Our sweltering July probably prompted many gardeners to reach for the hosepipe. In fact, according to The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), less than three per cent of the annual water consumption of an average household is estimated to be from garden use, but at peak demand times as much as 70% of water supplied may be used in gardens.
This doesn’t have to be the case though. Rainwater collected in water butts, waste water from the kitchen and grey water from the bathroom can all be used to water plants.
Or, maybe, the ultimate solution is to create a garden that doesn’t need much watering.
This doesn’t mean creating a desert garden devoid of colour. Dramatic flowerbeds can easily be achieved from plants that have very low moisture and maintenance demands. Many drought-resistant plants naturally form communities of plants which thrive in the same conditions and come from similar Mediterranean habitats.
At the front of the border you could have dwarf lavender, Sedum spectabile, lamb’s ears and ornamental grass such as stipa tenuissima, while middle-sized drought-resistant plants include Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’, Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ (wallflower), Russian sage and Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ (catmint).
At the back of the border you could use species more than 1.8m tall, including Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, Choisya ternata (Mexican orange blossom) and Trachelospermum jasminoides.
Most drought-tolerant plants will have either aromatic leaves, fleshy and succulent leaves (which store moisture for dry spells), grey leaves, hairy leaves (which shade themselves with their own hairs), long narrow leaves (which are good at shedding heat without water), or spikes (which act as ‘fins’ to cool the plant).
The RHS offers these extra tips to create a more drought-resistant, but still attractive, garden:
Cultivate the soil deeply and dig in large quantities of organic matter to improve soil structure, water retention and water availability for plants. l Apply sufficient fertiliser as plants use water most efficiently where nutrient levels are adequate.
Choose plants with grey-green or silver leaves as they reflect the sun’s rays, helping to conserve moisture within the plant tissues.