A dry-tolerant summer garden
Many plants have adapted to predictable weather patterns but New Zealand’s climate can go from deluge to desert, creating a feast or famine effect. Maximise your success in summer with tough, tolerant plants.
ne of the biggest challenges in the summer garden is keeping your plants well hydrated in times of drought. Setting up an irrigation system, planting shade trees and installing concrete paths that don’t suck up water are all valuable in the water-wise garden. There are certain plants, too, that are easy-care.
The traditional herbaceous border of an English garden lends itself to many drought-tolerant plants, such as achilleas, bearded irises, gaillardias and gauras. Not only does gaura cope when the soil cracks, it flowers on for months, as does Verbena bonariensis and Russian sage ( Perovskia atriplicifolia), pictured right. Thistle-like plants, like globe thistles (echinops) and sea hollies (eryngium) are both drought-tolerant, as are penstemons, potentilla and Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’.
For Mediterranean-type magic, try lavenders, fennel flowers, euphorbias
Oand daisies, such as marguerites (Argyranthemum), osteospermum and South African gazania. Shrubs and climbing plants that tolerate drought include hibiscus, tibouchina, bougainvillea, mandevilla and campsis.
That’s not to say you cannot grow thirsty classics like delphiniums, roses and dahlias; just make sure you provide adequate – and regular – moisture.
Foxgloves ( Digitalis purpurea) are the classic choice to add height, heft and delicacy to a cottage-style garden, but in exposed areas you may have to stake them. Remove faded blooms and you will induce lower side shoots to emerge, sending up a second flush of flowers. Foxgloves seed prolifically, so once you have them, you should have plenty.
Want cut flowers year round? Plant a picking garden. Choose a sunny spot with good soil – most cut flowers, especially annuals, need six hours-plus of sun a day. Annuals also need regular water; without it their stems are shorter and they start to concentrate on seed production after their initial flush of flowers.
Annuals are typically the mainstay of a picking garden as they bloom so quickly and generously. Keep picking and the flowers will keep coming. If you fail to pick, they'll put their energy into seed production. Perennials have a higher initial cost than annuals, but they increase in plant size and number of blooms each year. Plan your plantings so that taller plants don't hog all the sunlight, and use strings and stakes, or plastic or steel mesh installed horizontally at 50cm above the ground, to support taller flowers such as bells of Ireland, delphiniums, foxgloves and gladioli. Easy annuals: cornflower, bells of Ireland, calendula, dahlia, love-in-a-mist, scabiosa, snapdragon, cosmos, honeywort, sweet pea, aster, zinnia, sunflower, poppy and statice. Easy perennials: delphiniums, alstroemeria, verbascum, yarrow, hydrangea, valerian (pictured right). Bulbs: Lilies, anemones, ranunculus, chincherinchee (Ornithogalum).
Dahlias are one of the best value garden plants for summer colour and a perennial favourite amongst cut flower growers. Planted in spring, they'll flower from December through to late autumn, and they come in just about every colour and form imaginable: from elegant to exoticlooking, from shaggy to saucershaped, and fimbriated (where the tips of the ray florets split evenly into two or more divisions) to single orchid (a whirligig look, where the sides of the florets curl inwards or outwards), among others.
Dahlias require an open, sunny position with shelter from wind and a soil that is free-draining. Avoid planting in overly rich soil (a little compost will do) or you might inherit soft, sappy growth that breaks easily and attracts disease.
Pinch off the tops of your dahlias when they reach 30-40cm tall to encourage them to branch out and produce more flowers. Water well.
Fancy a blue border? Plant delphiniums, asters, agastache, statice, love-in-a-mist (all pictured here), plus English lavender, catmint (nepeta) and salvia, such as Salvia patens 'Cambridge Blue'.
Larkspur, the annual delphinium, is easy to grow too and has a more delicate, less hefty spire than the perennial version. The seeds need a period of cold to germinate, so sow in autumn for a spring and summer showing.
Echium 'Blue Bedder' (viper's bugloss) is a mecca for bees with its nectar-rich summer flowers. It's a great cut flower too. These seeds are also sown in autumn for an early summer showing.