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

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

How to create a stylish Alpine Trough

Almeria maritima alpine plant pink flower

If you want a low maintenance but stylish garden, alpine plants are a great option. Most of them are evergreen which means they can provide interest all year round.  Alpines prefer dry and rocky gardens, so an easy way to create the ideal growing conditions is in a trough.

There are lots of plants to choose from, mainly petite and slow-growing and can easily be bought from your local garden centre.

Here’s  three plant ideas to get you started:

Sempervivum

sempervivum

Commonly known as houseleeks, these gorgeous succulents create rosettes of leaves and come in various colours from sage-green to purples which look striking against grey stone or rocks.  They can grow to around 50cm tall when in flower and spread easily by creating off-sets. They love loam or sandy soil in a sunny spot.

Thymus ‘Silver Queen’

Thymus silver queen

Another lovely evergreen shrub and is a culinary herb (which tastes fabulous on your pizza instead of oregano!). It grows to around 20cm tall and has pretty ovate leaves edged in cream. It has dainty pink/mauve flowers in the summer.

Armeria maritima

(photo above) Commonly known as thrift – this lovely pink flowering alpine is an evergreen perennial, with mat-forming dense narrow leaves. It will grow in all soil types too in full sun.  Flowers from May to July.

Other plants you could try are Aubrieta, Cyclamen, Iris reticulata, Tulipa greigii, or Abies balsamea Hudsonia.

Planting an Alpine Trough

alpine trough succulent plants

 

Here’s my step by step guide in creating a beautiful alpine planted trough:

  1. Put the trough/container in a sunny place. Ensure there are enough drainage holes and it is sturdy.
  2. Place a layer of old crocks on the base to help drainage. Then add a layer of gravel. Check the water runs freely through it as alpines don’t like sitting in water logged soil.
  3. Add the compost/planting material. This should be a blend of 1 part top soil, 1 part peat or well-rotted leaf mould and 1 part grit, mix it all together and place on top of the drainage layer. Firm it all down.
  4. Add rockery stones – bury each one to around a third.
  5. Add plants and arrange around the rocks/stones and include a trailer to go over the sides of the trough and water thoroughly.
  6. Cover all bare soil with 2.5cm layer of stone chippings. This helps keep the neck of the plant dry from damp soil.
  7. Watering is necessary in hot and dry weather until the plants are established.

You can join the Alpine Society who provide advice and guidance worldwide. You can contact them via their website www.alpinegardensociety.net

Alpine Garden Society Pershore Sempervivum

Photo: Sempervivum courtesy of Alpine Garden Society, Pershore

 

JOIN MY GARDEN LOVERS CLUB

Sign up to my free newsletter to receive top-tips, offers and planting ideas to create your perfect outdoor space! Receive your FREE bulb guide for year round colour.

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”https://borderinabox.com/join-garden-lovers-club/” text=”JOIN NOW” ]

purple alliums

Japanese Maples – Beautiful trees for small gardens

Japanese Maples

If you’re looking for a tree suitable for a small garden, a Japanese maple is the perfect choice! They are small deciduous trees that are happy in the border or large container. They are one of my favourite trees as the foliage is really pretty and in autumn they turn the most beautiful colours.

The best time to plant them is in the autumn in a sheltered sunny or part sunny spot as they don’t like cold winds or frosts.  You can protect them with horticultural fleece during the winter. The sun can scorch their delicate leaves, so a dappled shaded area is perfect for them.

They prefer slightly acidic, nutritious, sandy, well-drained soil, but will generally grow well in most soils; however, they don’t like water-logged soil, overly dry or very alkaline conditions.

If you’re growing in a container, keep the compost moist and feed with a slow release fertiliser in spring and summer.

Care & maintenance

If your tree needs cutting back, do it when it is dormant – ideally between November to January. When a maple is cut it will bleed sap which could weaken and ultimately kill the tree, so it’s best to keep pruning to a minimum.

If you need to reduce height and/or width, simply cut back to a side branch and also prune crossing shoots which will keep the framework looking good.

Here are some of my favourite Acers that look fabulous:

Acer palmatum Sango-Kaku

Acer palmatum sango-kaku

This can be a shrub or small tree as it can grow upto 6-8m tall and spread 2.5-4m.  It likes a sheltered sunny or part-sunny spot in the garden and is deciduous but suitable for all soil types. I love the gorgeous red stems with contrasting green leaves, which as you can see turn a lovely yellowy-red colour in autumn.

Acer palmatum dissectum Inabe Shidare

Acer palmatum dissectum Inabe Shidare

This tree is so pretty – the spreading shape and the finely cut leaves are stunning. This variety grows to around 2.5m tall and also likes a sheltered position in a sunny or part sunny garden. It’s happy in all soil types too.

Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma gaki’

Acer palmatum tsuma_gaki

How beautiful is this leaf? It looks so delicate with its reddy/pink-blushed edges surrounding a yellow leaf. The leaf turns lime green as it matures, which in turn becomes a stunning red colour in autumn. It grows to around 2.5m x 2.5m so it’s ideal for adding a bit of height in a container garden.

Acer palmatum ‘Shigitatsu sawa’

Acer palmatum shigitatsu_sawa

This tree grows to around 4.6m tall and 3.7m wide so its better suited to a larger garden. It has fabulous cream leaves with dark green veins and certainly creates the wow factor in any garden. As the leaves mature, they become green and then turn red in autumn.

Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’

acer_palmatum_shishigashira

This is a bushy upright Acer which is happy in all moist but well drained soils in part shade or sunny areas of the garden.  It grows to around 4m tall and 2.5m wide.

If you would like to visit a nursery specialising in Japanese maples, I can recommend Howle Hill Nursery or their new plant centre at Huntley (both not far from Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire). Photographs were taken there in the spring and autumn. Further details and opening times www.howlehillnursery.co.uk.

These trees are a perfect addition to any of the Border in a Box designs and I used Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Omatum Fontana’ in my Platinum award winning show garden border at BBC Gardeners’ World Live 2018. You can recreate this design with the Wellbeing version of Border in a Box.

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”https://borderinabox.com/product/wellbeing-garden-design-kit/” text=”Buy Now” ]

BBC Gardeners World Live Beautiful Border, Jar of Life

Border in a Box Wellbeing sensory planting plan

 

Border in a Box Wellbeing

 

 

Join my Garden Lovers Club for FREE to receive exclusive hints & tips

Nikki HollierFounder of Border in a Box
Join Now
Nikki Hollier Border in a Box

Awards

Border in a Box awards

AS SEEN IN

as seen in magazines

Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Youtube
Consent to display content from Youtube
Vimeo
Consent to display content from Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from Google