We often take water for granted, but when you’re working with a garden it’s essential to consider how you’re going to use water within it. Not only is it fundamental for plants to live but it is also a wonderful element to use in design–both for attracting wildlife and creating beautiful reflections. Water and its management are currently hot topics in the world of garden design and horticulture, with some leading figures pioneering methods to make gardens more resilient to extreme temperatures and particularly periods of drought too.
Back at home, remember a well-designed and thought through garden will only need watering while it establishes. By making sure you have healthy soil and carefully selecting plants suited to your environment, you will find that your plants, in a year or two, can largely manage on their own.
Here are some more specific ideas on how to protect your garden from droughts, with inspiration from Marian Boswall, Olivier Filippe, John Little, Beth Chatto and Dan Pearson.
First things first: you can’t have a healthy garden without healthy soil. Improving your soil health is one way to build resilience to drought as a well structured soil is better at retaining water. Another way to ensure your soil is healthy is to make sure you always have something growing in it–so no bare patches, even in the winter. Look to evergreen ground cover like pachysandra to fill in gaps between plants.
The more nutrients in the soil, the healthier your plants will be too. There are some innovative and extremely well-researched products on the market now that are planet friendly, such as The Land Gardeners' ‘Climate Compost’ which is full of microbes and can be applied to potted plants, seedlings and raked over existing beds–and you only need a little to achieve results.
The RHS have an ongoing ‘Mains to Rains’ campaign where they are helping people come up with ideas for making more use of rainwater in their garden, reducing their reliance on rain. If you want to go a step further, there are an increasing number of rainwater harvesting irrigation systems on the market now that allow you to store rainwater and save it for an (un-)rainy day… From giant underground tanks to smaller units that fix to the side of your house, this is a really great way to capture rain water that would otherwise end up in drains, which in urban areas often leads to flash flooding.
One thing that we can all get a bit obsessive over is the colour of our lawns. But a healthy, well maintained lawn (with good soil to grow in) can tolerate periods of drought and as long as it’s established (more than a few months old, let’s say) it will come back from a prolonged period of being brown and seemingly dead.
The key is to let your lawn grow a little longer for short periods–therefore establishing longer roots underground–as opposed to always having it mown to within an inch of its life.
An increasingly popular style of planting, from Beth Chatto’s carpark garden in Essex to Dan Pearson’s reinvention of the Delos garden at Sissinghurst, is Mediterranean-style planting–this is where self seeding annuals and hardy perennials benefit from being planted into gravel. The gravel helps retain moisture (in a similar way that using a mulch does) and when also dug through the soil too, helps avoid drainage issues.