Stone in love with you
As our land gets drier, one expert finds plenty of gravel can work wonders in your pride and joy
The last 10 days have seen me undertake an adventurous trek – around the courtyard gardens of Marrakech, on a train past the arid plains to Tangiers, by boat to view the coast of Spain, stopping off briefly to appreciate summer in Manchester and Wicklow.
And now I’m back to hillside Mediterranean terrace gardens in the south of France. In all of these locations I am struck by the lushness of planting when people decide they will garden even in the hottest of places. Our gardens in northern Europe have traditionally had plenty of water. We’re told however that this will change and when we hear of wonderful wine being produced in Kent vineyards, the change is obviously under way. So more of us are going to have to become aware of gardening in drier conditions. As the sun shines and water begins to become scarce, it’s time to look at those plants which are drought tolerant, have adapted to poor conditions and don’t demand irrigation or moistureretentive soil. The best-known exponent of this type of planting in the UK is the renowned plantswoman Beth Chatto OBE, whose wonderful gardens and nursery you can visit in Essex. She has transformed the poorest of soils into enchanting gardens. Beth started off with a neglected wasteland in the 1960s, some of it boggy, some shady and some of it bone dry. By forming dams in the marshy part, ponds and a bog garden were created. In the shadier part of the site beautiful woodland gardens are home to a wide variety of shade-loving plants. And on the very stony, sunbaked soil, she created her famous Gravel Garden, showing just what can be achieved in a garden that is subject to annual drought. To improve the soil she dug in tonnes of home-made compost, farmyard manure and mushroom compost to give plants a good start and chance to spread roots. Then everything planted was mulched with 5cm of gravel, which conserves moisture and keeps weeds at bay. Through trial and error she has found out which plants are best suited to these arid conditions. And if things get really tough in prolonged periods of drought, she cuts back the affected plants to help them get through to the autumn. It’s best to plant younger specimens which will adapt more quickly to their tough surroundings than older ones which might have got used to a comfortable life in a nursery pot. Whichever you choose, water well before planting and while the plant establishes itself. Beth’s gardening is based on a simple principle of “the right plant for the right place”.
If your garden tends to be dry, make a virtue of it with rocks and gravel and drought-tolerant plants
Allium in bloom