One type of plant that has much potential in drought prone climates such as our high desert in Santa Fe is succulents. Succulents absorb and store much of their moisture in their foliage so that they are not as dependent on ground water, and like camels, can sustain themselves for many days without rain. Most succulents are groundcovers, and can replace lawns in areas that do not need foot traffic. They are also great for rock gardens and the edges of perennial beds. Many form dense, thick mats, and bloom for much of the summer. I love them for their funky, Dr. Seussesque feel that they add to the garden. I also love them because these are seriously drought tolerant plants, the kind you see in a neglected stone wall or occasionally in the cracks in the sidewalk.
Ice plant, a native to South Africa, has become increasingly popular in the southwest. In Southern Arizona it blooms all year, but in Santa Fe it makes a great three season perennial. The purple variety, delosperma cooperi, blooms all summer in little purple daisies. This plant has been such a success that plant breeders are rapidly developing new varieties, some of the best new ones have white centered flowers and a salmon pink is variety is out now too. Yellow ice plant, delosperma nubigenum, is very attractive even when it doesn't flower. The small yellow flowers come in the late spring and create a great contrast to the abundant pinks and purples of that season. The dense green foliage turns the ground into a brilliant red mat in the late fall.
Sedums are another wide variety of succulents with much potential as lush groundcovers. Acre evergreen variety had dense foliage that grows and spreads quickly in a dense dark green mat. Some areas consider it invasive but many of us admire that aggressiveness is our climate. Contrast it with such varieties as dragon's blood, (then name speaks for itself), oak leaf, which had an interesting variegated foliage, and blue spruce sedum, which creates a carpet of blue green soft spikes.
Taller succulents to mix in your perennial beds or to use in rock gardens for and exotic look include autumn joy sedum, an 18 inch clump of deep pink flowers on succulent stalks, and ruby sedum, a dark red plant of the same shape as autumn joy. Also sempervivum, know and hen and chick, is a very interesting plant of circular clusters of foliage. Last but not least, the variety of euphorbia know as spurge, a blue green plant with yellow flower like bracts, will spread tremendously over a dry area or rock garden, filling in empty areas and hanging over bland walls. Again, some people see it as too aggressive but alas, this is the desert but we want our gardens to be abundant.