In addition to being a feng shui consultant and author, I’m also a gardener and book reviewer. (My horticultural reviews are usually published in the West Hawaii Today.) Sometimes this all comes together very nicely.
Plants for the Tropical Xeriscape by Fred Rauch and Paul Weissich, on drought-tolerant plants, is useful for people living in all the warmer areas of the world, including in North America: Florida, Southern California and Southern Texas. Each chapter is color-tabbed along the edge for quick reference, and the chapters start at the ground and work up—just like nature. The first chapter is “Ground Covers and Small Species to Two Feet,” then the chapters start climbing: 2-6 feet, 6-10 feet, over 10 feet, 15-30 feet, 30-50 feet and over 50 feet. Then there are separate chapters for vines, bromeliads and cycads. More than 500 plants are discussed with over 1,300 illustrations. The information is extensive and arranged in an inviting way with an average of nine photos per page. There are plenty of inspiring, full-page photos as well. Every plant has at least one photo, and most have two or three. Occasionally there will be as many as seven photos for a plant, and none of them are redundant. One photo shows the plant close up, another shows it from a distance, other photos show exceptional features such as flowers, fruit or interesting leaves.
University of Hawai‘i Press was kind enough to grant me permission to use photographs from the book in this review.
I mention in Feng Shui for Hawai‘i Gardens that “plants with thorns or dangerous leaves…evolved their protections in response to a harsh environment.” That certainly includes drought-tolerant plants. But plants with pointy leaves definitely have their place—just not near entrances or walkways. Pointy-leaf plants are useful to move energy upward near low areas of the garden. I was surprised to see an aloe with spineless leaves in this book, and the leaves are beautiful. The authors say that Aloe striata is considered to be one of the most attractive of all aloes.
The photo of ‘Bantel’s Sensation’ sansevieria is welcome because too few people know about this mother-in-law’s-tongue with pure white stripes. As with any variegated snake plant (yes, it has three names), it needs a section of root when dividing the plant; otherwise it will lose the interesting variegation. ‘Bantel’s Sensation’ is my favorite houseplant to place near drains, such as the toilet.
We often associate xeriscapes with thorny cactus and pokey plants like yucca, agave, and flax, but a dry yard does not have to look like an unwelcoming desert. Browsing the pictures is what led me to discover Pittosporum tobira ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf.’ The description says, “This tough plant will form a dense mound of foliage to 3 feet in height with at least an equal spread.” The plant is not particular about soil and two of its uses are as ground and bank covers.
Other wonderful rounded-leaf plants include Ilex vomitoria—yes, you would vomit if you ate it, so don’t do that—which is an evergreen holly with rounded leaves. It’s commonly called Yaupon holly and there are three kinds shown: regular, dwarf and pendant (sometimes called weeping). Ilex vomitoria is hardy and grows easily in temperate gardens. It will be prominently featured in my future book, Feng Shui Outside.
The plant lists in the appendices are a valuable feature because they zero in on specific landscape needs. The lists include: hedges, screens, and windbreaks; beach gardens; and color, which is divided into seven different colors.
I applaud the authors for showing how to create a beautiful garden while saving our most precious resource―water. This is an excellent book to consult in tandem with my Feng Shui for Hawai‘i Gardens, as I have only a brief section on xeriscape plants, and Messrs. Rauch and Weissich have included such an abundance of photos and organized their book so well that it makes it easy to search for plants fitting a specific feng shui need.