Tips for creating drought tolerant gardens
This week has brought some long overdue rain to our gardens, and after the warmest and driest Spring in the UK on record, our plants have welcomed the drizzle, showers and downpours with open arms. But with Summer only just around the corner, I expect that we will return to prolonged drought before too long.
How can we plan our gardens to be more resistant to drought, whilst withstanding the potential for wet Winters?
Nourish and protect the soil
Your plants are only as good as your soil so improve the structure and aeration of your soil by digging in organic matter, and mulching around your plants twice a year to help to keep the moisture in the soil. Gravel mulches in particular work really well so maybe consider a gravel garden as an option. Beth Chatto's gravel garden is a fabulous example.
Choose drought tolerant plants
Plants with grey/green and silver foliage like Lavendar and Stachys tend to be more drought tolerant. Plant most plants in the Autumn where the Autumn and Winter rains will help with establishment, but the Spring is better for Mediterranean plants which prefer a warm soil.
Designing gardens in London, I often recommend a drought tolerant planting scheme, with the proviso that grit is added to the soil, which is often clay based, to improve the drainage. The RHS recently ran a study into the tolerance of some Mediterranean plants to Winter (and Summer flooding) to advise on the use of these plants in UK gardens in the future. The study of Stachys byzantina, Cistus x hybridus, Lavandula angustifolia and Salvia officinalis found that these plants were very resilient to flooding and therefore a good choice for a drought (and flood tolerant garden). Read more about this study here.
Water collection during the Winter months is key to help keep your garden healthy during the drier Springs and Summers. Water butts are a great solution for collecting rainwater but really any container will do. Water well every few days rather than lightly every day to improve the health and resilience of your plant's root systems. Water gardens are a whole other solution but a subject worthy of it's own post - look out for future blog on this subject.