Drought busters! We've had another unusually dry April

Drought busters! We’ve had another unusually dry April, but some plants don’t just survive in arid conditions – they thrive in them, says Monty Don

  • Monty Don explains that after another dry April the ground is parched and dry
  • UK-based gardening expert says it’s best to choose plants that adapt to dryness 
  • He advises choosing plants from the Mediterranean region  as they thrive in heat

This spring I revamped my Dry Garden. This was not a transformation or makeover but more of a fine-tuning in light of both its specific shortcomings and the general trend that climate change is undoubtedly bringing to our weather. 

The last three Aprils have been gloriously dry, and this year, following the driest winter I can remember for a very long time, the ground is absolutely parched. The best way to deal with drought in any garden is to choose plants that have adapted to it. 

By and large, these come from what in horticultural terms is the Mediterranean region which, as well as the area around the Mediterranean sea, includes South Africa, Australia, California and Chile. This gives a wide range of plants that will thrive in any amount of heat and drought we’re likely to experience here. 

My own Dry Garden is the one area of the whole garden that does not have clay soil. In fact, when I made it in 2004, it had no soil at all, being Tarmac laid directly over sandstone. 

Monty Don explains that after another dry April the ground is parched and dry. The UK-based gardening expert says it’s best to choose plants that adapt to dryness

I lifted the Tarmac, hacked out a few inches of the sandstone and brought in topsoil from elsewhere in the garden. It is south facing and the warmest, most sheltered part of the plot. 

You may think this is an inauspicious place to make a garden but cardoons, irises, fennel, tansy, cistus, rosemary and lavender have all made themselves thoroughly at home – even when the temperatures dropped to as low as -10°C. But the combination of wet and cold is disastrous for all Mediterranean plants. 

Recently, however, certain plants – primarily fennel and tansy – had become thugs and were crowding out their more delicate neighbours. So this spring we lifted everything, weeded as best we could and had a rethink. 

He advises choosing plants from the Mediterranean region because they thrive in heat such as cardoons (pictured)

ASK MONTY 

Q My friend bought wisteria  four years ago. It’s grown and looks healthy but has never flowered. I have one that is two years old and flowers. Do you know why theirs hasn’t? 

Linda Ewers, Aylesbury, Bucks

A Wisteria is slow to flower. It’s normal to wait up to five years before any sign of a bloom, so patience is needed. You’ve been lucky, and this’ll be because you had a grafted wisteria that was already blooming. In general, too much nitrogen will encourage foliage at the expense of flowers so give it a good mulch each spring and, if you feed it, only use a high potash feed such as liquid seaweed.

Q I’ve battled with pampas grass for five years and I just can’t keep it in check. It’s between a wooden fence and a boundary wall. I’ve thought of hacking it back and burning it, do you have any thoughts? 

Mrs Hilary Bowry, Alcester, Warks

A Pampas grass can be a monster in anything but the biggest of gardens. Burning it is the traditional way of controlling it, but it sounds as if you might burn your fence down while doing it! You could try cutting it back to six inches tall, although you may need a chainsaw.

Write to Monty Don at Weekend, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT or email [email protected] Please include your full name and address. We regret Monty can’t reply to letters personally.

This was partly a result of the gradual invasion by the thugs, but also because I had access to a pile of blocks of sandstone and had wondered for years how best to use them. Inspired by numerous trips to Greece, where I have been helping to make a garden for a friend over the past decade, I decided to use them in this part of the plot so they look like the remnants of former walls and buildings. 

This involved a lot of heaving and waddling along with a sack truck for much of the Easter weekend, but I got there. Then I replanted around the stones. 

I have put back the rosemary and lavender that is so suited to these conditions, adding sedums, Euphorbia characias wulfenii, E. mellifera, many bearded irises that were hidden in the thickets of tansy and fennel, and, most dramatically of all, a large olive tree that had hitherto lived in a pot in the Paradise Garden. 

I watered everything in well but shall not water again. Ever. If it is to be a Dry garden, it must cope with drought. I have every faith, how­ever, that it will be fine and that the biggest threat is from too much rain, rather than too little. 

The moral of the story is that while climate change may be the greatest threat to mankind in our history, in the short term, at least for gardeners, it is a challenge that can create beautiful and fascinating planting opportunities. 

Next week I’m off to the Chelsea Flower Show. Last year it was held in September and, despite this, it was a great success as it managed to be both reassuringly itself and yet, because of the time of year, refreshingly different – especially in the palette of plants on display. But to be going back there at this more familiar season does feel like a homecoming.

MONTY’S PLANT OF THE WEEK: SOLOMON’S SEAL

Monty says that Solomon’s Seal (pictured) shares similar growing preferences to hostas and is perfect for a dampish, woodland border

The arching stems of Solomon’s Seal rising out of the soil are now looking their best. Its foliage is a chalky green and rather hosta-like. 

It shares similar growing preferences to hostas and is perfect for a dampish, woodland border; ferns and hellebores make for ideal companions. 

It has one major pest – the Solomon’s seal sawfly, which can strip the leaves to tatters in June. It can look terrible by late summer, but neither its regrowth or floral display the following spring are affected.

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