We all love the vast expanses of grass and those showy African tulip planted and maintained by the legions of FONATUR workers; mowing, weeding and watering constantly. However, there are numerous native and adapted species that require much less work and maintenance and can be clustered to take less work and water during the dry season. The term to describe this is xeriscaping, which refers to landscaping or gardening in a manner that reduces water use. It is often critical in dry climates where water may be scarce, hence the term ‘xeric’, meaning dry. Xeriscaping does not mean zeroscaping. I like to think of it as clustering plants with similar watering requirements; the idea is to be efficient with water. It is fine to have some grass, just consider size and shape as strips are very inefficient and hard to manage. Also consider fruit trees, they make a great focal planting, and make sure you have male and female plants according to the morphology of the species.
Here along the coast the native vegetation is Selva Seca, dry topical forest, with two seasons: wet and dry. Most tourists visit during the dry season and may not appreciate the tropical dormant forest. Once the rains begin irrigation ends. There are many species of native trees that do maintain their leaves pretty much year around, including Caóba, Swietenia humilis (entrance to Residenciales Conejos, along Parque Ecológico Rufino Tamayo), Lluvia de oro, Tacoma stans (seen everywhere with its showy yellow flowers), Macuil, Tabebuia rosea (Tangolunda, purple-pink flowers), and Ocotillo, Cordia eleagnoides (en route to La Bocana, white flowers). There are numerous others such as the maguey. Mexico is home to 157 species of agave (maguey) and these plants make wonderful centerpiece or border plantings especially if there is something bright behind them to provide a contrast. They require very little maintenance, and when they flower attract hummingbirds and bats, which feed on the nectar and pollinate the plants.
Don’t forget cactus; there are lots of types of nopal (Opuntia spp), the stately native órgano (Pachycereus marginatus) amongst others. If you want more color what better plant is there than the bougainvillea? Although native to Brazil, these are tough plants and mostly disease resistant. They do not need a lot of water and you can prune them any way you please; into a tree, cover a fence, hang over a wall. Iguanas love the flowers too. Just watch the spines when handling. Another trick is vines. There are basically two types; those that creep and those that produce a spirally appendage (zurcillos) that wrap around the supporting object. They can act as a great accent planting and can be used to screen fences, walls etc. or planted to hang over a pergola and provide shade. Regina (Podrana ricasoliana) and Llamarada (Pyrostegia venusta) are two of my favorites. Regina had a purple flower with light yellow center and it creeps; Llamarada has tubular orange flowers and wraps. Regina is commonly scene on the coast to cover chain link fences. Llamarada is more commonly seen in the mountains.
Plants in clay pots are fabulous especially if space is limited and you chose suitable species. Use sand, gravel, brick, rocks of various shapes, colors, and sizes, and pavers (adoquin, laja) to add texture as described below.
Where is the best example of native plants and low-water use for Oaxaca? You will find the ethno-botanical garden behind the church of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca City. This former monastery also houses an incredible library and museum. A bit of travel if you are on the coast but a must if you are in Oaxaca City and interested in landscaping and native vegetation. This garden not only harbors native plants with cultural uses, but also uses a variety of rock, sand, and gravel of varying colors and textures to highlight the vegetation and reduce maintenance. The result is one of the most beautiful gardens of its type in the world.