Today I was featured on Steph’s Packed Lunch on Channel 4, alongside the wonderful Denise van Outen! I talked about problems gardens and how to work with them – specifically gardens that are too wet or too dry.
It would be lovely if our gardens worked just the way we wanted them to, with a south-facing aspect, good drainage and fertile soil. However, for many people all over the UK and the world, that’s just not the case – so we’ve figured out ways to get around these challenges. For example, if a garden is too exposed, we can create sheltered areas to shield plants from the elements; vertical space can be utilised to bring life to a small garden; and north-facing or heavily shaded gardens can benefit from shade-tolerant plants such as Begonias.
But what about if your garden is too wet or dry? We can’t control the weather (unfortunately, that’s not one of a gardener’s superpowers), but there are solutions that we can implement to ensure that this type of garden can burst with life and colour, as well as work with your lifestyle.
What to do if your garden is too dry
Certain parts of the world receive very little rainfall (the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile and southern Peru, in western South America, is officially the driest part of the world having not had measurable rainfall in decades!), which has its benefits and disadvantages for gardeners depending on the kind of plants you want in your garden. Working with this garden type, rather than against it, means using drought-tolerant plants and therefore allows you to save on water, fertiliser and time spent on maintenance. If, however, you want to include plants which are not drought tolerant, you’ll be watering and maintaining your garden far more than the average gardener in order to keep your plants thriving.
Here are some ideas on what to do if your garden is too dry:
Xeriscaping, or xeric landscaping, is a method of gardening that utilises drought-tolerant plants to work with a dry garden. Xeriscaping can incorporate other types of plants, but these should ideally be grouped together to help you moderate the amount of water you use. Gardens that feature a xeriscaping style also tend to have little or no grass, as this requires more water than can be provided by rainfall.
Irrigation helps you maintain your garden with less effort, while actually helping to moderate the amount of water you use. Irrigation systems such as sprinklers and drip lines often include timers, which water your plants at a certain time and with a certain amount of water, so that you don’t have to guess.
Get smart with your containers
Containers can be used to showcase plants in your garden that might not tolerate dry conditions so well, be it a raised bed, patio container, window box or otherwise. By using containers, you can use a more water retentive soil, stopping your plants from drying out too much. You can also use moisture-controlling substances such as water retaining crystals to aid this process. Building upon my point about irrigation, you can also find self-watering containers online or from larger garden centres, which act as a sort of irrigation system.
Start mulching ASAP!
Mulch has so many benefits, from fertilising your plants to blocking out the sunlight so weeds can’t grow. However, its biggest benefit for dry gardens is its ability to keep in moisture, allowing your plants to benefit from watering for longer. You can find out more about mulch, including the different types, here.
What to do if your garden is too wet
If your garden is wet, you might notice moss growth, soggy lawn and the odd fungal disease on your plants here and there. This happens when there is very high rainfall in your area, and your soil drainage is not adequate enough to get rid of all the water. However, don’t fret, there are plenty of plants that love these conditions – and you don’t have to get your inspiration from pictures of swamps! You can introduce lots of colour into a wet garden. Here are a few ways to do so:
Choose bog loving plants
This is basically the opposite of xeriscaping. In a wet garden, you should choose plants that love moisture retention and don’t mind their roots sitting in damp soil. Foliage plants of this type include Gunnera, Salix vitellina and Typha, while flowering plants include beautiful Iris pseudacorus, glossy Zantedeschia aethiopica and fluffy Rodgersia.
Dig in a pond
If you’ve got a wet garden, a pond will fit in nicely and be easy to implement. Ponds actually support flora and fauna that have grown scarce in many parts of the country, so introducing one into your garden won’t just look good – it’ll also do wonders for your local environment.
Improve border soil
If you want to use plants that prefer better drainage, try using coarse grit to improve the soil in your borders. This is ideal for adding to the bottom of freshly dug holes when introducing new plants.
Make use of a water butt
If you’ve got high rainfall in your area, then a water butt is a no brainer. It’ll help reduce your usage of mains water during periods of low rainfall – plus, it’s cheap and easy to buy and install. You can also use it to keep your houseplants watered.
Fork over your soil
After a period of heavy rain, you might find that your soil appears flat and smooth on top. This means it has compacted. Use a gardening fork to break up the surface of the soil to help the water soak into the soil, rather than letting it sit in a puddle.
If your lawn gets waterlogged, use a large garden fork to create deep holes across the area (this is called spiking). You can do this after the lawn has waterlogged, or every couple of autumns as a preventative measure.
Want to find out more about wet and dry lawns? Catch up with me on Steph’s Packed Lunch on 23rd June 2021 to see my tips in action!
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook – and writes a plant-focused Substack called Grow This, Not That.