Tag Archives: low water plants

Olivier Filippi vs. Home Depot – Round 1

We just finished up our fall planting here at BRS for clients and also for my San Gabriel and Vance garden.   I always feel like such a crotchety old lady with my preference for only planting in the fall. Of course, we plant in the spring as well. But it does always feel odd to do stuff for clients that I hesitate to do for myself… but in the end, it is just a plant.


One thing that I do stand firm on, is laying out my own planting schemes. I’m such a stickler for plant placement that I left my 3 week old bambino with his daddy to come and lay out a client’s garden this spring.  Maybe not the best idea to engage in 95 degree weather client relations on 4 hours of sleep per night, but, you know.  We laid out the garden on a Thursday and began to plant on Friday.  When we returned the next Monday,  there were mysterious extra plants from Home Depot placed between our plants- which was puzzling and unfortunately,  really annoying.  I asked the homeowner with as much patience as I could muster (let’s hear it for Botox) what’s the story?  And they told me that the plants were just so much bigger at the Home Depot so why didn’t we use them along side of the nursery grown ones that were the same pot sized but smaller plants?


The frustration melted away.  You know that is actually a good question, and we actually have a really good answer for it, not that I had the bandwidth to explain it that day.  We put the extra Home Depot plants in and 3 weeks later when several of them had expired we helped pull them back out.   We knew in our guts why those plants had less of a chance of survival.


But I will say that the person who really made the point crystal clear, such that you could explain it to clients, was the slyly sexy nursery owner Olivier Filippi who’s nursery and garden we visited outside of Montpeillier earlier this spring.

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The gardens are handsome too.

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Olivier is a highly respected plantsman, who with his wife,  travels the world to research the propagation of drought tolerant plants.  He’s written a bible called The Dry Gardening Handbook that I’d highly recommend.  Anyhoo- handsome Olivier has pioneered the use of a new type of grow pot that is long and skinny so that the roots of drought tolerant seedlings can grow properly.

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His proven theory is to sell drought tolerant plants that have a root structure that is 3x the size of the plant above ground. This he deems a healthy plant that is most likely to survive outside of nursery conditions.  To engineer this, he encourages the root growth by heavily pruning the plant for a couple of years in it’s long grow pot.  The long pot allows the proper root growth of the 2 types of roots drought tolerant plants utilize. These plants first grow a long tap root to go for water deep in the ground.  Then the plant grows side and surface(ish) roots to capture surface water.  In the wheelbarrow behind him is how a taproot grows in on itself when pot bound.  Plants that don’t have their taproot will not thrive.


And here’s the part that made me feel better, these plants generally grow their tap roots in the winter because that is when it rains and also when their above ground growth is slow allowing the root to go for it.  And if they live through the first summer, they will begin to put out their side roots. And if they live through the second summer, the plants are established.

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A newly planted area – note the water wells.

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The first summer, Olivier supplements his plants with water in a tough love fashion waiting for them to wilt several days before finally giving them water and then he doesn’t water them again. Ever. If the plants die, they weren’t meant to live there. After all, it’s just a plant.