Both gardens and gardeners have been put to the test over recent years, as we continue to face one of the most relentless droughts in Australia’s recorded history. Rain has become all but a distant memory, and we have become accustomed to a permanently bronzed landscape. Even the most dry hardy of plants need a little moisture every now and again and let’s face it, very few plants that do survive extreme drought do so in full blooming glory!
As I wander the garden, there are plants that stand out from the rest, both surviving and still looking reasonably ok, with only a few drops of supplementary water every now and again. Admittedly, our cool climate garden is under less pressure than those in harsher climes, though we are experiencing more and more days in high 30 degree C temperatures, and some hitting 40. We are also perched atop an exposed hill, so battering winds are a constant challenge.
I am in the process of planning new plantings to replace those most challenged in the drought, and can’t wait to sink spade and hands into the soil when the drought eases, and the days cool. I am daring to plan new garden beds too, those that have been in the back of my mind for some time though on hold. The most stoic, tough as boots plants are at the top of my list, the drought has dealt a great lesson and I intend to make the best of it.
I have compiled a list of those plants – perennials, grasses and shrubs – that have been hailed the champions in our garden, and I’m happy to share it with you! These plants have made the list for the following reasons:
- They have survived with minimal additional water
- They are not completely disheveled despite limited water and hot winds
- They are easily found and propagated
- They require little additional care
- In contrast, they also survive the occasional winter snowfall and regular frosts!
When planning any water wise garden, it is important to remember that preparation and good management are key to plant survival:
- Ensure your soil is adequately enriched with organic matter. This is the first advice I give to any aspiring gardener, organic matter is key! It improves soil structure, water retention and overall health and is invaluable in building a drought hardy garden. Compost and manure is ideal.
- Mulch well, ensuring the soil beneath is moist first. Organic mulch is always my preferred option and weed free lucerne hay is by far the best (though currently more importantly needed for livestock). It is nitrogen rich and feeds the soil as it breaks down and there you have it, more organic matter enriching the soil! It needs replacing more often, but it’s worth the effort.
- If you can, water plants from underneath at root level, sending water directly to where it’s needed. Mist sprays are useless and simply evaporate before providing any benefit where needed.
- If you have the luxury of offering additional irrigation, it is better by far to water for a longer time, less often. For example, an hour long water once a week is more efficient than a few minutes every day. This encourages the plants to send roots deep, rather than relying on shallow surface water.
- Be sure to select plants that are generally suited to your soils, climate, and individual site. In our climate, drought hardy plants also need to survive harsh winters!
- Select the best position for the plant – if it likes morning sun and needs afternoon protection, don’t plant it on the hot western wall of the house!
- Look at what’s surviving in your local area and don’t be afraid to copy.
The plants that win the award for Shining Lights of the Drought in our garden are:
- Artemisia (Wormwood)
- Phlomis (Jerusalem Sage)
- Lavender, of course!
- Salvia, particularly the shrubby cultivars like “Anthony Parker”
- Agastache “Sweet Lili”
- Erigeron (Seaside Daisy)
- Nepeta (Catmint)
- Sedum (Autumn Joy and Purple Emperor)
- Iris (bearded and Siberian)
- Bergenia (Elephants Ears, happy in dry shade)
- Liriope (also happiest in dry shade)
- Solomons Seal (again, dry shade)
- Euphorbia (Silver Swan)
- Dahlia, “Home Run” and the “Bishop” cultivars
- Coprosma (Mirror Plant)
- Roses, tough as tough and they love dry heat!
- Cherry Laurel (a weed in some areas, though not here)
- Star Jasmine
- Rhaphiolepis (Indian Hawthorn)
- Lonicera (Honeysuckle),both fragrantissima and the common rambling forms
- Viburnum tinus and burkwoodii
- Cotinus (Smoke Bush)
- Cistus (ladanifer and “Snow Mound”)
- Carex (“Frosted Curls” and “Brunette”)
- Lomandra (Nyalla and Tanika)
- Miscanthus (transmorrisonensis, “Adagio” and “Yaku Jima”)
- Stipa (Beth Chatto’s form)
- Calamagrostis “Karl Foerster”
Of course this list is by no means exhaustive, rather a summary of the favourites that have worked for us through trial and error. Every site and situation is different!
If you have star plants that have shone in your garden through the drought, I would love to hear about them via email [email protected]! We can all learn by sharing our successes, failures and experiences, and gardeners are a generous bunch!
Happy gardening, and here’s to the sound of rain on the tin roof.