Hot Tropicals on a Water-Wise Budget

Pereskia joomla

Garden tip from landscape designer Christiane Holmquist

Christiane Holmquist Landscape Designs

2523 San Vicente Road, Ramona



Christiane Holmquist blends the allure of plants with the strength of well-planned structural design. Her company offers landscaping and garden consultation, full residential landscape design, specialized design for patios, outdoor kitchens, fire pits and more. Holmquist is available for professional presentations and workshops for gardening and homeowner groups.


Hot Tropicals on a Water-Wise Budget

Recently I got an invitation from Waterwise Botanicals in Bonsall to visit their growing grounds. Tom Jesch introduced me to some traditionally considered “tropical” plants with lush foliage, glossy leaves and brilliant, intense color that perform like drought-tolerant plants.

If you are looking for some strikingly colorful additions to your low-water landscaping, check these plants out:


Royal Queen Pereskia grandiflora violacea gives a punch of color to the xeriscape design

Royal Queen (pictured) is an attractive answer to our water crisis. With glossy evergreen foliage (which hides its thorns — it’s in the cactus family) and clusters of orchid-like purple flowers from late spring to fall, this shrub lends low-water landscaping a colorful and “royal” touch. It likes regular watering but is equally tough in dry conditions, partial or full sun.  It’s partially deciduous in winter, and tender to freezing temperatures.

Uses: With its size of 3 to 4 feet in height and width, I’d use it as center of a flower-bed design, as specimen, (in winter, when it’s partially deciduous, I’d distract from it with other green or flowering plants); or I’d use it in mass plantings where its sparser look in winter is not a problem. I’d also use it in a container if it can be rolled out of sight in winter. 

Variegated Brazilian Sky Flower (Duranta repens variegate) lends a tropical touch

Shiny leaves with bright-green and cream variegation, and drooping clusters of lavender blossoms in spring to summer make the Brazilian Skyflower an attractive large shrub that grows to 12 to 15 feet tall by 8 feet wide but can also be trained into a small tree. It thrives in the heat, sun or partial sun. It needs regular water (as in every 10 days or so), and it’s hardy to the high 20s. A note to gardeners with children: This plant produces yellow berry-like fruits (the plant is also called “Pigeon Berry”) that are toxic if ingested.

Uses:  I’d use it as screen or train it into a small attractive evergreen patio or container tree.

More drought-tolerant “Wanna-Be Tropicals” to add hot, energizing color and lush foliage

Aloe rudikoppe ‘Little Gem’ — this tough succulent produces beautiful orange, exotic waxy flowers year round. It’s superb for its toughness as it can tolerate regular water to dry conditions and thrives even on the northside of buildings where it never gets any direct sun. 1 ½ foot height; 2 foot spread; hardy to 25 degrees F.

Bougainvillea ‘Torch Glow’ — As a shrub that slowly grows 6 to 7 feet tall and 5 feet wide, this bougainvillea is more adaptable to smaller gardens than its rambling brethren. With hot-pink flowers for most of the year, it can be paired with succulents, tropical-looking plants or desert garden plants as it is very drought-tolerant once established. Hardy to the mid 20s.

Daylily ‘Black Suave’ — This is a wonderful highlight of color in the garden with deep-red, luxurious flowers. Height about 1 ½ feet by 1 ½ feet width. In massing it would have a great impact. Blooms in spring and again in fall. A good technique to coax it into re-bloom and remove spent leaf blades is to cut the whole plant about 6 inches above ground when the first flush of flowers is gone.

Rose ‘Cherry Bomb’ — This rose is perhaps a perfect stand-in for hibiscus without its problems of mildew or whiteflies. It produces sweet, rosy red, 2-to-3 inch single-petaled blossoms with ruffled edges, on beautiful bronze/dark-green disease-resistant foliage. Approximately 5 to 6 inches tall and wide, it flowers most of the year with nice hips in winter. Full to part sun, and hardy to -15 degrees F.

Categories: Gardening