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Quarter Century Drought

You would think that following such a miserable bout of summer, what with all the rain we’ve been having, that drought would be the least of our problems – and then we have a week like last week! 

However, news has been circulating that certain areas of Britain, particularly Lincolnshire and East Anglia, are suffering from low ground water levels. Despite the buckets that fell during June and July, dozens of farmers are still unable to draw from their local water sources because the majority of that bad weather was soaked up by late sprouting flora that suffered so much detriment in early spring – an especially chilly one for our spot in the hemisphere.

As such, we felt it prudent to prepare you for future deficits with a list of drought tolerant plants and artificial countermeasures you can take to prevent your garden from suffering a similar fate.

Floral and Hardy’s Top Five Drought Tolerant Plants

image of Abelia grandiflora

Abelia grandiflora

 – a large, easy-to-look-after, semi-evergreen shrub – properly tended it can reach heights of 1.8 metres and will bear glossy, deep green leaves and masses of fragrant, pale pink-flushed white bell flowers all summer long.

image of Fatsia japonica

Fatsia japonica 

– keeps appearing in this editorial, not wholly because of its aesthetic appeal, it is also one of the most durable evergreen species you can cultivate here in England. It is possessed of eight-lobed leaf formations and large, creamy-white, candlebra-like blooms between autumn and winter, followed by plum coloured berries in late winter.

image of Common lavender

Common Lavender 

actually flourishes in dry environments and so is ideally suited to this short list. With its scented purple, pink or white flowers and evergreen foliage, it’s an essential in any cottage garden scheme. Definitely avoid the use of this in humid environments, as this species is prone to root rot in the damp, most fertilisers should be avoided also. In fact the only maintenance really required is good air circulation, a sand based soil and a light trim over after flowering to keep its shape.

image of euphorbia

Euphorbia

 is a striking perennial species with a shrubby form, evergreen glaucous foliage and conspicuous sulphur yellow bracts in spring. Special care should be taken though when working around the plant to avoid their poisonous and caustic sap.

image of echinops

Echinops

 otherwise known as Globe Thistle, due to its spherical purple-blue flower heads and thistle-like foliage, is a species native to Africa’s tropical regions and parts of central Asia particularly the Indian subcontinent. As such, their species has had the time and experience to negotiate extreme weather conditions such as drought and would therefore make a colourful and appropriate addition to your drought-proof garden.

Other ways of dealing with drought conditions:

Irrigation systems

image of water sprinkler

First of all we have the most common irrigation system which is known as localised irrigation, this refers to a matrix of piping that then employs sprinkler heads to control aerial dispersal of the water over the garden. The advantages of this include its easy use, self management and the option of having self-timed systems. Of course this system is also fairly inefficient due to the evaporating effect that the dispersed water will undergo, particularly difficult in time of low water supplies. Even in regular conditions the disadvantage becomes a cost on your own water bill.

image of seep hose

Next we have drip or trickle irrigation, while a slower means of water delivery, it is far more efficient. Not to mention when combined with horticultural membrane and a mulch of some kind mulch it is an excellent means of minimizing that which is lost to evaporation, your system could also be fitted to deliver fertilizer to the garden.

Water butts

image of water butt

Water butts are another effective method of maintaining healthy moisture levels and will not cost you nearly as much as an irrigation system. It will collect the surplus rain water from your gutters and store it indefinitely, to provide an emergency source of fluid in times of hardship. Unfortunately, although the standard types will win no beauty prizes for your garden, they can easily be concealed behind a tall shrub and under our current circumstances much surely be worth the minor aesthetic cost. Fortunately, if the aesthetic of your garden does not allow for such plastic monstrosities then you’ll be able to find a host of different decorative designs available, from large ‘terracotta’ urns to traditional oak barrels, whichever suits your tastes.

Membranes

image of weed suppresant membrane

The selection of the right membrane will be critical to your moisture conservation, not to mention the overall health and aesthetic quality of your garden. You may be surprised how many jobs an effective membrane and mulch can perform for you.

We recommend that if planning to use a plastic layer that you avoid transparent materials, the reason for this is that unlike their black or green counterparts their transparency allows sunlight to penetrate and therefore encourages weed growth – effectively shooting itself in the foot! It is essential, however, that this material be appropriately punctured to suit the level of moisture in your soil. It may not allow water to escape through evaporation however, the flip side of that coin is that it will hinder the drainage of waterlogged soil. Also, if exposed to sunlight this material will break down quickly and thus it is advisable to use a hybrid mulch, with a base layer of black plastic protected by a secondary layer of bark or soil thus reducing heat absorption and subsequent decay.

If however you’re veering towards using a cloth based alternative, or horticultural membrane, then you should consider the following, while this material will provide better water dispersal and ventilation it will also be vulnerable to evaporation. Also, its protection against weed extends only as far as its fastenings, without proper attachment to the ground this material will fast be outmatched by perennial weeds, so always overlap and peg down.

Mulches

The two basic types are organic and artificial each with its own pros and cons. To start, let us discuss the most moisture retaining organic materials:

image of ornamental bark mulch

Ornamental bark – by far the most natural looking mulch, easily obtainable from your garden centre.

Wood chip, while not especially porous, provide excellent weed control and is an extremely attractive base layer, however as they decompose they will sap nitrogen from the soil which will need to be supplemented with outside fertilizer.

Pine needles are effective as porous material and thus will welcome initial rainfall and allow it to penetrate the ground easily, but they can make soil quite acidic – fine if you want to grow acid loving plants such as Rhododendrons and Azaleas!

Pecan shells are something of a speciality as they tend to be restricted to areas of pecan production, however if available they should definitely be considered as they provide a lovely dark brown mulch and excellent water retention over a long time period.

Artificial mulches:

image of slate chippings mulch

Slate chippings – unlike other stone mulches, they’re acidity levels are inert and thus they will not manipulate the pH level of the local soil

• Gravels or stone – available in a wide range of colours and sizes, however tend to grow very hot during the summer months, those most prone to drought, and therefore can exacerbate evaporation.

• Tumbled crushed glass – like slate chippings is also a recycled material and comes in many vibrant colours.

So if your garden seems to be getting drier by the year, don’t fret, follow some of the advice above and England’s green and pleasant land can easily be preserved.

By Josh Ellison

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