Necessity brought change to the landscaping of UC Davis. It also meant opportunity for the UC Davis Arboretum.
Largest in the University of California system, the campus encompasses about 5,300 acres. With the arboretum staff's expertise, the university is in the midst of converting the whole campus to a water-efficient model.
"Our challenge: How could we retrofit very high-maintenance turf areas that need mowing and trimming and lots of water with plants that were very low maintenance," explained Ellen Zagory, the arboretum's horticulture director. "Because of budget cuts, we have less money for maintenance. If we could replace the turf, that means no more edging, no more trimming."
Core to that makeover were plants that could look beautiful without fuss.
"We put a real high value on color," Zagory said. "These cast-iron plants get by with very low, even no maintenance. They don't need much if any pruning. They're all low-water, and they look great."
The makeover also gave root to a new collection for the arboretum: Durable Delights. Following the popular Arboretum All-Stars and Community Favorites, these 30 plants are black-thumb-proof beauties and proven performers for the Sacramento Valley.
Today, the Arboretum officially debuts the Durable Delights at its first public sale of the spring. At the Arboretum Teaching Nursery, patrons will find all 30 varieties in stock along with hundreds of other drought-tolerant perennials and shrubs.
Many of the Durable Delights are featured in demonstration plantings near the nursery, and they also line Old Davis Road and other campus corridors where manicured turf once grew.
This spring, the new landscaping welcomes campus visitors with broad swaths of blue and gold, the Aggies' official colors.
"Being UC Davis, we try to use as much blue and gold as possible," Zagory said.
Two blue Durable Delights standouts are Mexican blue sage (Salvia chamaedryoides) and Ed Carman's rosemary (Romarinus "Mozart"). They team on Old Davis Road with the bright gold, daisylike Munchkin dwarf euryops. (Munchkin didn't make the inaugural Durable Delights list due to short supply, Zagory said, but may be added later.)
"We planted that salvia one year ago and haven't done a thing to it and it still looks great," she said. "It's just fabulous."
"Rosemary is one of the toughest plants for the garden," Zagory added. This particular variety has a low, spreading habit, forming fragrant evergreen mounds with dark blue flowers in late winter and early spring.
The arboretum developed its campus landscaping plans through trial; not everything lived. Water was restricted to deep irrigation twice a month. The plants that not only survived but thrived became parts of the palette.
"We've tortured these plants sufficiently to know we can't kill them," Zagory said. "They are foolproof."
Of course, all need more frequent irrigation once a week until they become established.
The arboretum staff found some of these durable wonders particularly delightful. Zagory is drawn to the Mexican lily (Beschorneria yuccoides). A specimen of the agavelike plant has thrived in a container in the Arboretum Terrace Garden for eight years.
"It's very soft-looking and a pretty blue," she said of the foliage. "And it's very hardy; it wasn't even touched by the cold this winter."
Nursery manager Lisa Fowler loves the Marshall's oregano, which forms a ground-hugging cloud of purple flowers.
Added Zagory, "I love it because butterflies love it."
ARBORETUM PUBLIC PLANT SALE
Where: UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery, Garrod Drive, Davis
When: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. today
Details:arboretum.ucdavis.edu, (530) 752-4880
Catch the debut of Durable Delights, 30 plants that deliver big rewards with little effort. Here's the full list:
Striped agave (Agave americana "Variegata")
Cerise hardy ice plant (Delospema cooperi)
Texas ranger (Leucophyllum frutescens)
Mexican deergrass (Muhlenbergia dubia)
Ed Carman's rosemary (Rosmarinus "Mozart")
Hybrid soapwort (Saponaria "Max Frei")
Shrubby hare's ear (Bupleurum fruticosum)
Golden yarrow (Achillea "Coronation Gold")
Winnifred's sage (Salvia "Winnifred Gilman")
Amber kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos "Amber Velvet")
Dwarf Russian sage (Perovskia "Little Spire")
Desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)
Evergreen candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)
Pink muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
Showy grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis "Blonde Ambition")
Mexican blue sage (Salvia chamaedryoides)
Azure bush germander (Teucrium fruticans "Azureum")
Beschorneria (Beschorneria yuccoides)
Biokovo cranesbill (Geranium "Biokovo")
Salmon flowered California fuchsia (Epilobium "Sierra Salmon")
Variegated Japanese sedge (Carex xoshimensis "Evergold")
Dwarf laurustinus (Viburnum tinus "Spirit")
Giant ajuga (Ajuga reptans)
Marshall's oregano (Origanum "Marshall's Memory")
Moss verbena (Verbena tenuisecta)
Evie's silktassel (Garrya "Evie")
Cape rush (Chondropetalus tectorum)
Island live oak (Quercus tomentella)
Giant striped eulalia grass (Miscanthus "Cosmopolitan")
Blue rush (Juncus "Elk Blue")
Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.