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.

NZ Gardener - 365 Days of Flowers - - The Summer Garden -

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.

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