The land­scape de­signer Tom Stuart-smith re­veals how to help your plants thrive, in sun­shine or in rain

Town & Country (UK) - - GARDENS - By Ca­tri­ona Gray

As one of Britain’s fore­most land­scape de­sign­ers, Tom Stuart-smith is more aware than most of how the chang­ing cli­mate is af­fect­ing our gar­dens. Over the last few decades, he has be­come in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed for his in­tel­li­gent and in­no­va­tive ap­proach to planting, his many ac­co­lades in­clud­ing eight gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, a ret­ro­spec­tive at the Gar­den Mu­seum and a ma­jor on­go­ing com­mis­sion to over­see the es­tab­lish­ment of a new RHS gar­den at Bridge­wa­ter, near Manch­ester, which is due to open in 2020.

The grad­ual shift in weather con­di­tions means cer­tain plants are strug­gling with the hotter, drier sum­mer months, es­pe­cially in Lon­don and the south-east. ‘In­creas­ingly, you’re tread­ing a bal­ance between hang­ing onto the old English idyll of lush growth, cul­ti­vat­ing blooms that re­quire quite a lot of fer­til­ity and mois­ture – such as del­phini­ums and pe­onies – and in­tro­duc­ing new va­ri­eties that might be bet­ter able to cope with our sum­mers, which are now slightly hotter and have longer pe­ri­ods of drought,’ he says.

Mediter­ranean plants are well-suited to such con­di­tions, as are species na­tive to South Africa, Tai­wan and the mid­dle part of Ja­pan, which were pre­vi­ously un­able to sur­vive our his­tor­i­cally harsh win­ters. In Stuart-smith’s own gar­den, at Serge Hill in Hert­ford­shire, he has sown a large meadow of ex­otic species, al­most en­tirely grown from seed. It in­cludes drought-tol­er­ant plants from the prairies of North Amer­ica, such as the this­tle Eryn­gium agav­i­folium and the white-flow­ered Euphor­bia corol­lata, and be­gins to flower at the end of June, con­tin­u­ing right the way through to Septem­ber, and bring­ing some much-needed colour into late sum­mer. In an­other re­cent project, de­sign­ing out­door spa­ces for the Glebe, a new apart­ment build­ing in Chelsea, he has used ten­der plants that like sun and heat, in­clud­ing olives, myrtle and lo­quat.

How­ever, it is not as straight­for­ward as sim­ply se­lect­ing more southerly species and ex­pect­ing them to thrive. Unsea­son­able weather, such as the ex­treme cold spells in March and early April, wreak dev­as­ta­tion on the most care­fully planned schemes, re­quir­ing gar­den­ers to be more vig­i­lant and to act quickly if re­quired, mov­ing con­tain­ers in­doors and pro­tect­ing larger ex­otic plants such as palm and tree ferns with well-in­su­lated fleece bags. Although Arc­tic tem­per­a­tures can be de­struc­tive, Stu­ar­tSmith be­lieves that the real chal­lenge of cli­mate changes comes from the in­creased rain­fall in the winter months. ‘A lot of plants hate the wet, es­pe­cially the drought-tol­er­ant va­ri­eties,’ he says. ‘Too much of it will kill them.’

To avoid un­nec­es­sary losses, he rec­om­mends si­mul­ta­ne­ously im­prov­ing drainage and cut­ting down on ir­ri­ga­tion. ‘It’s best to go for a leaner ap­proach, us­ing gritty, sandy soil that’s well drained. Don’t fer­tilise the plants or water them too much – you’ll get bet­ter re­sults if you treat them as if they were in their nat­u­ral home. Plants grow more slowly like this, but there’s no point be­ing too hasty when it comes to gar­den­ing – you al­ways regret it.’

An­other po­ten­tial peril is the pos­si­ble in­tro­duc­tion of new botan­i­cal dis­eases, now that so many of our gar­den­ing sup­plies are im­ported, from plants to gravel and sand, while long spells of damp and mild weather al­low bugs and bac­te­ria to take hold. Most gar­den­ers are still un­aware of the dan­ger posed by new dis­eases, but larger in­sti­tu­tions are al­ready tak­ing steps to cover them­selves – the RHS has re­cently im­posed a one-year quar­an­tine on im­ported plants in­tended for its gar­dens. An eas­ier so­lu­tion is to buy lo­cally, choos­ing nurs­eries that grow their own stock, and re­search­ing the prove­nance of any­thing you buy on­line.

Ul­ti­mately, although change is cer­tainly hap­pen­ing, it is pos­si­ble to adapt to it grad­u­ally, us­ing the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore new va­ri­eties to add life to ex­ist­ing schemes. If Stuart-smith’s spec­tac­u­lar gar­dens are any in­di­ca­tion of what the fu­ture will look like, it’s very bright in­deed. www.tom­stu­art­smith.co.uk

left: tom stuart-smith in his own gar­den at serge hill. above: the barn gar­den at serge hill. op­po­site: one of his gar­den de­signs in wilt­shire

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