Allow me to preface this by saying that I am relatively mean to my plants. The vast majority of them--especially those which do not produce food for me--exist here on a "survival of the fittest" agreement. During a plant's first year, I will supplemental water it as it gets used to its new home and not being on a nursery watering schedule. I begin with several good soakings a week that gradually taper off to once per week, and the latter only happens when Ma Nature fails to pitch in and water it for me.
This summer, I did have to break my own rule and water a few extra things--namely, the 'Hillside Black Beauty' cimicifuga and the lobelia cardinalis in the full shade bed. They were sprawled horizontal across the mulch and neighboring plants when I came home from work one day, so I thought that was probably a sign they needed some water. (I don't miss a thing, do I?!) Since our drought this year is fairly extreme, I'll give them a second chance before I do any shovel pruning on these two. But I do have a little black mark against them in my mental plant Rolodex.
There are many things chosen for their toughness that have gotten along fine without any extra water from my hose, however. Take this golden variegated sage that brightens up my front bed. I don't use it for eating (the traditional silver culinary sages taste much better, IMHO) but I love its coloring so I have a few clumps of it. It seems oblivious to the fact that this summer's conditions are stressing many plants in my garden. If you look hard enough, though, even these plants are showing some drought effects.
Compare the picture above, taken this evening, with the picture on the left that shows the entire front bed just after planting last year. In the 2006 picture, you can see that this same clump of golden sage (the one to the right of the blue sea kale foliage, behind the lavender) was already as tall as the path light by early June. In comparison, Golden Sage version 2007 has another inch or so to grow in order to reach that benchmark. It is also not as wide yet as it was last year in June.
I also noticed that the sage leaves are more compact this year. That makes sense, as less leaf area = less loss of water due to transpiration. There is not a good closeup of last year's leaves, but even at a distance you can tell that there is either 1) A lot less golden variegation, or 2) More pronounced, darker green on the inner part of each leaf this year. I wouldn't have guessed this one, but it may either be a drought coping method or a reflection of how a higher number of sunny, no rain/no clouds days can bring out different coloring. Anyone know which it could be?
Whatever its coping methods are, I'll take them. It's definitely nice not to have too many prima donnas (as lovely as some of them are) that need constant attention with the hose... both for environmental and practical reasons. And when they not only cope but look as full and happy (at first glance) as this golden sage does, I suppose I can't really ask for more.