Low-water doesn’t have to be desert-like We’ve all seen well-meaning, but dreary, low-water landscapes. The only color is gray or gray-green, and plants look brittle and bone-dry. But waterwise gardens can be so much more—vibrant, colorful and yes, even lush-looking. Here are 48 water-thrifty plants that will add beauty and vibrancy to waterwise gardens. They are listed by either flower or foliage color. Many of them, as noted, have colors other than the one they’re listed under.   Yellow Acacia – Underappreciated in California, but beloved in France, the many acacia trees and shrubs all have clusters of cream or yellow flowers, many of them fragrant. Search out the ones that meet your needs.           Achillea – Yarrows have low, ferny foliage of gray-green, and flat-topped bunches of tiny flowers on skinny stems in shades of pale to intense yellow. (Modern hybrids also have flowers in white, pink, reddish tones and terracotta.)           Anigozanthus – Mounds of dark green spikey foliage anchor spindly (but very sturdy) stems ranging from 18-inches to 6-feet tall, with clouds of fuzzy, curiously shaped flowers on top. The most popular kangaroo paws seem to be in the yellow and greenish tones, but there are pink, red and orange kangaroo paws, too.             Oenothera – Bright, single, clear yellow flowers look a bit like poppies. Oenotheras (pronounced “ee-NO-thur-a”) are a great addition to a California cottage garden.                   Rudbeckia – Giant, daisy-like flowers appear on 18-inch to 3-feet tall plants, depending on variety. Commonly yellow, there are other gloriosa daisies in orange, lime and red.           Santolina – This classic Mediterranean style plant has mounds of either green or silver foliage and small button flowers of pale or bright yellow.             Orange Asclepias – Pronounced “a-SKLEE-pee-us”; but butterfly weed is easier to remember. Clumps (3-feet tall and 1-foot wide) of narrow leaves become covered with clusters of bright orange flowers that butterflies love. There’s a popular yellow-flowering butterfly weed, too. Both look best with regular water, but will hang tough with little water once established.         Cotyledon – This succulent looks great in containers and has rounded pairs of gray or green leaves and clusters of bell-shaped, orange flowers in summer.             Gazania – Gazanias are classic, low, mounding, water-thrifty plants with bold daisy flowers in wonderful Mexican hues. Orange is the most common, but there are pink, red, yellow and cream varieties, too. Flowers close up in late afternoon.             Leonotis – Lion’s tail is an easy-to-grow, woody perennial that bears burnt orange flowers in bunches on tall stems. If it gets too big, just cut it back in winter. It reseeds to produce a natural effect.             Mimulus – The water-thrifty monkey flower is the woody perennial (M. aurantiacas), not the fleshy annual sometimes found in flower-packs. Mounding plants with tiny leaves clothe irregular and curvy stems with lots of ruffled flowers on and off all year. You’ll find red, white and yellow monkey flowers, too.         Pink Aloe – You’d plant aloes just for their architecture, but come winter, you’ll be stunned by their beautiful, long-lasting flowers on tall stems.                 Armeria – Here’s a happy plant that looks sensational when massed, the brightly-colored lollypop flowers rising above beautiful, grass-like foliage. Flower colors include red, pink, lavender and white and heights range from 4- to 12-inches tall. Mix them up in drifts for a low-water wildflower meadow.         Centranthus – The great English garden designer, Rosemary Verey, once said that great gardens are 20% self-sown. In California, Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus) is the perfect, self-sowing perennial. It’s very drought-tolerant and tolerant of very poor soil. You’ll find it in red (really deep rose), pink and, if you’re lucky, white.         Cistus – Cistuses are tidy shrubs of varying sizes which cover themselves with white, pink, rose or purplish poppy-like flowers. Simply replace them if they get overly woody. Cistuses are great choices for beach gardens.         Gaura – Gaura looks best in mixed plantings with other perennials and annuals. The entire plant is wispy, and the effect of the flowers along the tall, narrow stems is like clouds of tiny white or pink butterflies.                   Lagerstroemia – Crape myrtles are signature Mediterranean plants. They are perfect small trees for urban gardens and come as shrubs too. Some gardeners plant the shrubs in mixed borders and whack (the technical garden term is “coppice”) them to the ground each winter for a sensational, small blooming shrub.       Phormium – True New Zealand flaxes—not hybrids of mountain flax and New Zealand flax—are waterwise. But you still have wonderful choices of reds, purplish-browns, burgundy-bronze, and gray-green with yellow stripes. ‘Radiance’ has green leaves with a strong yellow stripe down the middle and orange edges.         Red Coprosma – Truly beautiful shrubs with shiny evergreen leaves that turn coppery-red in fall. Until the autumn, enjoy it for it variegated gold, cream and pink and orange leaves.           Grevillea – Native to Australia, the many types and sizes of grevilleas can be difficult to keep track of. So just choose your favorites, as virtually all are waterwise. They have finely-textured foliage and clusters of odd-looking flowers that are most often red, but also pink, with cream often mixed in.                 Red NandinaNandina – This is a common shrub in California gardens, but there are lots of newer varieties that have interesting red and gold foliage color and vary in size, with most being smaller in size. All nandinas are great for small gardens and require no care beyond watering.         Pelargonium – Geraniums are the most popular perennial garden flower in California for a reason—for several reasons. They bloom almost year round (ivy geraniums do bloom 12 months a year); they require little to no care beyond watering, (they’re forgiving if you forget to water occasionally); and they really thrive in our heat. What’s not to like?       Waterwise Home Consultation - Book Today White, Cream and Silver White Alyssum Alyssum – One might wonder what an annual is doing on a low-water list. But if you’ve ever grown alyssum and it’s reseeded in some un-watered, out-of-the-way place you’ll know why. This is one tough annual.                   Artemisia – The mounding, finely-cut, silver or silvery-green foliage of Artemesia is stunning when mixed with perennials—especially with shades of pink and purple. It can look delicate, but it’s can take heat and drought.                 White ErigeronErigeron – Santa Barbara daisy is a California native and will reseed in all the right places. Its tiny, white daisies appear in all the right places—even in dry, poor soil.           White WestringiaWestringia – This beautiful waterwise shrub gives the effect of more refined rosemary. Especially if you plant the lovely, misty-looking ‘Morning Light’ variety, with white edged leaves and white flowers.             Purple Purple AgastacheAgastache – Agastache’s are just beginning to get the attention they deserve. They have a wild, untamed look, a bit like lavender and yet not. The color range certainly exceeds that of lavender, with purples, reds, oranges, pinks and yellows.                 Purple bougainvillea 'brasiliensis'aBougainvillea – A bougainvillea in full flower is a breathtaking sight, one that 90% of gardeners in the U.S. will never see in their own yard. There are huge vining types and small shrub types (suitable for pots) and everything in-between. They are waterwise only if established in the ground. There are many colors.           Purple butterfly bushBuddleia – Butterfly bush is one of the most colorful waterwise shrubs for California gardens. If not cut almost to the ground each winter, they can be large and ungainly. But new dwarf forms are now available. Also comes in lavender, white and rosy-purple.         Purple Pride of MadeiraEchium – If want drama, pride of Madeira is your plant. Mounds of foliage, 4-feet tall and 6-feed wide produce large and stunning spike of purple flowers. Echium is a great bee attractor.                   Purple Spanish LavenderLavandula – Lavenders are classic, Mediterranean waterwise plants. For year-round color, plant Spanish, French or fernleaf types.                   Verbena (V. bonariensis, V. lilacina) – Verbena bonariensis is a wonderful, tall and airy plant that rises above most perennials to add spots of purple to borders. Cedros Island verbena, V. lilacina, is a California native that forms a low, mound of airy foliage, and blooms almost all year long.               Lavender and Blue Blue California LilacCeanothus – California lilacs come in many sizes, from groundcovers to large shrubs. All have small leaves and beautiful clusters of spring flowers. Colors range from light blue to stunning indigo.                 Blue LeucophyllumLeucophyllum – Texas ranger is the name applied to several plants in this family. Most have small silvery leaves and become covered with purple or lavender flowers.           Blue PenstemonPenstemon – For waterwise plants, you’ll want foothill penstemon, P. heterophyllus, a California native. This dainty, sophisticated perennial has bluish-green foliage and bright blue or blue-purple dainty bells.                 Blue PerovskiaPerovskia – Russian sage, when grown against a contrasting backdrop is spectacular. Plant it by itself or where it’s the tallest flower, it’s ho-hum. Like Gaura is in the same situation.           Blue SalviaSalvia (S. apiana, S. chamadryoides, S. clevelandii, S. ‘Dara’s Choice’, S. greggii, S. leucophylla, S. spathacea) – Not all sages are low-water, but these are. Most have undistinguished foliage, but pretty spectacular flowers.           Blue PlumbagoPlumbago – Often left to sprawl in California gardens, a better use is to train it on a pillar like they do in Provence. A vine-like shrub with bright blue flowers almost all year long.             Blue RosemaryRosemary – This tough-as-nails shrub, depending on the variety, can be used as a groundcover, mixed border perennial, kitchen garden plant or background/hedge plant. It can even be formally clipped.                   Blue NepetaNepeta – Catmints form long-lasting mounds of gray-green foliage topped with 12-inch spikes of beautiful lavender-blue flowers. A white form is available too.           Green Green Agave Agave – These are sensational, architectural plants. Most get rather large, so be sure you know what you’re getting. All produce striking rosettes of spiky leaves.                   Green BoutelouaBouteloua – Most grasses are not waterwise, as is widely assumed. But this American native is. Blue grama, as it’s commonly called, has unusual flowers that flicker above the leaves, and can be used as a drought-tolerant lawn grass—mowed or unmowed.         Green Baby JadeCrassula – You’ll recognize crassula as jade plant. But there are different types and all are colorful and architectural.             Green EuphorbiaEuphorbia – There are lots of different spurges (Euphorbias), most of which are drought-tolerant. Almost all have striking chartreuse flowers which look great combined with white flowers in bouquets.           Green MuhlenbergiaMuhlenbergia – There are a handful of Muhlenbergia varieties. All are narrow-leaved, large, showy and often colorful. When in full flower, it looks as if a mist is hovering above the foliage.         Green MyrtusMyrtus – Myrtle is a classic Italian Renaissance plant that is great for shearing into small or medium hedges or left untrimmed. The glossy, dark green leaves have a finer texture than boxwood.                 Green PortulacariaPortulacaria – this plant looks a bit like a mini jade plant, with fleshy stems and tiny round leaves. They look innocent in pots, but can become 12-feet tall, although they’re easy to keep small.                   Green SedumSedum – Sedums (there are many!) are almost all low-water plants. Especially valuable are the interesting and very colorful groundcover types, with fascinating textures.           Every Color of the Rainbow Every Color of the Rainbow Bearded IrisIris – Bearded irises are almost indestructible. They flower spectacularly, many rebloom, and flower, literally, in every color, including black, brown, and true, true blue. Every garden should have many.                    Learn about other Waterwise Plants and Tips > Check out these Low Water substitutions for high water favorites >   Book Today for a Waterwise Landscape Design from Armstrong