Euphorbia rigida

Anything that thrives in my garden has got to be tough. I grew up in New South Wales and Darwin with the typical Australian misconception that Melbourne is cold and rainy… kind of a damp, English climate. SO wrong, of course. When I moved to Melbourne and started planning my garden, I learned that Sydney has twice the rainfall of Melbourne. As for cold… my location in Melbourne is a 9 on a temperature zone scale of 12, where 12 is tropical. It never gets down to freezing here, though we get an occasional light frost. Neither wet nor cold, then.

The soil is sandy and water repellent, and I’m hopeless at the standing-about-with-a-hose thing. Summer gets up to 40+ degrees, with hot northerly winds. Soft, green, delicate, water-loving leafy things get fried.

So… drought tolerant plants are the go. Problem is, many drought tolerant plants love full sun and are miserable – small, thin, colourless and non-flowering – in the shade. I have a typical small suburban garden, overshadowed as the day progresses by a big water-sapping street tree (a melaleuca), fences, my house, and my neighbour’s house. Nothing gets more than half a day of sun.

After killing off a whole variety of both water-loving and sun-loving plants, I’ve whittled my garden down to an evolving collection of tough, long-flowering (or beautifully foliaged) drought tolerant plants that cope with only half a day of sun.

One of my favourites is Euphorbia rigida. Some have been there from day 1, and it’s also a gentle self-seeder – an occasional plant pops up happily in a civilised spot. It looks fantastic 12 months of the year. Right now its spiky blue-grey foliage is at full height, and the tips are just starting to open to pink flowering bracts. By spring the bracts will be a blaze of lime green, changing to red in early summer, then holding and fading beautifully right through to mid-autumn. When they start looking a bit past it, I cut back the old stems… and the new ones are already forming a good clump underneath. I’ve never had to do anything but cut back the old stems, which suits my gardening style perfectly (sporadic seasonal bursts of activity).

I love it! The only downside: its sticky white sap is a skin irritant – something to consider if you’re planting it where kids might pick it or fall on it. My kids know to leave it alone (and it’s not where they play anyway) but my little niece took a swipe at it during a tantrum and got some sap in her eye, which wasn’t fun. My kids will forever know Euphorbia rigida as “the plant that Kira got in her eye”.

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