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Perk up your frazzled garden

Wilted borders and a lawn resembling the Gobi desert? Yup, us too. But happily we've got all the heatwave-combating garden tips.

Gotta love this heatwave – a proper summer, who’d have thought it? – but one definite downside is the ol’ jardin is looking rather shrivelled and sad. Obviously going wet’n’wild with the hosepipe is one answer but there are other things you can do that don’t involve using large amounts of precious water. I hit up Rick from Watlington garden whizzes, Babylon Design, for some excellent advice. Over to you, Rick…

1. If your lawn is still green, raise the cutting height of your mower. Longer grass is more resilient in hot weather and helps to protect the soil and grass roots from the searing temperatures. If it’s brown, there is no need to water, as it should recover rapidly once rain returns.

2. Water any newly planted plants (ie ones that have been in situ for two years or less) if they are showing any signs of water stress. Even trees and shrubs planted in the winter, will need some watering during their first two summers if there are prolonged dry spells. There are numerous ways of ensuring you do this efficiently in terms of both time and water such as leaky hoses, gator-bags and watering tubes. A good soak once a week is more effective than frequent splashes.

3. Cut back early flowering perennials such as hardy geraniums, pulmonarias, irises, salvias and nepetas. These will then grow fresh, more compact leaves more suited to the hot weather and may also flower again without the mess of the older flowers and leaves.

4. Mulch flowerbeds and other plantings. Applying a layer of woodchip mulch over the soil will reduce water loss, insulate the soil, improve the soil, suppress weed germination and create an attractive backdrop for your plants. If herbaceous borders are cut back, mulched and watered, they can be transformed into vibrant areas with much to offer visually and ecologically.

5. Consider replanting some areas with more drought-resistant plants that can thrive and flourish with less water once established.

Herbaceous plants include sedums, euphorbias, sea hollies, red valerian, penstemons, agapanthus and many grasses. Sub shrubs (ie short ones with woody stems) such as lavender, sage, rosemary, cistus and perovskia also thrive in these conditions and should survive winter. One particular project we planted has thrived despite the hot, dry weather. The front and back gardens were designed in very different styles to reflect their differing aspects and light levels. Whilst the back garden became a shady paradise with Japanese Maples and ferns relishing the shade under mature silver birch trees, the front was perfect for a sun baked scheme using grasses, summer perennials and Mediterranean style shrubs. All planting were extensively mulched a the time and remulched over the winter to lock in moisture. Two years on it is hard to believe that these areas were simply a mass of bare earth and weeds and have only had small inputs of water, even this summer.

6. If redesigning areas of the garden from scratch, use a plant palette that suits the conditions. If you have a naturally wet area or somewhere water drains to, use that spot for thirstier plants. If your garden is a sun-trap and bakes most years, consider alternatives to a lawn in places, such as a gravel garden or low plants such as creeping thyme. Gravel does sound a bit bleak but take a look at Beth Chatto’s brilliant gravel garden in Essex for inspiration.

Babylon Design Garden Design & Maintenance, The Stables, Chestnut Farm, Cuxham, OX49 5ND.


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