7 Favourite Plants for Drought AND What is ‘Chop & Drop’?

It’s been an interesting summer so far to say the least.  One which will be remembered for its heat and lack of rain.  It has felt like August since June, except hotter.  Here, we are scratching our heads wondering if its a blip or a sign of the times. 

I’ve been watching to see which plants are holding their own while others struggle. Established plants will generally cope better than those which have been recently transplanted. Those which are part of a lovely community can be aided by their neighbours foliage holding moist microclimate under their canopies. However some plants have flowered their socks off already and are now lay spent and a bit crispy.

Here are those I’ve noticed for doing well;

  1. Euphorbia characias wulfenii – I adore this and use it in practically every garden I can for its grey blue evergreen foliage, and architectural spring flowers. Its certainly loving this season and not bothered by the heat at all. Interestingly it wilts in hard frosts and then perks up when it thaws.

    Euphorbia characias 'Wulfenii'
    Euphorbia Characias ‘Wulfenii’
  2. Geranium macrorrhizum – Presumably these shallow rooted plants store some reserves in the woody stems which lay on the surface of the soil, or perhaps its the slightly hairy leaves that help – either way its happy in dry shade generally – and its doing just fine in my gardens.
  3. Artemesia – I often use Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ whose silvery leaves love a hot dry, well drained spot. The fluffy foliage has a light texture, perfect to contrast bolder shapes.

    Artemesia 'Powis Castle' in foreground Winter '16
    Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ in the foreground – still looking great during the winter
  4. Sedum – The fleshy leaves and stems are water stores and so sedums are perfectly adapted for drought, and there are many to choose from.

    Sedum
    Sedum 
  5. Grasses – Ok that’s a big group of plants – my favourites ornamental grasses are all doing really well. Stipa gigantea, Stipa tenuissima, Carex testacea and Calamagrostis Karl Forester.

    Stipa tenuissima in drought tolerant border
    Stipa tenuissima, now known at Nassela tenuissima.
  6. Phlomis ruselliana – A good example of a ‘wooly plant’ – using fine hairs on it surface to help protect from the suns rays and retain moisture. The dense foliage works brilliantly at keeping the soil moist too.
  7. Poppies – Poppies have lovely tap roots which help them to tolerate prolonged dry spells. The big oriental poppies may flop, and can look a mess but try using this foliage to create mulch. Im getting into ‘chop and drop’ mulch at the allotment, and I reckon oriental poppies are a ideal candidate.

Chop & Drop is a permaculture concept – in that it mimics a natural cycle. Using fresh foliage to create a mulch and feed for the soil, and ultimately our plants. 

Simply lay leaves directly on the soil to retain moisture, and as they breakdown nutrients become available to the soil again. It doesn’t look as neat and tidy as our traditional horticultural methods but its very easy and it works.

Chop & Drop Mulch under courgette plant
My chop & drop mulch at work under a courgette plant

My light soil at the allotment is prone to drying out and blowing away, so Ive been using comfrey leaves and also dandelions (seeing as I have so many) but any leaves will work. The very best plants for this are deep tap rooted plants (hence my comfrey & dandelions) or nitrogen fixing plants such as clover (which you may have in your lawn clippings) and foliage from peas and beans.

Know your soil; Its useful to remember that many of these plants listed – are adapted to hot dry conditions, and along with this require good drainage – which is where winter can be problematic. Its really valuable to take the time to get to know your site well before planting new areas for these reasons.

When to plant; For some time Ive been advising clients to either plant in spring or autumn – to avoid lots of watering and to work with nature and avoid the struggle of the summer heat. This is not what everyone wants to hear but I don’t really believe we need to or should be watering our gardens generally let alone all summer long to establish a newly planted scheme. Of course we have special plants, pots and crops which we want to tend with a can of water now and then, no judgements here.

See my previous post for more thoughts on designing resilient gardens

Stay hydrated!

My Irish Road Trip & Thoughts on Plastic

I’ve just returned from a mini road trip via Scotland, to Northern Ireland. I’d longed to see The Giants Causeway and surrounding coastline for years. This wasn’t really a trip to visit gardens, more about taking in windswept landscapes and striking seascapes, interspersed with bookshops and cosy pubs.

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We drove through the Peak District, The Lakes, and then Galway Forest Park stopping in Wigtown Scotlands book town. Next we crossed the Irish sea to follow the Causeway Coastal Route. Coincidentally, I was reading Mary Reynolds, Garden Awakening. Mary is Irish, a fellow garden designer, permaculturist who writes about the land having its own personality, when we learn to observe and increasingly work with it, how we can be custodians, rather than rulers in our gardens.

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On my journey I marvelled at the scale of the landscapes, noting where and how it had been shaped by man, either with forestry, farming or building. I saw where the sheep pastures stopped and the moorland started, lines drawn in hedges or stone walls. I noticed how the presence of the roads we drove on disrupted the ground water drainage routes.

We’re lucky in Britain to have such a wide range of landscapes, so many micro climates, varied eco systems and weather; Sandy beaches, rocky shoreline with thrashing waves, clifftops, scalloped bays, the mono culture of forestry plantations, babbling streams, mud flats and estuaries, glens, sensual rolling green hills, massive brown mountains. This road trip had it all.

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I got my much needed ‘sea fix’, the cost of living in landlocked Derbyshire. As a holidaying child I competed with my sister to be the first to see the sea when we drove to the coast, and now my children do the same. The clear green blue sea around Carrick a Rede (above) was especially uplifting and I was relieved not to see much litter or plastic floating anywhere along this tourist attraction coastline, but on our return journey we stopped near Port William where there was plenty of plastic waste on the beach.

We spent our sunset walk picking up plastic – bottles, lids, toothbrushes, toys and straws, some of it was broken and unidentifiable. It was food for thought. This coincided with another big push in the media about the single use plastic issue and ocean pollution. They say every bit of plastic that was ever made still exists – somewhere. The irony of gardeners, nature lovers, producing a material which is not digestible by the earth makes me ponder the plastic plant pot issue which plagues the industry.

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The horticulture industry was revolutionised by the plastic pot. Strong lightweight pots meant that plants could be bought and sold at anytime of the year, rather than during the dormant season when traditionally plants could be bought bare rooted locally.  Growers could grow plants anywhere and transport them easily, and the industry has built up around this.

Our pots are, in the majority, ‘single use’ – used once then discarded; amongst other reasons to avoid spreading pests and diseases (especially as such a lot of plants are imported). The system is a linear one, pots are not designed or standardised to allow for collection, cleaning and re distribution. Black plastic is especially challenging to recycle so while some pots get sent for recycling and some passed around and reused, the vast majority end up in land fill.

I grow a small amount of the plants I supply – which allows me to reuse old plastic pots. I also grow a few plants in the ground for transplanting in spring or autumn in the old school way. These often do so much better than the pot grown ones.

There are alternatives to plastic; coir, bamboo, cow manure, rice hulls and wood fibres are also used to make plant pots, and new products are continually being launched and marketed – Modiform, a plastic pot and tray manufacturer, who make pots from recycled plastic, also announced recently, a new 100% recycled paper based system of pots and trays.

I feel that we need to take time to build up our local growers again, where pots potentially need be less robust and alternative materials can be used. Also, where the scale allows for old plastic pots to be reused.

What can you do to help?

  • Use biodegradable pots, seed trays – either bought or homemade, for growing seeds and cuttings. Wooden seed trays are lovely to use and loo roll inners & paper pots are also great.
  • Consider where your plants come from. Try to support local growers, & smaller nurseries.
  • Buy bare rooted plants in winter and avoid the pot all together. Ask for no plastic packaging.
  • Ask at the till in nurseries & garden centres about pot recycling schemes, and suggest they start one. The industry will have to respond customers make enough noise.
  • Reuse the pots you have, post surplus on freecycle – or see if any local schools, allotments etc can make use of them.

More information on the effects of plastic pollution see this article and on reducing your waste the zero waster site has great tips.

I’m back to work after the break now, busy tree planting, pruning roses and wisteria, also cutting back my favourite grass Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, wondering about what this year has in store.