While 2012 will go down in the record books as one of the wettest summers on record, 2013 shaped up to be to be one of the best in recent memory.
While many gardeners will have left the watering can in the shed for the entire summer last year, it was hosepipes to the ready in 2013 with thirsty bedding and new plantings requiring regular soakings to keep them looking their best during the continued dry spell.
Looking ahead to next year, you can cut down on the number of trips to the outside tap with a little forward planning. Firstly, work with your soil conditions. With much of Sussex on the coast and exposed to drying winds you can cut back on your workload simply by planting the right plant in the right place. A very basic rule, but one which saves time, conserves water resources and your garden will look so much better for it.
Tough Mediterranean plants are some of the best at tolerating dry conditions – rosemary and lavenders are stars on so many levels – low maintenance, a show of blue flowers and edible too. Santolina Chamecyparissus (Cotton Lavender) and Helichrysum Italicum (Curry Plant) are yellow flowered aromatics also worthy of a space in the dry border.
With flower colours which include shocking pink and bright orange, the flowers of the Lampranthus are not for the faint hearted. This tender succulent does well in Sussex, those in coastal regions even managing to survive last year’s prolonged cold snap. Originating from Southern Africa, this stunning species works brilliantly as a ground cover, preserving moisture for fellow plants and cutting down weed growth.
There are numerous varieties of Sedum, some of the smaller varieties can be grown on some of the most inhospitable conditions such as roofs. Sedum Herbstfreude features deep pink flowers and blue-green flesh leaves which brighten up late summer.
Another way of reducing watering is to mulch. As well as trapping moisture and therefore cutting down on watering, mulching can also protect tender plants from frosts, prevent weed growth and improve the soil. It can be decorative too – gravel, pebbles and even recycled glass can be used as a mulch to match in with the garden design.
At Select Gardens we’ve had some great results using mushroom compost to dress our client’s beds. ‘Spent’ compost is a byproduct of mushroom production and an inexpensive way of improving your soil. Mushroom compost is alkaline so is good for improving acid soils which are low in organic matter.
Autumn is the perfect time to order your mulch. Before you put it down, pull up all the weeds and ensure the soil is well watered. Then spread a 2-5cm layer around the plants making sure you leave a gap around the stem of the plant. For tender plants such as cannas and dahlias, a thick mulch such as bark chippings will protect the roots and crowns from frost and snow.