We gardeners in Ohio never know what the weather will be on a given summer day but, this summer, temperatures have already risen into the eighties and nineties. We also seem to be going from one extreme to the other with moisture – from no rain to too much rain.Those of us who prefer not to run up huge water bills turn to drought-resistant plants that welcome heat and lack of water. Concomitant with lack of water is the need for excellent drainage; the plants that thrive in these summer conditions will die during the winter if the soil is too wet. All of the plants that I will mention are hardy to at least Zone 5 and some to Zone 4.
When designing gardens, I always start with the largest plants because they provide structure. Two of my favorite, drought-tolerant trees are Nyssa sylvatica (Black Gum), and Heptacodium miconiodes (Seven-Son Flower).
Nyssa sylvatica is a very large tree that should be positioned in the southwest corner of a large lawn to shade the house during the summer. It has very nice, glossy green foliage during the growing seasons but its finest attribute is its flaming fall color. A very large tree at 30-50’ high and 20-30’ wide, a few smaller cultivars such as ‘Autumn Cascade’ and ‘Zydeco Twist’, could lend additional interest to the garden due to their unusual form.
In late August 1995, while visiting the Trompenburg Arboretum in Rotterdam, I stood in awe, gazing at a tree that I had never seen before. The leaves of the vase-shaped, graceful tree curved downward while the ends of each branch were literally covered with innumerable clusters of white buds that were just beginning to open. Next, I noticed the lovely exfoliating bark that would provide winter interest.
I soon learned that this was Heptacodium miconiodes (Seven Son Flower). Native to China and growing 15-30’x12’, it prefers moist soil in full sun but I can testify to its ability to withstand drought and some shade. It has been in my landscape since 1997 and I have since learned that the flower buds become star-like, fragrant white flowers followed by rosy calyces that contribute additional color and interest to the landscape.
Woody plants that supply both fall and winter interest are to be treasured.