Beat the drought with a beautiful ‘dry’ garden
HOME & GARDEN | August 1, 2018

Beat the drought with a beautiful ‘dry’ garden

After an incredibly dry June and July here in the UK, most gardeners faced a stark choice: intensively water thirsty plants or watch them shrivel in the relentless sun. In the interests of water saving, many of us let our lawns go to brown, left the annuals to fend for themselves and tried to keep the out-of-control aphids from doing too much damage elsewhere.

Yet, did you notice? For each plant that browned and withered, another bushed and bustled and bloomed like never before! Succulents, grasses, herbs, wildflowers... everything well adapted to hot and dry conditions put on a real show – and that got us thinking. What if we could drought proof our gardens, cutting out the need to water, water, water through the summer months?

The late, legendary Beth Chatto, one of England's most renowned garden designers, tackled the problem head on when she transformed a ratty old Essex car park with poor soil into a stunning gravel garden. Famous for the fact that it is never watered, the drought tolerant plants put on a spectacular display every year.

Flowers along a gravel path

How can we create our own 'dry' garden?

>> Choose plants adapted to your local environment

Your best bet? Go for a walk around your closest nature reserve, field margins, even scrub land and check out which wild plants are getting busy despite the drought.

Native flowering plants, shrubs and trees have been there, done that and handled everything your local microclimate can throw at them and are also perfectly adapted to support native birds, insects and other beneficial creatures.

Please note, this is not a suggestion to start digging up or disturbing wild habitats. Take only photos – and inspiration – then track down your favourites at garden centres or online.

Pink poppies in grasses

>> Choose plants that thrive on dry

Plant species from arid, mountainous and Mediterranean climates have adapted to survive for long periods without rain or supplementary watering, though you may have to shelter them from British frosts if they're not fully hardy.

Waxy, succulent, hairy, sticky, small, needle-like, scented or silver leaves often indicate that a plant will tolerate dry periods between rainfalls.

Gravel path through planting

>> Replace the lawn with 'islands' of planting

Imagine winding gravel paths between drifts of grasses. Bright peonies, bearded iris, alliums and verbena. The sweet scents of low growing Mediterranean herbs in the air.

Now imagine an overheated concrete patio, dusty pots and parched grass bordered by depressed bedding.

As our summers grow increasingly hotter, gardeners are phasing out the traditional square of thirsty lawn, instead focusing on Beth Chatto's mantra, "The right plant for the right place" and letting the plants follow their natural inclinations.

>> Plant for your garden's microclimates

Seem a bit radical? Perhaps you wouldn't dream of giving up the lawn, or perhaps most of your place stays damp and boggy even in the height of summer, yet you can still create areas of drought tolerant planting – perhaps by turning over a rain-shadowed bed or a sun trap corner to waterless gardening. Spending less time watering will be your reward!

Gather inspiration from the professionals

>> The best known former car park in the history of garden design, the Gravel Garden at Beth Chatto Gardens near Colchester is open every day of the year apart from two weeks over the festive period.

>> The Savill Garden's Dry Garden in Windsor Great Park was developed after the 1976 drought and remains full of colour until late autumn.

>> The Dry Garden in the Cambridge University Botanical Garden has has been designed as a beautiful, water-wise planting suitable for a typical south-facing back garden in the south east.

Five easy-growing, drought tolerant plants to get you started:

>> Sedum – these succulents store up rainwater in their leaves for drier times. Perfect ground cover.

>> Eryngium alpinum – don't let their delicate looks deceive you, these flowers are tough cookies!

>> Buddleja – bees and butterflies love the huge scented flower clusters, and so will you! Loves poor soil.

>> Pennisetum Villosum 'Cream Falls' a.k.a. Feathertop Grass, as easy to grow as it is visually stunning.

>> Santolina – the 'cotton lavender', soft peppery-scented grey foliage with fun yellow flower pompoms.

Is your garden looking browned off? How are you cutting water use in the drought? Share your tips and comments with us via Twitter and Facebook!

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