Steele: Best xeriscape garden selected

The winner of the best large garden in the Okanagan Xeriscape Association’s 2011 Xeriscape Garden Contest was Donna Cook.

The winner of the best large garden in the Okanagan Xeriscape Association’s 2011 Xeriscape Garden Contest was Donna Cook.

Donna and her husband began conversion of their front yard in 2008.

It had been a very large lawn, on fast-draining sandy soil, adjacent to the road and surrounded by a circular driveway.

A fence was built along the front property line to give a back drop to the garden.

On the road side, a simple planting of Tiger Eyes sumac against the fence and Gro-Low sumac in front makes a stunning, seasonally changing, low maintenance display. Now established, the plants seldom need water.

Tiger Eyes is non-suckering with purple-pink stems growing to about six feet tall.

Feathery foliage is chartreuse in spring, bright yellow in summer and scarlet/orange in fall.

Grow-Low sumac is a very drought tolerant shrub up to two feet high.

It spreads by root suckers forming a dense, weed suppressing mat to eight feet wide, making it excellent for erosion control. Tiny yellow flowers bloom early in spring. Red berries and male catkins persist through winter. Green leaves turn orange/red in fall.

On the other side of the fence, a huge garden with meandering paths is filled with a few small trees, and many varieties of drought tolerant shrubs, perennials, ornamental grasses, and ground covers.

Plants have been chosen for their low water requirements and placed to provide changing interest in all four seasons.

In winter evergreens such as globe blue spruce, columnar Scotch pine, oregon grape and various varieties of juniper, yew, pine and spruce will be prominent.

Twisty baby locust Lace Lady will show off its wonderful twisted branches once its leaves have fallen.

Feather reed grass will retain its vertical seed heads through winter and the blue fescues will remain blue. Ground cover early spring bloomers, candytuft and creeping phlox are evergreen as are the yuccas, lavender and creeping thymes.

Seed heads of sedum Autumn Joy, Moonshine yarrow and echinacea provide winter interest and bird food.

Shrubs bloom at various times and many, such as berberis, smoke bush, elderberry and ninebark varieties, have colourful foliage to provide additional interest during the growing season.

An arbour covered with Silver Lace vine provides a shady seating area for garden visitors.

This garden is a joy to be in and a testament to Donna’s passion for gardening and to her love of this garden. I invite you to visit the gallery page at to view more photos of Donna’s garden and of others that were entered in the xeriscape garden contest.



Gwen Steele is executive director of the Okanagan Xeriscape Association.