In our unpredictable summers, it pays to include some drought-tolerant plants in our borders and pots – even if we don’t have a drought, they mean that you’ll have to do less watering.
Find out how to save water in the garden so that you can cope with a drought or hosepipe ban – or save water if you have a water meter.
Drought-tolerant plants are naturally adapted for dry conditions, but it’s very important to water plants in well initially, to help them establish a good root system. Be sure not to over fertilise them.
Drainage is very important, so if you have heavy clay soil, consider building a raised bed in order to give plants the right conditions – it only needs to be 15cm (6in) high. They’re generally sun-loving plants – if planted in shade, they may flower less or lose their silver leaves.
Here are some beautiful drought-tolerant plants you can grow, spotted at a recent RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Agapanthus ‘Silver Baby’
This compact agapanthus reaches about 60cm tall, so is ideal for the front of the border or a pot. It has white flowers that have just a hint of blue, and combines well with ornamental grasses such as Nassella tenuissima. It’s a hardy, deciduous variety.
A shortlived perennial, Anchusa azurea has bright, true blue flowers from late spring to early summer. Cut back after flowering for a second flush of smaller blooms. It loves a well-drained but moisture-retentive soil in full sun.
A stunning, unusual succulent, Cotyledon orbiculata has large, fleshy leaves and spikes of bell-shaped flowers. It’s best grown in a pot as it will need winter protection in colder parts of the UK. Take care not to touch the leaves as they will lose their powdery bloom.
Geums are hardy perennials that flower from May to August – cut them back after flowering and they should reward you with another flush later in the season. Geums look especially good with blue flowers and lime greens. Grow in sun or part shade.
Hardy geraniums (cranesbills) are low-maintenance, long-flowering perennials that can flower for months from spring, and need very little care. They thrive in sun or partial shade and are good for the front of the border. Cut back after flowering to encourage a second flush.
Give bearded irises a sunny spot, and when planting, point the rhizome south so that the fan of leaves don’t shade it. Split the plant every three to four years after flowering, as it will bulk up quickly. Here are 10 bearded irises to grow.
Stipa tenuissima (or Mexican feathergrass, now often sold as Nassella tenuissima) is a compact, evergreen grass is ideal for a gravel garden or a spot towards the front of a border. It combines well with perennials and other grasses, and moves beautifully in a breeze.
The violet blue flowers of catmint (Nepeta) are much loved by bees. When crushed, the grey-green, velvety foliage produces an aromatic scent. Plant in the centre of a border or in a gravel garden. Cut back after flowering for more blooms.
Pittosporums are evergreen shrubs that will give structure and interest all year round in a border. Position pittosporums away from cold, drying winds. Prune lightly in spring if needed. Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’, shown here, has attractive dark foliage.
This beautiful, waxy-leafed, evergreen climber has white, jasmine-like flowers that are beautifully scented. Give star jasmine a sheltered, sunny spot. It’s drought tolerant, but be sure to water well initially to help the plant establish.
Beautiful and long-lasting, sea hollies such as Erygnium x zabelii have tough, silvery leaves that never suffer in drought. Many species come from mountainous regions, where their long tap roots venture deep into the soil in search of water.
This statuesque mullein, Verbascum bombyciferum, sends up tall branching spires of yellow flowers, enclosed in woolly down. Rosettes of large furry leaves resist water loss and are soft to the touch.
Artemisias such as ‘Powis Castle’ and ‘Silver Queen’ use two strategies against water loss – its leaves are both silvery and very finely cut. It forms a resilient, aromatic woody sub-shrub that adds a feathery dash of silver to borders.
Sedums are drought-resistant succulents that produce domes of starry pink, ruby or white flowers in late summer and autumn. Taller sedums may flop, but ‘Matrona’, shown here, stands well, with the glaucous foliage turning a rich purple when water is scarce.
Many thanks to Todd’s Botanics for their help with this feature.