Planting Ideas for a Dry Garden

Even though we've just emerged from the wettest year in the hundred years, the unpredictability of British weather means that we're probably in for a drought this time around. The good news is that, if you follow Nathan James Dodd's advice, your plot doesn't have to resemble Death Valley in a John Wayne western.

Created by David Coton on Thursday, 21st of February, 2013.
Updated on Friday, 28th of August, 2015.


grass

When choosing a plant look out for these clues indicating a liking for dry conditions: grey or silver leaves that reflect sunlight; downy or fine hairs covering the leaves that trap moisture; swollen stems and leaves that store moisture; and small in stature so that moisture loss is minimised.

If you want to create a 'dry' garden bear in mind that, because of their origin, drought tolerant plants like free draining soil. So if you have a heavy or clay soil, work in some grit. If possible create a raised bed of this grit filled top soil underpinned by a stoney or rubble filled subsoil.

Check the hardiness of all the plants you buy, many will need winter protection.

Perennials

Try Ceratostigma plumbaginoides from China with blue flowers on red stems, growing to no more than 12 inches, it can be invasive and needs to be cut back in the autumn. Delosperma 'Pink Ribbon' is ideal for very dry conditions, covering the ground with a carpet of pink or choose the 'Purple Ice Plant' Delosperma cooperi.

Rhodanthemum hosmariense (Moroccan Daisy) is a compact spreading perennial growing to about 18 ins with silvery leaves and yellow centred white daisies. Smaller and with less spread is Crepis incana (Pink Dandelion) that has grey green foliage and sprays of pink dandelion shaped flowers. Echinops ritro (Small Globe Thistle) has prickly green foliage with round violet blue flower heads shooting out above silver stems.

Dense masses of purple flowers tower above Salvia nemorosa (May Night), a hardy clump forming perennial, as is Sedum spectabile 'Brilliant' with its profuse pinky red flowers. The flowers of fragrant Lavender will be in full bloom in the heat of midsummer, and the grey leaves of Stachys byzantina (Lamb's Ears) are a giveaway for drought tolerance.

Of the fragrant perennial wallflowers, one of the oldest varieties is 'Bowles Mauve', the lovely lemon yellow 'Moonlight' and multi-coloured 'Constant Cheer' are two others that remain popular. Osteospermums tolerate dry conditions well and will form evergreen clumps with various coloured daisy like flowers. Isotoma have star like violet and blue flowers, look out for 'Indigo Stars' and 'Blue Star'.

Shrubs

Senecio viravira 'Dusty Miller' is a compact evergreen with striking silvery foliage and clusters of cream yellow flowers. Bright yellow flowers feature on the downy shoots of the bushy Santolina chamaecyparissus (Cotton Lavender), a dwarf evergreen with aromatic green grey leaves. Parahebe 'Delight' is a low growing mat forming shrub with stalked magenta and white flowers.

Potentillas do well in dry conditions but their colour improves with shade, while the sun improves the colour of Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple' (Smoke Tree), a large deciduous shrub.

For Autumn colour there's nothing better than Zauschneria californica (Californian Fuchsia) that has Rhizomatous roots and tiny silvery leaves that make the most of its native sun baked conditions, trumpet shaped scarlet flowers appear from late summer to November.

Larger shrubs include Choisya ternata 'Sundance' (Mexican Orange Blossom) that grows to 8ft with aromatic yellow leaves and fragrant white flowers. Similarly sized, Leptospermum scoparium 'Red Damask' is an evergreen bushy shrub with aromatic leaves and dramatic sprays of dark red flowers from late spring.

Cordyline australis (Cabbage Palm) is easy to grow and looks the part in a sun drenched garden. However it may reach 15 feet and isn't hardy below 5C. When mature, it produces nicely fragrant white flowers.

Succulents

Succulents are what you would normally associate with a dry garden, but are not hardy and will need protection when the temperature dips below 10C. Look at varieties of Agave, perhaps americana 'Variegata', with blue/green sword shaped leaves with yellow margins. The succulent foliage of Aloe 'Variegata' is edged with teeth and striped cream, releasing spikes of red flowers. The spiky stems of Trichocereus spachianus (Torch Cactus) will form clumps of up to 6ft with fragrant white flowers opening on summer evenings.

Grasses

Stipa gigantea is an ornamental grass that will grow to about 8ft providing delicate structure, magnificent with the sun shining through its golden anthers and moving in the breeze. Festuca glauca is a group of grasses with blue/green leaves of which 'Elijah Blue' and 'Intense Blue' are good examples. Pennisetum alopecuroides (Chinese Fountain Grass) is frost hardy and bears decorative purple bristles into winter.

Climbers

If you need a climber, look at a Tropaeolum 'Flame Creeper' that reaches 10ft, is fully hardy, has attractive blue green foliage and scarlet summer flowers followed by blue berries. Make sure the roots are shaded. Bouganvillea spectro-glabra can tolerate low temperatures and will grow to at least 10ft, sometimes much more, with purple and yellow blooms.

Much taller, Campsis radicans (Trumpet Honeysuckle) ‘Mme Galen’ is a vigorous fast growing climber with long red trumpet flowers in late summer and autumn, unlike the bouganvillea it requires no watering and the stems cling to walls through aerial roots.

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