When faced with the challenge of a small garden with dry soil, the temptation to give up and put in a rock garden persuades many gardeners. You do not have to resort to that. Many plants perform well, and some even thrive, in dry conditions. Dwarf varieties fit in the smallest gardens. Flowers and foliage provide year-round color and interest. With a little planning, your dry planting bed will transform into a feature attraction in your garden.
The careful placement of shrubs in the small garden provides foundation and height. In addition, shrubs can enhance the garden with color in the winter months. Skyrocket juniper makes a statement with its tall, conical form. The blue-grey color gives the appearance of depth when placed in the back of the bed. Skyrocket junipers tolerate dry soil and grow in USDA zones 5 through 10. They perform best in full sun and reach mature heights of about 15 feet in 10 years. Emerald ‘n Gold Euonymus makes another fantastic evergreen choice. The green and gold variegated leaves look striking next to the blue of the juniper. The small shrub grows to 4 feet high and wide in 10 years, but pruning maintains a smaller size and shape. The Euonymus does well in any soil in zones 5 to 10 and full to partial sun.
With careful arrangement, perennials can visually pull the front of the small garden forward. Placed along with the height and color of the shrubs, this creates the feel of a much larger bed. For this effect, choose bright flower colors in hues of yellows, reds and oranges. Several perennials thrive in dry soil. At the front of the bed, as a border, plant Roman chamomile. The foliage retains color in winter, and the white and yellow, small flowers resemble daisies. Roman chamomile grows approximately 1 foot tall in zones 4 through 9. Smaller varieties of Chrysanthemum, such as cushion, in shades of red will bring fall color to the dry garden. Also known as garden mums, these perennials perform well in almost any conditions in zones 5 through 10. Blanketflower (Gaillardia grandiflora) thrives in dry soil and full sun. A variety like Dazzler brings color from summer to the first frosts in zones 2 through 10. Dazzler’s flowers have maroon centers with bright yellow borders, and the plant grows to 2 feet. To bring height to the perennial area, consider daylilies. Available in a variety of colors and easy to maintain, daylilies grow well just about anywhere.
Adding annual flowers between perennials give you a way to change your small garden bed every year. For height and color variety throughout the growing seasons, use zinnias. They grow in almost any condition from 5 inches to 3 feet high. The color ranges from red, to yellow, to pinks. Zinnias bloom prolifically if kept deadheaded. Marigolds give a splash of sunny yellow and bright green leaves. Also easy to grow, they reach 1 to 3 feet tall. Bachelor’s button, or cornflower, brings shades of blue and purple to the small bed. Cornflower grows to 2 feet tall and blooms all summer and into fall.