Gardening: Dry and mighty

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David Overend on what to choose if you fancy creating a bed for drought-loving plants.

Our little Indian summer was quite lovely (while it lasted), but some complained that it was too dry for the time of year – which proves the saying that you can’t please everyone.

Nevertheless, it prompted me into thinking about creating a bed where plants can virtually look after themselves, and perhaps another bed for drought-loving plants – just in case we ever do see global warming creeping northwards towards the kingdom of Yorkshire.

Is it feasible and, if so, what is the best way to go about it?

Of course it is – not just because warmer, drier springs and summers may become a reality, but also because it gives gardeners the chance to do, and grow, something different.

The best way to start is to see what does and what doesn’t like periods of hot, dry weather.

If you can stand losing a few moisture-lovers, then throw them on the compost heap. If you can’t bear to part with them, treat them as special cases and be prepared to work overtime providing for their essential needs.

Whatever the case, the first and most important job is to get the soil ready to 
take the heat. Make sure that you incorporate plenty of organic matter like old compost, well-rotted manure and leafmould, and water everything well. Then apply a thick mulch to keep down weeds – and to keep in the moisture in the soil.

Those special plants that you just have to grow, whatever the cost and whatever the weather, can be watered by digging a small tunnel down to their roots and placing a bottomless plastic bottle in it. Leave the top of the bottle showing above the soil surface and simply pour water into it. All that precious liquid will then go to where it’s needed most.

Finally, experiment with drought-loving plants, such as lavender and those with silver foliage or thick, fleshy or shiny leaves which have usually adapted to deal with dry situations.

Some are hardy enough to grow in Northern gardens, whatever the winter may throw up.

Consider dianthus, a selection of geraniums (choose with care because some seed profusely and invade aggressively), oriental poppies, Salvia superb, centaurea, iris hybrids, potentillas, euphorbias and catmint.

Many more Mediterranean-based plants are also worthy options, but check before you plant that they are tough enough to withstand the average damp English summer and can withstand a touch of frost.