Dry gardens the way of the future?


Cape Town – As drought continues in many countries, gardeners are moving away from traditional gardens requiring regular watering and looking to water-wise plants that grow in desert-like conditions.

In Western Cape, southwest Australia, California, the Mediterranean and the central coast of Chile, plants have adapted to survive heat and low rainfall. Adaptations include hairy leaves that reflect heat, needle-like leaves that reduce the surface area, or succulent leaves, stems and roots that store water.

In California, where a four-year drought and water restrictions have severely restricted landscaping, gardeners are eliminating lawns and replacing them with permeable paving that allows rain to soak into the soil, and including water-wise plants in gravel gardens.

Landscapers are creating different water-use zones – known as hydrozoning – by grouping plants with similar water needs. Those needing the most water are grown near the house. Where there is a large area to be planted, drought-tolerant shrubs and perennials, rather than annuals, are chosen.

Plants frequently seen in Californian gardens and on street verges include many water-wise South African plants such as agapanthus, arctotis, confetti bush (Coleonema pulchellum) wild iris (Dietes grandiflora), euryops and gazania


Local Gardens

Local gardeners have a wealth of indigenous plants available that are low maintenance and water-wise. Garden centres encourage the growing of indigenous, water-wise plants and are willing to share their expertise.

Beautiful and inspiring, Kirstenbosch is a garden for all people, as seen in the Fragrance Garden, Braille Trail, Peninsula Garden, Sculpture Garden, Fynbos Walk and Mathews’ Rockery.

Beth Chatto Gardens, England

A pioneer of dry gardens, Beth Chatto developed a series of gardens on her 7ha of land in Essex, one of the driest counties in England. The dry garden, originally a car park, was developed in 1992, with initial preparation of soil involving deep digging and incorporating vast quantities of home-made compost. This garden is never watered.

Chatto believes in “the right plants in the right place” with form and texture more important than colour, although this water-wise garden does not lack colour, evident in agapanthus, verbascum, bergenia, nepeta, lamb’s ear, chives, thyme, eryngium, salvia, sages, cistus, gaura, giant honey flower (Melianthus major), sedum and ornamental grasses.

Lambley Gardens, Australia

Lambley, near Ballarat in Victoria, Australia, created by David Glenn, is recognised internationally for the wide use made of perennials and bulbs from many countries suitable for dry climate gardens. This is a beautiful garden of plants with interesting forms, colours and textures that suit this environment.

Little soil can be seen between plants that include agastache, echinops, yucca, artichoke, agapanthus, sedum, achillea, artemisia, salvia, scabiosa, buddleja, gaura, penstemon, euphorbia, lavender, rosemary and santolina.

Soil preparation involves digging to 15cm, then mulching each plant with a thin 2.5cm layer of composted pine bark.

Pépinière Filippi

Olivier Filippi is an international gardening celebrity and author. His garden and nursery in the Languedoc region of south-west France specialises in heat-resistant plants.

He has a “dry is beautiful” philosophy and grows plants that can take tough conditions and harsh summers. The garden trials various planting styles, including prairie-style plantings, a terraced area, and dry climate alternatives to lawn.


Tips for dry gardens

l All plants need regular water until they are established. Plant after the first rains to allow plants to develop a strong root system.

l Water less often but more thoroughly, making sure water penetrates to the root area. Water early in the morning while it is cool and there is less evaporation from wind. Watering in the evening where water remains on the foliage can cause fungal problems and the dampness attracts snails.

l Weeds compete for nutrients and water and should be removed while young, before they can flower and set seed. Lay landscape fabric to prevent weeds from growing through gravel and paving.

l Gravel comes in many sizes. Some landscapers recommend spreading large pieces of gravel first, then compacting the area before spreading a few centimetres of crushed or pea gravel. The smoother the stones, the more pleasant it will be to walk on them.

l Choose local water-wise plants and plants from a Mediterranean climate that have adapted to hot, dry conditions. Many Mediterranean plants grow in rocky ground and prefer a pebble mulch, rather than the traditional organic mulch that retains moisture.

Kay Montgomery, Weekend Argus


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