Some like it hot

The British, it seems, are never prepared for a hard winter. The country grinds to a halt at the first few flakes of snow; ice means chaos; trains, planes and automobiles become useless lumps of metal.

You would have thought we had had enough experience of bad weather to be able to plan ahead, to cope, to keep moving, to beat winter in whatever form it arrives.

But we don't. And if the fears about global warming turn out to be half the truth, we also won't be prepared for the hot, dry summers moving from the south. The first thing that will happen is that the water companies will restrict the flow, turn off the taps. The second thing will be that many of our taken-for-granted plants will find the going too hot and either die out or migrate northwards to cooler climes.

So, perhaps it's high time we took notice and took steps to ensure that our gardens – and their occupants – are capable of surviving as the temperatures rise.

Make it a slightly belated new year's resolution; there's still plenty of time before it's safe to plant out, and if we do the job right, it will eventually save us all time and money, not to mention water.

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 needs.

Whatever the case, get the soil ready to take the heat. 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.

Try composted bark, plastic covered by pea gravel, even another layer of old compost.

Stop cutting the lawn as often, and do it in the evening when there is less evaporation.

The same applies if you have to water – do it as the sun is setting and that way all that precious moisture will go the plants and not into the atmosphere.

Those special plants 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. Those with silver foliage or thick, fleshy or shiny leaves have usually adapted to deal with dry situations. Some are quite hardy enough to grow in northern gardens, whatever the winter.

Lots of herbs love to be baked by the sun, so grow them, and add eucalyptus, senecio, broom, genista; in fact, consider any plant from the Mediterranean as long as it can also withstand the cold.

And the ultimate in dry gardening is the Japanese rock garden – one or two specimen trees or shrubs, large areas or raked and patterned sand or gravel, and the occasional lump of eye-catching rock. Simple but effective and a certain way to save on water.

YP MAG 29/1/11

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