inches (by definition deserts receive less than 10 inches of precipitation annually), the Los Angeles basin is more complex and amazing by far than that, a mosaic of some of the most intriguing and remarkable and very specific plant communities in valleys and plains, on gentle and rugged coastline, and gentle and extremely rugged mountain slopes and peaks.
Vegetation types including and as wide ranging as wide swathes of chaparral, oak woodland and savanna, and pinyon-juniper woodlands, and higher-elevation forests that include white fir, Jeffrey pine, sugar pine, and lodgepole pine, the region includes coastal sage scrub, and coastal plain. The nuances between these types of classifications – none of which are desert - is so important. Our language is important, my use of language is important.
I might have shared this story with you before, but this past summer I participated in the Slow Flowers Summit at Filoli Historic House & Garden in Woodside, California. I enjoyed and learned something from every single presentation at the gathering, but the panel on Sustainability Farming and Floral Design was a highlight for me.
The three women – Kellee Matsushita-Tseng, Emily Adelia Saeger, and Molly Oliver, discussed the works and days of being farmers striving for practices that created personal, environmental and economic sustainability.
First they were in direct conversation about their experiences through their careers, and then they spoke while arranging the foliage, branches, seed heads, and flowers that each of them had chosen in advance in front of the summit attendees. It was moving in a host of ways. Emily Adelia Saeger had chosen her palette of plants for arranging from her love of the California Chaparral – that biome or seam of plant life, dominated by shrubs coevolved with California’s exposed hot summer dry slopes – those of interior mountains and coastal ridgelines.
Many of these shrubs are seriously tough broad leaf evergreens or they are summer deciduous to preserve water. The chaparral includes plants revered globally like ceanothus, manzanita, garrry, and styrax, salvia, clematis, calchortus, alliums, and so many more.
These plants are often, especially in summer, muted in color varying shades of dusty greens, browns, silvers, grays, or they are as noted above summer and/or drought deciduous.
As Emily worked with her dried flowers and seed heads, grasses, and branches, she noted that when she had first come to California she saw these brown summer plants as really ugly. But that as she had grown in her understanding of the conditions of this new place she called home she now looked out across the muted summer landscape of chaparral – and she saw not only great beauty but more importantly she saw wisdom and strength.
Wisdom and strength.
What is not to love if we can look out at our gardens and see wisdom and strength - and all the beauty and contributions and lessons that come with that?
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