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Drought busting

All the indications are that this year is heading towards being another dry one with a long hot summer and a lack of water. The past two winters have been wet so we’ve topped up the reservoirs but even if we don’t get a hose ban we need to think about how we can future proof our gardens against future shortages.

A great many of my local London customers come from countries such as South Africa where waterwise gardening has become a way of life. They are a little surprised that in the UK we haven’t seen the water shortage problems coming and have been relating how they are used to gardening back home in hot climates. Their waterwise gardening techniques are all about understanding what’s going on in the soil, using drought-tolerant plants and watering wisely.

From now on if you are going to do any planting make sure you incorporate lots of organic matter into the soil before planting, plant closely and mulch annually in the spring after heavy rainfall. The interaction of water, soil and roots is crucial and mulching up to 150mm (6 inches) deep suppresses weeds, retains moisture and lowers the soil surface temperature. Ground cover plants are also great for cutting down evaporation from the soil and we’ve found that there are lots of useful groundcover plants like perennial Geraniums, Epimedium varieties and Periwinkle (Vinca) that are great for this.

Not all plants need more water in warmer weather and it’s these plants that we should be planting more of. Plants need water when they are in active growth and for many drought resistant plants this is in the cooler months. They all need watering to get established but usually after 12 months these plants can cope well with just rainfall and in long drought periods by slow watering to the roots. So what are my top ten waterwise plants? Well this list should give you some ideas.

  • Eleagnus – a good all round evergreen with great summer scent, good for hedge
  • For annuals try Nasturtiums and Pelargoniums
  • Fatsia japonica – the castor oil plant is a great foliage speciem
  • Hypericum is a good ground cover shrub
  • Jasmine is also probably the best of all the fragrant climbers
  • Teucrium fruticans, Phlomis fruticosa, Cistus varieties and Lavender are one of my favourite combinations for a sunny border
  • And don’t forget Junipers for some interesting year round foliage colours.
  • And if you’re planting trees you might be surprised to hear that Acers can be pretty drought tolerant so you don’t have to be planting olive trees!

The third important element of a water wise garden is to do just that – water wisely. I’ve asked around and the best nurserymen say that watering in the cool of the morning is always the best option but an evening wander with a watering can will also take away the pressures of the day.

You’ll actually save time by cutting out the need to water and feed plants but make sure that you are planting the right plants in the right place. Even in hot weather I’ve seen gardens with boggy lawns and wet areas at the bottom of slopes. This is great for plants that love those conditions but the plants listed above would not survive. Shade is important and dappled shade from trees can be a positive advantage in keeping soil temperatures cool.

Water wise planting is something we’ll all have to get used to but also remember to save every bit of water including grey water from baths and showers and diverting it to your garden. More and more we’re seeing people installing grey water tanks to conserve waste water under the lawn and recycle it for the garden. It’s not a cheap option but over a period of time it will be cheaper than a water meter.

So garden wisely this summer and hope there’s some rain on its way.