September gardening tips: rethinking the garden for dry summers
After the long, hot, dry summer, many of our favourite garden plants have fried, shrivelled, or even died, whilst others have thrived. The extreme weather conditions we have experienced this year may require us to re-think planting schemes now and consider a move towards plants that will cope with the drier summer conditions.
If you’ve suffered plant deaths in your garden this summer, rather than replacing like for like, have a think about some alternatives. There are numerous plants that revel in hot, dry conditions. Many grasses and grey-leaved plants are at their best in dry, sunny borders. Stipa gigantea, with its tall, airy plumes towering up to 2m, can look very dramatic. Other grasses tolerant of dry conditions, such as pennisetum, miscanthus and blue grasses, carry their plumes into the winter for extra seasonal interest. The blue-flowering, grey-leaved Erygium giganteum ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost’ (below) works very well in combination with grasses.
Plants that do well in times of drought have adapted themselves in various ways to cope with the exigences of hot dry positions. Some plants, which have developed hairy leaves to protect the surface becoming desiccated, can be highly decorative, in addition to being extremely tactile; for example, silver sage (Salvia argentea), woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) and lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina.), pictured below.
Other plants, such as sedums and euphorbias, have developed thick, fleshy leaves to help retain moisture. Another moisture-conserving adaptation is the development of narrow leaves to reduce evaporation. Lavender species, gypsophila and penstemons will cope with very little water as a result of their smaller leaf surface. Aromatic foliage plants have oil in their leaves that becomes volatile in warmth to prevent the plant from withering in heat. Plants such as lavender, rosemary, thyme and artemisia have adapted to the conditions of Mediterranean mountainsides so require little in the way of moisture. Larger shrubs I’ve found to be reliably drought tolerant include the various varieties of ceanothus, elaeagnus, cytisus (below) and broom.