Stone in love with you

As our land gets drier, one ex­pert finds plenty of gravel can work won­ders in your pride and joy

Rutherglen Reformer - - Home & Garden - Diar­muid Gavin

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

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