Saturday, 17 March 2012

Watch Out - there's a drought about

It may not have hit us yet in Devon but impending hosepipe bans and the drought which is affecting a lot of the UK is a subject which needs to be addressed.

Our climate is changing.  We are seeing longer, dryer and generally hotter, summers punctuated by period of intense rainfall.

Water is an increasingly expensive resource which needs to be conserved.

Drought proof gardening requires a shift of mindset away from the traditional English garden with its lushly planted herbaceous boarders and sweeping lawns.  Look to those areas of the world where nature is dealing with drought and gain inspiration and planting ideas from them.  California, South Africa and the Mediterranean are all places which have supplied our gardens with hundreds of plant species which thrive in exactly these conditions.

There are some common themes to successful drought tolerant gardens, relating to creating the right environment and the types of plants that you use:

Stone, rocks and gravel are essential either used for paving, courtyard walls, as a mulch, to help with drainage or as a planting medium.

With limited moisture, plants naturally grow more widely spaced which has the added benefit of allowing their individual shape and form to be appreciated.  Many are very dramatic and architectural.

A lot of the plants which are adapted to these conditions have silver/grey or fleshy leaves which help conserve moisture.  They are often slow growing and/or evergreen.

Drought tolerant plants tend to flower during spring and early summer when there is still enough moisture to enable them to do so successfully.  It is therefore really important that the structure of the garden provides interest outside these periods.

As with all aspects of garden design, preparation is vital.  The bones or framework of the garden have to be strong enough to support this dramatic style.  The soil needs to be prepared before planting and also needs to be well drained.  Once this is complete then it is very much up to personal taste as to what style of planting is done. 

There are hundreds of plants which will thrive in these conditions.  Simply think of the different types of gardens and landscapes found in the Mediterranean.  They can be romantic and rustic with masses of lavender, soft billowing grasses and aromatic herbs or very minimal and architectural using dramatic cardoons, Eryngium and succulents.

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