In the Summer of 2018 many British gardeners experienced the devastating effects of a lack of water and high temperatures. Jo Connolly trained in Garden Design & Horticulture in Adelaide, one of the hottest, driest states in Australia, with a seasonal climate very similar to southern Europe, hot dry summer and cold wet winters. Now living in the UK she has come to realise that what she took for granted as necessary water saving measures in all aspects of garden design & planting, is an issue that is becoming more relevant here as the warmer temperatures and lower rainfall impact English gardening. Here she shares her knowledge and experience:
There are so many ways that we can combat changing temperatures and enjoy our gardens in all weathers:
Design considerations: a good garden design considers the flow from inside to out, creating attractive views to be looked at from within and outdoor living and entertaining spaces to draw people out. In warmer clients this means creating carefully constructed nooks, shade and shelter.
Plant smaller, specimen deciduous trees to create wonderful cool, shady spaces on hot summer days without blocking all the important light in the darker days of winter.
Build all-weather shade structures that create flexible, definitive outdoor spaces for entertaining in summer and winter.
Place sitting walls or simple seats, surrounded with planting or under a lovely tree to make it easier and more enjoyable to spend longer in the garden.
Planting selections are of paramount importance to a successful, water wise garden. I stress that ‘water wise’, does not have to mean, gravel, cacti & succulents! With the wonderful myriad of plants available, there are many options for floriferous, colourful, lush gardens without huge water requirements. It is all in the plant selections, & I can guarantee, if you know the kind of ‘look’ you desire, there are so many plants to choose from that you wont miss the few, very water hungry plants. Roses, for instance, thrive in long, hot, dry summers, & do not require much water at all. Other plants that require less water are Abelia, Box, Agapanthus, Cistus, Cotoneaster, Euphorbia, Flax, Grasses, Iris, Lavender, Salvia, Gaura, Juniper, Nepeta, Perovskia, Sedum, evergreen viburnum, hardy herbs like Rosemary, Oregano, Sage & Thyme and many silver & waxy leafed plants.
Annual mulching is an effective weapon in your armour against extreme weather. As well as a great weed suppressant, a good organic mulch laid out to a depth of 7-10cm keeps the temperature in the top 10cm of soil much cooler. This protects the fine roots just below the soil surface so they do not heat up, dry out & stress the plant. The mulch gradually breaks down over the year, feeding the soil and encouraging essential microorganisms & worms etc, which in turn create a healthy, humus rich soil.
Lawn choice and care will impact it’s appearance and survival in less favourable conditions. In Australia they use warm season grasses which are much more drought tolerant than the cool season grasses of the UK, but I am unaware of any that been developed that could withstand the winters here. Cool season grasses suit the UK climate but selecting a deeper rooting fesuces and rye grass mixes will have a better chance of coping in drier conditions. The health of the lawn is key and so feeding at recommended times throughout the growing season, keeping the grass a little longer in length in Spring, aerating and keeping moss under control will all assist in helping the lawn cope with hotter and drier conditions.
Water harvesting & irrigation:
The water run off from your house and garden building roofs can be stored & used as rainwater for your garden relatively easily. Simple water butts can hold small amounts of water for pots & veggies.
A heavy chain hung from an eave creates a sculptural element whilst catching water & feeding it to the garden or a receptacle.
Rainwater tanks come in many shapes & sizes using only a few metres of ground space & can be as narrow as 30cm. These can be attached to an irrigation system which automatically waters your garden for you. They can be easily screened with hedging, planting & built screens to add a vertical element to the space or a useful space divider.
Larger rainwater tanks in plastic, metal or concrete (underground) can be inorporated in suburban and rural gardens where larger quantities of water are necessary in the summer months. Slim line tanks can be fitted along, often, unused sides of the house, shed & outbuildings where space is limited.
Irrigation systems are now very advanced & specific, with maximum performance & minimal water wastage. It is amazing, the water saving, with a well installed irrigation system.
An inline drip irrigation system sits on the soil, below the layer of mulch. They are easily installed & there are different types available. An example would be for a larger plastic pipe to feed water to the garden bed area. Then smaller tubes take water to individual plants via a dripper providing a specific quantity of water per hour to each plant. For instance, a small plant may only require 4L water per hour, whereas a large shrub or tree may require 16-32L water per hour. This ensures water isn’t being wasted in areas away from plants & encouraging weeds. These systems are generally run for a few hours once or twice a week to encourage plant root systems to grow down into the soil away from the warmer top layers.
A well designed garden with some savvy planting selections and practical water harvesting will ensure our continued enjoyment of our wonderful gardens and green spaces. If you have any questions please do post them below or get in touch directly. Jo