Since April we seem to have had little or no rain. Apart from the occasional downpour that does little to revitalise the soil we’ve all been relying on regular watering in the garden since early Spring
And all the evidence from the weather forecasters is that we are in for a real blazing summer so if you’re going away get prepared in advance and get ready for a heatwave. There are lots of things you can do and here are some top tips to keep your garden stunning through the heat without having to spend the entire Summer watering.
The best move is that if you are putting in new plants choose those suitable for long hot dry periods. This is good for the long term too as, contrary to what you might think, we seem to be getting less rain every summer. The Strawberry tree Arbutus unedois a great example of a drought tolerant tree with lots of year round interest. It’s evergreen, has peeling bark, white flowers and winter ripe fruits – but don’t eat them, the name comes from the look of the fruit and not the taste!
Try lots of Mediterranean plants that love dry conditions. This includes many of the shrubby herbs such as Lavender, Sage and Rosemary. I love the purple sage Salvia purpurescens and the upright form of rosemary Rosmarinus ‘Miss Jessop’s Upright’- great where space is limited. Mix these with Russian Sage Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’and Jerusalem Sage Phlomis fruticosa (neither of which are realsages). I especially love Lavender and Russian Sage under Birch trees with the mix of blues and white of the stems.
Sun Roses and Rock Roses are also greatly underestimated probably because the name suggests a thorny shrub with too many associations with real roses. These are not ‘proper’ roses. The Sun Rose Cistus is a great all rounder for evergreen foliage, long lasting flowers and copes brilliantly in a drought. Varieties of the Rock Rose, Helianthemum can be treated like an alpine and will cover a metre of soil in no time at all, tumbling over walls and constantly flowering.
A family of plants that seems to be making a comeback are the Pines and some of the smaller Pines such as Pinus mugo ‘Pumillo’are ideal especially in gravel gardens. Add to this the huge variety of grasses and herbaceous plants such as Acanthus, Convolulus and Sea Holly Eryngium varietiesand you have a huge selection of plants that will resist dry conditions.
But planting the right plant is only half the battle. What if you have a full garden and need to protect the borders from drought? Water is a precious commodity so start by conserving what’s already in the soil. How many times have you complained that the soil is just heavy clay and gets boggy in winter and cracks in the summer? What you need is to get some good organic compost into the soil to hold onto the water. Then use a mulch, bark chippings are especially good, to stop evaporation and over time, as it decomposes, add extra goodness to the soil.
And finally, don’t forget to water properly. Believe it or not you can water badly. I see lawns so wet that they rot off while plants in the borders are dying from drought. Make sure you water plants directly, at the base – there’s no substitute for hand watering but if you use a sprinkler make sure you move it around the garden and get to the plants.
Let’s hope that we do have a stunning summer to lift the economic gloom as we stay home in our gardens. We want plenty of sun and just a little rain to get us through. Use water wisely but get prepared now and you can sail through the heatwave without lifting a finger to water because all your plants will be happy and contented sitting in warm moist soil with a good mulch topping.