Water Shortages Predicted

I’d written a blog about planning your front garden this month. However after the severity of the announcement from the Environment Agency, that England faces water shortages within 25 years. And given that water is central to all gardens. I decided to start this blog by revisiting my trip to Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden, which is the blue-print for water free planting. 

I can’t say I’m that surprised by this announcement. I learned at school that the UK has a water deficit every summer. This is balanced out by the excess in the rest of the year which restocks our reservoirs. As a gardener you really notice dry winters and I’ve been postulating my theory of ‘dry shoulder months’; Oct/Nov and March/April for at least a decade now.

GRAVEL GARDEN

Beth Chatto was a ground breaker in the field of dry planting research. Starting back in the 1991, at her home in Essex, the driest county in the UK, she converted a natural gravel pit area, into a Dry Garden. By adding some organic matter and plants well known for their tolerance of dry conditions, watering in  the early weeks to help establish roots and then never watering it again, EVER!

Approaching the project scientifically (I do love a bit of science), she and her team recorded the plants performance over the 8 years. Concluding with her creation of the book Drought-Resistant Planting in 2000. It could do with a few more pictures however it’s the bible for planning dry planting in sunny conditions. You can see from the photographs below, how this world-renowned Gravel Garden looks 30 years on! Beth also went on to create a dry shade area and the results of that are covered in the book The Shade Garden.

WINE TIME

Both books are well worth purchasing if you want to start planning you garden to be watering free. This has the added benefit of freeing up more of your time, to relax in your garden, rather than watering it, win! I’d also recommend sourcing plants from the Beth Chatto Nursery.  This has one of the best collections of planting for dry conditions in the country.As well as a very well organised website to make, so finding ‘the right plant for the right place’ is made easy.

DRY PLanting Scheme

My own dry planting experiment, which I created in Spring 2017, was only watered for the first few weeks and not at all over the hot, dry Summer of 2018. So far, the only specimens that haven’t fared so well are some of the Bergenia and Anemanthele Lessoniana however that’s as a result of the tree not creating as much shade on the sunny side, as was initially anticipated.

The Acer is the biggest surprise, it was replanted here, after being removed for the construction of the wall. Not only is it in a very dry hot location, it’s doesn’t have the full complement of roots, that one would expect for a specimen of this size, however no noticeable die-back occurred.

Two years on and the Calamagrostis x acutiflora Karl Foerster and Stipa gigantea stand proud against the Verbena bonariensis, Perovskia, Anenomes, Sedums, Euphorbia and Cistus. Here’s a link to more images and the planting plan below, which I will admit was heavily guided by Drought-Resistant Planting.

WATER HARVEST

Another way to plan for reduced rainfall, is to collect as much rain water as possible when you are able. I saw this system in a front garden recently, see below, which is absolute genius and hats off to this persons ingenuity and committed! However even a rain water butt from the guttering of your shed or garage is better than nothing. Harvesting your brown water from; baths, showers and kitchen sinks, would be wonderful although hard to do in most homes.

RETENTION

Once you get the water in the soil, the next important consideration is keeping it there. So mulching is very important, I mulch with compost in early spring and top this up through-out the summer when required. I like a full planting style with no soil showing, which I find has the added benefit of helping to retain moisture in the soil. It goes without saying that you should water early or late in the day and always at the base of the plants.

As I finish this article, I am thinking wouldn’t it be typical, if we are about to have a wet spell, such are the vagaries of weather in the UK. However looking at the forecast for the next week, it does indeed look drier than you’d expect for early April, so get planning!

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