The Royal Horticultural Society’s Dry Garden, at Hyde Hall, Essex, makes the best use of plants that thrive in dry conditions.
GARDENINGNECESSITY tends to be the mother of invention and a powerful collaborative force, too.
With our backs to the wall in the last war, for instance, the whole country Dug for Victory.
Today, there is a fresh necessity to work together to save water as our weather patterns change — but it is sometimes difficult to dig for that victory because the soil is too darned hard.
We haven’t got a hosepipe ban on the Island at the moment, largely because we have water meters here, which means economics are the limiting factor when it comes to watering the garden.
Predictably enough, on the very day the ban was introduced throughout much of the south, it rained — although there was hardly enough to wet the surface.
And a ban could still happen here as we experience the second driest period since records began, especially if we all decide to try to keep our lawns green by turning on the garden sprinkler. That can use 1,000 litres of water in an hour, or enough for six people for a whole day.
There are a plethora of water-saving tips in the garden. Most you will already be aware of but it never harms to repeat them.
l Water the garden with a watering can rather than a sprinkler or a hosepipe.
l Install a water butt to collect any rainwater — plants prefer it.
l Water plants later in the evening or first thing in the morning.
l Use mulch or water-holding gels — these help the soil retain more water.
l Plant drought-resistant plants in your garden — there are many plants available that don’t require any additional watering and can survive through prolonged dry periods.
From the gardeners’ point of view, the planting of drought-resistant plants is the least labour intensive option and it was explored by Southern Water as long ago as 2007.
Part of Ventnor Botanic Garden was used for drought-tolerant and water-efficient gardening to show people just what can be done and, by economic necessity, the botanic garden remains testament to what can be achieved by careful plant selection, soil preparation and mulching to prevent evaporation.
Succulents are a great choice but, by their very nature of retaining so much water in their fleshy leaves, they should be grown in containers so they can be brought in to protect them from frost or covered over. There’s always a down side…
The seed and plants people, Unwins, recently unveiled a super-saver offer of 15 plants for the price of ten, which I think is still available, and certainly most of these half-hardy succulents can be obtained at Island garden centres and look great in gravel gardens, rockeries and containers.
Each collection contains three pachyphytum bracteosum moonstone, echiveria runnyonii Topsey Turvey, echiveria Black Knight, senecio serpens Blue Chalk Sticks and crassula variegate, otherwise known as the Pagoda Plant.
See www.unwins.co.uk for more information.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is determined to help people affected by drought to continue to grow plants and garden.
For the first time, the charity is letting anyone use its RHS Members’ Advisory Service — for free — on Monday, (April 16) for drought-resistant gardening advice as part of National Gardening Week. The RHS has conducted extensive research into gardening in drought and anyone can call with their garden- ing questions on 01483 226540, between 10am and 4pm or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org on for top tips to be water-wise and the best plants to choose to cope with dry conditions.
The RHS has some handy hints of what to look out for in drought-resistant plants, not simply the succulents which are easily identified through their fleshy, water-laden leaves.
• Grey leaves usually signify drought resistance.
• Hairy leaves shade themselves with their own hairs.
• Spikes act as 'fins’ that cool the plant.
• Pinks, sweet William, lamb’s ears, ornamental grasses, rock rose and Mexican orange blossom are all good examples of what to grow.
The RHS also tells us fruit and vegetables usually crop "adequately" without watering.
Quality and quantity, however, is improved by watering close to harvest and, as any gardener will tell the RHS, plants are always healthier if they are able to suck up enough of their biggest constituent component — water.