by Tricia Harris, Helmsley Walled Garden
This has been a punishing summer for our gardens. Parts of my garden are a crisp and even here at Helmsley, it feels like there is less colour than normal for this time of year.
Frankly I’ve felt like a crisp too. I’m not a heat lover, although I know plenty of people are but I would’ve preferred more rain at judiciously timed intervals.
This does look like the future and whilst I’m not thrilled, we had better all get used to it so I thought I’d share my top favourite drought tolerant plants.
Nepeta species – better known as cat mint, I love this and am thrilled I can now grow it. One of my previous cats, now sadly gone to the great litter tray in the sky, was at the cat nip since the day she was born. She would eat the leaves and flowers until she was a dazed wreck on the floor. Eventually she would reduce the plant, any plant, to two dead stalks in the ground. I tried everything. Small plants, plants grown on in pots till they were big – nothing worked. However I now have cats who are happy to lie under the cat mint whilst simultaneously terrorising the small rodent population. Result, I have beautiful thriving plants and the bees are very happy.
Lavender – another plant with a beautiful scent. Plants have various ways to be able to deal with heat. One is to have succulent leaves (more later). Another is to have very hairy leaves, grey leaves or very small leaves. Lavender combines grey-green foliage with having needle thin leaves which spectacularly advantages it in a hot, dry climate. Lots of different varieties to choose from too.
Stachys byzantina – otherwise known as Lamb’s Lugs or woolly hedge nettle. Beautiful evergreen, felty, grey leaves with a pinky-purple flower spike it will just go on and on. A perennial, it will benefit from a judicious snip of old leaves in spring and is another plant beloved of bees.
Santolina chamaecyparissus – lavender cotton is an evergreen dwarf shrub, again with grey-green very narrow leaves and topped with bright yellow flowers that look like so many tiny buttons. Trim the flowers back as they go over.
Sedum spectabile – another plant that bees and other pollinators flock to, Ice plant or brilliant stonecrop, has succulent leaves again with a grey-green tinge. Sedum telephium (Atropurpureum Group) ‘Karfunkelstein’ has chocolate flowered foliage together with dark purple flowers making it standout in the late summer and early autumn.
Achillea species – finely divided leaves and hairy stems reduce water loss (transpiration) meaning it laughs in the face of hot weather. We grow plenty of different varieties here and they create a display that lasts well into autumn.
I suspect this is a topic I may be revisiting a lot so rest assured that there are plenty of plants that can withstand drought conditions and ways in which we can help our gardens to cope.
We will talk again soon.