Coping With The Drought :: Sun Lovers

This is certainly proving to be the year to judge whether I have planted the right plant in the right place in my garden. Not only are we experiencing the driest summer in Norfolk since 1965 (or something like that, don’t quote me!), I have also lost two large trees this year.

A pair of Norway Maples were taken down because they were completely unsuitable for my garden, indeed for any garden, as they grow huge and are much better suited to parks and wide avenues. The plants around them will now benefit as they no longer have to compete with the trees for nutrients and water, but the loss of the Maple’s dense canopies has made my sunny borders even sunnier.

I have been watering thirsty plants like crazy, to keep them going through the drought, including my roses and hydrangeas, and few newly planted shrubs, cotinus, lilac, forsythia, sambucus. I know I’m not the only gardener or allotmenteer to be spending hours of my life, hosepipe in hand, soaking the bases of these plants most evenings. And of course, there are also all the container plants, cuttings and plants I’m growing on in pots to plant next year, and the fruit and veg patch to worry about too. It’s not an unpleasant way to spend one’s time, but the pleasure palls and the job is becoming wearisome after two months without rain.

With my soil, which is free-draining and sandy, I knew it was hopeful to try hydrangeas, but I do love them, so I placed them in cooler spots and have taken care to nurture them. They are needy plants, and I can cope with a few of them.

Some plants have taken a really bad hit in the drought – shuttlecock ferns have shrivelled and completely died back, primrose leaves are crispy and yellow, crumbling away at the touch, and the astilbe that I (very optimistically) planted has disappeared completely. I am accepting that there will be some casualties, and that my mini, front garden allotment will be much less productive this summer.

On the other hand, some plants have pleasantly surprised me. Sanguisorba, according to horticultural doctrine, is ideally grown on a moist site but is doing brilliantly this year as usual in what is most definitely not moist soil!

And there are other garden glories, despite the weather, plants that are doing very well in this extreme heat and drought, and give me joy and sense of smug satisfaction that I am beating the heat. These are all known to be drought-tolerant and suit a free-draining, sunny site, which is the reason I chose them. They include grasses – stipa gigantea, miscanthus, mollinia, deschampsia, briza, tall and delicate in the breeze, with flowers just starting to form – and prairie plants, the ones I planted after being inspired by Piet Oudolf’s wonderful Millennium Garden at Pensthorpe.

The garden is beginning to move past the too-green phase of late June-early July, when the first rose blooms, geraniums and delphiniums are over, and now rudbeckia, echinacea, salvias, hemerocallis (day lilies), sedums, kniphofias (red hot pokers), eryngiums, acanthus, cardoons and fennels are starting to fill the garden with rich colour. It’s worth noting that all of these plants are well-established, planted at least a year ago or longer. If they had just gone in this spring, I am sure they would be as stressed as most other plants in this weather.

The message to us gardeners, if we choose to take a message, from this year’s remarkable heat and drought is clear. There are plants that will cope and indeed thrive in these conditions, and these are the plants that we should be growing in our gardens. It seems that the inevitability of climate change will mean we are likely to see more and more summers like this. So take heart plant-lovers, and keep on gardening! Just, maybe, consider changing what you grow. x