Never-say-die gardeners learn to beat drought

Staff WriterFebruary 18, 2008 

  • Drought-resistant plants recommended by the N.C. Cooperative Extension:


    Large-flowered clematis

    Carolina jessamine


    Creeping juniper



    Blue wild rye

    Fountain grass


    Japanese boxwood

    Compact holly


    Wintergreen barberry

    Oakleaf hydrangea


    Butterfly bush




    California poppy



    Day lily

    The N.C. Cooperative Extension has an extensive list of drought-tolerant plants on the Web. To find it, open a search engine and type "North Carolina Cooperative Extension" and "drought-tolerant plants." To find your local extension office, visit the state extension Web site at

— Pat McGinley moved to the Triangle and landscaped her new backyard last year. She put in plants and an irrigation system just in time for the summer's record-breaking heat and the water restrictions that followed.

But she's not giving up on her gardening.

"Oh yeah, I'm stubborn," McGinley said.

The Triangle's poor clay soil and continuing drought could dissuade many newcomers from laboring in their yards. But McGinley and about three dozen other determined gardeners gathered Sunday afternoon at Duke Gardens for a free workshop called "Gardening for Yankees and Other Transplants."

Durham Master Gardener Jim Coughlin, a transplant himself, drew snickers as he started his presentation with slides that read, "You must be crazy to garden in N.C.!" and "We don't care how you did it up north!"

Coughlin, 72, passed along local N.C. Cooperative Extension material with tips on improving soil quality, keeping plant-eaters at bay and conserving water.

He didn't make it sound easy.

Coughlin clicked through inspirational photographs of local public and private gardens in full bloom. He also shared discouraging snapshots of the low water levels at Falls Lake and Little River, as well as his neighbor's huge, well-established azaleas that died last year and his own crispy viburnum.

"It's the elephant in the room," Coughlin said of the drought. "You can't talk about gardening without talking about it."

Audrey Luckeydoo, 24, moved to Durham from Ohio a year ago and had mixed results last year. Her snapdragons did really well. Her hydrangea and butterfly bush didn't make it.

"I got frustrated," Luckeydoo said after the workshop. "My soil is pretty bad."

Raymond Graver, 71, has gotten around the poor soil and the drought largely by planting in containers. The former New York resident has successfully grown a healthy red nandina in a pot for eight years and now is trying to do the same with a Knock Out rose.

Graver catches running water for his plants in old orange juice containers when he runs the kitchen tap before filling up his filtered water pitcher.

"I strongly recommend gardening in containers," Graver said. "The nice thing about them also is you can move them around."

Before McGinley moved into her house last year, she visited the Durham Cooperative Extension office to learn more about what plants would do well.

McGinley, in her 60s, brought years of experience gained from gardening in climates as varied as shade gardens in New York to heat-tolerant gardens in Texas.

She put in drip irrigation for ornamental plants and used it until Durham enacted restrictions.

She also put in a lot of day lilies.

"They all look like they're going to make it," she said.

Now she's hoping to find some of the sages and other drought-resistant plants she knew in Texas.

"Every place is different. Something will grow there," she said. "You just have to figure it out." or (919) 932-2005

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