Each year, there seems to be a new record for weather extremes. This year, for the first time on record, temperatures in the UK exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and the first ever Red Extreme Heat warning was put in place across parts of England.
You’ll no doubt have noticed the temperature rise, if not in sleepless nights and profuse sweating, then in the way your plants may have fared this summer. In tandem with the mercury rising, we’ve also experienced very low rain levels this season, which, paired with several hosepipe bans, has probably resulted in a dry, bleached lawn and rather sorry-looking borders and pots. Some people campaigned for the right to water their private gardens to preserve local wildlife – however, that’s another story!
While it’s widely accepted by climatologists that the earth’s climate has changed many times throughout its history, NASA reports that “the current warming is happening at a rate not seen in the past 10,000 years”. The planet’s average surface temperature has risen by 1 degree Celsius since the late 1800s, which doesn’t seem like much, but most of the warming has actually occurred in the last 40 years – with the last seven years being the warmest of those.
If the trend endures, we’re likely to continue to see higher temperatures during our summers. This will have a large impact on the food and horticulture industries, as adaptations will have to be made in terms of what can be grown with sustainability in mind.
Food for thought
According to The Guardian, humans have cultivated over 6,000 species of plants over the course of our history. Naturally, farmers have selected the species with the largest yields to grow as crops, with wheat, corn and rice now providing nearly half of the world’s calories. However, while these crops provide large yields, it’s possible that there are much better options in terms of drought, pest and disease resistance. Just this year, the UK heatwave caused massive crop losses, as fruits and vegetables died on the vine. Revisiting ancient crops, and implementing polyculture (growing several crops on one piece of land) and biodiversity, could provide the protection that our food industry needs to survive future heatwaves and droughts.
When it comes to the garden, you may also consider climate-proof grow-your-own crops, such as:
- Mature rhubarb
- Sweet potato
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Bell peppers
Root vegetables, in particular, are usually better in terms of drought tolerance than many other vegetables. Other drought resistant crops include those with a short time to maturity, as they will require less water to grow.
Our gardens at home
Tips for caring for your garden during a drought:
- Mulch – this will help prevent water from evaporating from the soil
- Grow crops in hexagonal groupings rather than rows – less area to water
- Try companion planting – positioning plants that benefit other plants close to one another, for example the Native American ‘three sisters’: corn, beans and squash
- Use a drip system for watering
- Water very early in the morning or late in the evening
With careful consideration and planning, you could really cut down on the amount of water required to keep your garden crops thriving throughout the year, including particularly dry and hot periods.
Here’s how my garden looked after a few scorching weeks… I was away, but even if I’d been around, there was a hose-pipe ban. The only way forward seems to be to work with a different range of plants altogether.
Do not panic…. you’ll be pleased to discover that there are plenty of varieties that are pleasing to the eye as well as practical. I’ve put together a list of some of my favourites below – with how the summer heat all but decimated my plants I’ll be getting hold of some for sure!
This shrub was my daily obsession when I recently stayed in the Netherlands. The flowers are like a frilly lilac, and they dazzle in the sunlight. Although late to get going, the flowers persist through from midsummer to autumn, aloft fresh green foliage. It is well-suited to a sunny position, and will grow to a dizzy height of two metres, reaching maturity at 10 years.
Lomandra White Sands
Drought tolerant and winter hardy, this is the plant I made famous by sitting on during a live TV segment!
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This evergreen perennial features a white stripe on its otherwise green leaves, think of it as a giant spider plant! It’s an easy-care, fast growing plant that looks as great in borders, as it does in mixed containers. It can withstand a lot – try it for yourself!
This collection of brand new hybrid sedums is full of colour, from lemony greens to blush pinks! They are so collectable, just like toys from Happy Meals! Sedums are succulent plants, so they naturally retain water and only need a gulp every few days in the hottest weather.
A quick way to add tonnes of colours to your pots and rock gardens! Delosperma are ideal for sunny positions and will reach a compact height of 15cm. Try the Jewel of Desert collection for really vivid hues. Their ground hugging attitude stops weeds, and keeps any moisture locked into the ground!
With large, light pink blooms, this Geranium has an extremely long flowering period – from early spring to the first frosts. Also, as you can see, it’s loved by pollinators! Position it in full sun or half shade for a pretty addition to your garden, and it’ll grow on any type of soil, from wet to veryyy dry.
Agastache Beelicious Purple
A lavender alternative, and a darn sight easier to prune, this compact plant has bold, lilac flowers and a compact habit. It’s a feast for pollinators, and has the added benefit of re-blooming, so you can enjoy its beautiful colour for longer. Once established, super drought proof!
All varieties of Agapanthus do super well in periods of drought, so it’s totally up to you which one you choose! I recommend Agapanthus ‘Brilliant Blue’, which produces an abundance of blue blooms – after 5 years, it will produce more than 100 flowers each summer, and it’s loved by pollinators! They also loveeee neglect, bargain!
For big lavender flowers, choose Lavandula Phenomenal. It grows to 70cm in height and width, and flowers abundantly from early summer until autumn. Great for mass planting, this plant is also well suited to borders, containers and solitary displays. Silver-leaved plants like Lavender are your best friend during periods of hot, drought conditions too.
Limonium Dazzle Rocks
With a froth of small, purple flowers that appear from early summer through to autumn, Limonium Dazzle Rocks is a well branched plant that’s perfect for a dry garden. Plant it in full sun in a (ideally) sandy, well-draining soil, and NEVER water it!
A cross between the genus Manfreda and Agave, Mangave has all the benefits of an excellent growth rate, beautiful patterns and colours, and an attractive habit – plus, drought tolerance! Some Mangave can grow to impressive sizes, which make them ideal for landscaping; however, they’re best suited to pots as they require protection during harsh winters. The secret to their success, the more you water them the more they grow. If they don’t get any water at all, they just stay the same size!
Sneak peak- watch out for: Lavandula Exceptional
Look out for this ‘exceptional’ drought tolerant plant, which will be available to the public soon!
As you can see, a drought-tolerant garden doesn’t have to be boring! You can choose from a whole host of flowering and foliage plants in wonderful colours, bringing excitement and practicality to your garden.
What are your favourite climate-proof plants? Let me know in the comments section below!