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One of the most common requests I get from my clients is: "I want year round color with little water and it must be low maintenance." My response is always, "No problem." This may seem like a difficult task to accomplish, and to most it is, but this is my specialty. This question excites me, it means I can exceed my client's expectations and create a beautiful, low water landscape and educate my clients on the importance of foliage color, texture and shape in plants.

So set your fears aside and take a look below. These are some of my favorite plant combinations, they add that wow factor we all look for in the garden and are low maintenance to boot. I challenge you to take the time to browse the nursery for plants that have extraordinary foliage and create a masterpiece planting in your own garden.

Mediterranean Plant Combo

Italian Cypress (Cupressus sempirvirens 'Tiny Towers')
Olive (Olea europaea 'Swan Hill')
Mexican Sage (Salvia leucantha 'Santa Barbara')
Lily-of-the-Nile (Agapanthus 'Storm Cloud')
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Santa Barbara Daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus)

Fantastic Foliage Combo

Euphorbia characias wulfenii
Coral Bells (Heuchera hybrid)
New Zealand Flax (Phormium 'Dark Delight')
Nemesia species

All Contained Combo

New Zealand Flax (Phormium 'Dark Delight')
Sedum dasyphyllum
Aeonium 'Star Burst'
Oat Grass (Festuca glauca)

Succulent Garden Path Combo

Yucca aloifolia
Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum)
Aeonium canariense
Agave attunata
Achillea millenfolium
Sedum species
Pork and Beans (Sedum rubrotinctum)

A Little Romance Combo

Flowering Plum (Prunus cerasifera 'krauter Vesuvius')
Coast Rosemary (Westringia 'Morning Light')
Rosa "Bonica"
Sweet Lavender (Lavandula x hetrophylla)
Bower Vine (Pandorea Jasminoides 'Lady Di')
Aster species

Retreat Garden

Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens)
Mallow (Lavatera maritime)
Mirror Plant (Coprosma 'Raibow Surprise')
Aeonium haworthii
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Italian Cypress (Cupressus sempirvirens 'Tiny Towers')

Water is a big concern here in Southern California, and we are very careful to use it wisely. Here is a bit of information you may not have been aware of. Up to 70% of all residential water usage is outside the home. A majority of that is used in the landscape. California water agencies are targeting water conservation efforts outside the home and new regulations have been set in place. You may think that this means we are going to be forced to have unattractive gravel and cactus gardens; well I am here to tell you that's not the case. There are many beautiful and exciting plants available in your local nurseries, and if used in the right combinations you can have a garden that will draw envy throughout your neighborhood. The best part is they won't even realize it's a low water use garden.

In my own garden, I have very few flowering plants, instead I focus on interesting foliage color and shape. The plants that do flower put on a heck of a show, with little to no dead heading. I choose to garden in this manner because I have minimal time to spend in the garden, but need it to look interesting and unique at all times. In addition to having little time to garden I am also in one of the most expensive water districts in my area, so low water usage plants are a must for me. I usually turn the irrigation off around October and it remains off until April or May. During the spring and fall the water is only on for 20 minutes (I use a drip irrigation system) every four days. In the hot summer months I up the time to 25 minutes every 3 days.

Try out some these combinations for your self, I know you to will fall in love with plants with beautiful and interesting foliage. Remember, a well thought out garden should grab your attention and pull you in the moment you arrive. It should take your breath away and make your heart race. It should inspire you to run home and create a colorful low water garden in your own space. Happy Gardening!

Shellene Mueller is a landscape designer and contractor in San Diego, CA. Her award-winning company, Designs by Shellene, is known for its focus on climate appropriate plantings. She also has experience managing a private estate garden.

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