Creating a Drought Tolerant Garden

A gravel garden is a great option if you wish to create a low maintenance or Mediterranean style garden. These types of gardens use plants that are drought tolerant, which reduces the need to water regularly although some minimal weeding may still be required.

By choosing the right hard and soft landscaping, a gravel garden can be beautiful, practical and attractive to wildlife.

When planning your garden, the soil is the first thing to consider. If you have clay soil, you will need to add plenty of organic matter as a lot of the plants used in a Mediterranean style of garden prefer a sunny spot with well-drained soil.

Next decision is the gravel – there is a vast array to choose from. With different sizes and colour, there should be something suitable for everyone’s taste whether that be traditional, Japanese style or an industrial look. I would suggest getting a sample of the different types you like and taking them home to try as it will look different in your own setting.

When choosing the type of gravel, its also important to consider if it will be walked upon as angular medium grade gravel is easier under foot. Plus, if you use small (10mm or below), you could find your garden is suddenly more attractive to cats!

Any surface dressing helps shade the soil and keeps it cool which prevents it from drying out as fast after rain or watering and this allows more water to go into the ground for later use. Adding large stones and pots not only creates an interesting focal point, it can also decrease the quantity of water needed as the soil dries out less quickly.

After levelling and raking the surface of your garden border, lay landscape fabric over the surface and cut a cross in the fabric and place your plant through it. Once all your plants are in place you can gently add your chosen gravel to a depth of around 5cm. It’s cheaper to buy gravel loose rather than in individual bags (which also cuts down on plastic waste).

So once you’ve chosen all your hard landscaping materials, the exciting bit is the plants which will bring it to life!

What plants are suitable for a gravel garden?

There are many plants that are well suited to dry, drought like conditions. As a general rule of thumb choose plants with the following attributes:

Small leaf – such as Verbena bonariensis, thyme

Silver leaf – Olive tree and Lavender

Thick leaf – Sedum, Sempervivums

Hairy leaf – Stachys byzantine commonly known as lambs ears which are so soft and tactile.

When planting small plants they can become swamped by gravel, so plant them so that that they are raised slightly above the level of the gravel.

The Contemporary Version of Border in a Box is ideal for this style of garden.

Gravel garden grasses phormiums

This is the Contemporary Design & has just been planted

 

Lavender Loveliness

Lavender Loveliness

Lavender is one of the ‘go-to’ plants for a cottage garden style planting scheme but it has so many uses, from culinary to wellbeing so here’s my quick guide on what to buy and how to use it.

Lavendula is the botanical name and they are easy to grow too which makes them ideal for any border. They look fab with roses and other perennials and shrubs.

There are many varieties to choose from – the English lavender is the hardiest – you may see this as Lavandula angustifolia on plant labels. Another popular variety is French lavender, which has cute ‘ears’ on the top of the flower – sometimes known as butterfly lavender. All of them are loved by pollinators.

This plant is happiest in a sunny garden with well-drained, chalky or sandy soil. They don’t tolerate shade, damp or freezing cold as they originate from sunny climates, so they thrive in Mediterranean environments and are suitable for containers, herb and gravel gardens, and balconies.

Lavender come in a range of colours too – from white to pink, mauves and blues, so there is something for everyone’s colour scheme.

French Lavender

How to grow lavender

They can be easily grown from seed (follow seed packet instructions) but if you buy already grown plants, put them out once the soil has started to warm up, usually from April onwards. Don’t ever plant lavender in the winter when young plants are vulnerable to rotting due to cold and wet soils.

You can also grow in containers – use a multipurpose compost or John Innes No2, add in some grit to improve drainage. Keep watered until established but especially during hot and dry periods as containers dry out quickly.

Propagation / cuttings

Another way to grow lavender is by taking cuttings. If you’ve not done this before, it’s a simple process and can be applied to many perennials and deciduous shrubs. Who doesn’t love a free plant?

In horticultural terms it’s called Softwood Cuttings (just in case you want to research it further). Its called softwood as you are cutting the new growth from the plant in early spring when the tips are young and flexible.

Step 1

Collect material (shoots) early in the day when the plant is full of water (turgid) and healthy. Use non-flowering shoots, as they will root more readily. Remove up to 10cm of shoot, cutting off the material neatly above a bud on the parent plant.

Step 2

Most softwood cuttings are nodal – this is just below the leaf joint. This is where there’s a concentration of hormones to stimulate root production.

  • Using a sharp knife (or scissors) trim below a node to make a cutting about 5-10cm long
  • Remove the lower leaves, pinch out the soft tip and dip the base of the cutting in hormone rooting powder (which is available from any garden retailers)
  • In a pot of compost using a dibber (a clean blunt stick), make a hole and insert the base of the cutting with the first pair of leaves just above the level of the compost. Press gently around it to ensure the compost is firm (but not solid).
  • Label the pot and water it from above to settle the compost
  • Cuttings should be placed in good light but not direct, scorching sunlight.
  • Ensure the compost is moist until the cuttings are well-rooted which takes about 6 to 10 weeks
  • Possibly not all cuttings will root, so remove any dead, rotting, dying or diseased material so it doesn’t infect the other cuttings.

These are Salvia cuttings, but it’s the same process.

Salvia cuttings scissors plant pot

salvia plant cuttings

Salvia cuttings in pots

Pruning

To stop your plants getting woody and mis-shapen it’s best to prune back in the late summer once all the flowers have stopped. This can be done using shears or secateurs. Cut back all the spent flowers and trim back this year’s growth, leaving around 2-3cm. Don’t cut back to the woody stems as the plant won’t be able to grow the following year. It’s likely you will need to replace the plant in this case. You can always tidy up the plant in the spring.

Drying lavender

It’s easy to dry and preserve so that the seeds can be used in scented sachets or added to sugar for culinary purposes.

Simply harvest the lavender stems before it’s fully in bloom (this retains the scent and colour). Gather the stems into a bunch (approx. 2cm in diameter). Wrap a rubber band around the stem ends to hold in place and hang the bunch upside down in a cool dry and dark place for 2-4 weeks.

You can also use this process for drying other flowers and herbs.

Cacti & Succulents – A popular houseplant gift

cacti succulents pink flowers

If you’ve been given a cacti or succulents houseplant as a gift and now wondering what to do with it, here are some top tips and advice by my friend and expert, Ian Thwaites who is the Chairman of the British Cactus and Succulent Society.

The common linking characteristic of cacti and succulents is the ability to store water in the leaves or stems enabling them to survive in arid habitats. All cacti are succulents, yet cacti are defined by the presence of areoles (specialised sites where spines form) whereas succulents have none.

Succulents – the camels of the plant world

In magazines they look amazing all crammed in a pot or terrarium together, but this really isn’t the ideal growing conditions for them. This may encourage insect infestations and/or mould. It also creates too much competition for water and food – therefore it’s best to repot them into their own pot and put them in a sunny windowsill.

The most common type of succulent house plant is the Crassula ovarta, commonly known as the Money tree, Friendship tree or Jade tree as you often see them in Chinese restaurants.

Crassula ovarta

cressula ovata money tree jade plant

This is a bushy evergreen shrub that grows slowly to 2m (it will take 5-10 years to reach this height). It has rounded fleshy dark green leaves sometimes edged with red, and flat clusters of small starry white or light pink flowers in late summer.

These plants are simple to propagate, and it will get children hooked onto growing their own plants. Simply pick off a leaf, tell them to leave it by their bedside so they can chat to it when they get up every morning. After a few weeks the leaf will sprout some roots, so pop it into some soil (from the garden will be fine) and gently cover the roots with the soil and firm it in and then leave it on the windowsill and after a few more weeks it will start to grow.

Echeveria elegans

Echivera succulent plant

Otherwise known as the Mexican gem. The elegans variety is a perennial and forms a clump of evergreen rosettes of spoon-shaped, whitish-green leaves and has lantern-shaped pink flowers, tipped with yellow, in late winter and spring.

These look great in a pot for the patio table as they only grow to around 10cm tall. They also don’t need much attention so if you go on holiday for a few weeks, you don’t need to worry about watering them.

Succulent care:

All succulents like a well-drained soil/compost. Its best to add a third/half grit (or perlite) to the compost to make sure the soil is open and well drained.

They prefer a sunny windowsill but some of them are happy outside in the summer months. Generally, they like warm sunny spots.

Feed them regularly during their growing season with a high potash feed such as Tomorite. Use half strength and feed regularly during the growing season. Do NOT use Miracle Grow.

The compost should be allowed to dry out slightly between waterings, rather than keeping it constantly moist. Succulents hate having their roots in water, so don’t leave them in a dish or tray of water. Ideally use tepid rainwater for watering. The minerals in tap water builds up in the soil and can cause deposits on the leaves of succulents.

Best time to re-pot them is in the spring.

Cacti

All cacti originate from the Americas – so all the ones you see in Europe come from the Americas.

Christmas cactus

christmas cacti pink flower

This plant is named because it flowers around Christmas time, so they make a pretty gift. These cacti originate from Brazil, so they also like a hot dry climate.

Once it has finished flowering, give it a water with half strength feed (such as Tomorite) and then give it a dry rest for 2-3 months. In the spring place it in a hanging basket and hang in a tree in your garden. Remember to water occasionally with food. It loves dappled sunshine under the tree. Make sure you bring it back into the house before the frosts start. Then water and feed it again and keep the compost moist.

If the flower buds drop off, this is due to the plant drying out, so simply water and feed it again. Keep it in a cool place when in flower as this will intensify the colour.

If you want a flowering cactus, buy a globular version as the columnar varieties need to grow to a certain height before flowering.

Mammillaria cacti pink flowers

Repotting:

Like all plants, they need to be repotted, especially when they have outgrown their pots. You can use leather gloves to protect your hands from the spikes. Or alternatively you can use lumps of polystyrene by adding them to the spines which makes them much easier to handle. Simply repot to the next size up in a free-draining compost and then place gravel around the top.

Gravel is needed for various reasons, firstly aesthetics as it looks much nicer. Secondly, it protects the neck of the plant from damp soil and thirdly, it stops the white spines discolouring.

succulents planted in brown laceup gardening boots

Great use of worn out old gardening boots!

Biography:

Ian Thwaites is the Chairman of the British Cactus and Succulent Society (www.bcss.org.uk) and they have over 70 branches around the country.  The principal objectives of the BCSS are to promote the study, conservation, propagation and cultivation of cacti and other succulent plants. Ian has grown plants all his life and in particular Cacti and succulents. Ian is also a professional plant and garden photographer.  You can contact him via his web site www.ianthwaites.com.  Ian is a committee member of the Garden Media Guild.

 

 

 

 

 

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