With the heat wave currently restricting me to the shade of my office and cooling fan, I thought it provided an ideal opportunity to write about drought-tolerant gardens.
We spent a week in August 2012 visiting gardens in Essex and East Anglia, one of the driest areas of the UK.
The first one we visited was Beth Chatto’s, famous for its gravel garden.
Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden.
Beth Chatto was born in 1923 to enthusiastic gardening parents. After working as a teacher she married the late Andrew Chatto, his lifelong interest in the origins of plants influenced the development of the gardens and their use of plants to this day.
Following Andrew’s retirement, they built their new home on wasteland that had been part of the Chatto fruit farm. The site presented many difficulties for starting a garden including low annual rainfall. It was to Andrew’s plant research that they turned.
Informed by his knowledge Beth selected plants for a series of gardens that could thrive under different conditions. Beth Chatto’s first book, “The Dry Garden”, was published in 1978.
The gardens began in 1960 and from an overgrown wasteland of brambles, parched gravel and boggy ditches it has been transformed, using plants adapted by nature to thrive in different conditions. Thus an inspirational, informal garden has developed.
A light and airy tearoom allows visitors to relax and take in their surroundings over homemade cake.
The world-famous gravel garden inspired by the low local rainfall, is full of drought-resistant plants from the Mediterranean. The site was originally the nursery car park.
It was first subsoiled to break up the pan. The soil is largely gravel and sand, mushroom compost was added to help plants become established.
This picture shows Agapanthus Evening Star & Verbena bonariensis with large-leaved Berginias, in the bed across the path. The Berginias are a favourite for edging borders, providing all-year-round interest with many developing a rich red tone in winter.
Self-seeders such as Fennel and Verbena thrive in these conditions……….
along with Stipa tennuissima and Verbascum.
A few conifers were included as accent plants, Beth wrote in her book, “they, surprisingly, survived due, I think, to mulching in the early days” here also Stipa gigantea and Euphobias.
Perovskia blue spire and Alliums are some of the plants that make up the planting palette of this garden.
The Mount Etna Broom in the centre, has grown to become a 15ft tree.
Clean gravel is added to the paths from time to time to help conserve moisture and suppress germinating weeds.
Trees, such as Eucalyptus and shrubs were also chosen for their drought-tolerant qualities.
The Scree Garden.
Planted in 1999 in part of the old mediterranean garden, the Judas tree in the centre of the island was planted over 45 years ago and forms a focal point.
On the day we visited succulents and alpines were on display along with the washing
The accompanying plant nursery stocks over 2000 plants, all displayed by growing conditions. They do provide a mail order service.
If you are in the area I would recommend a visit, there is also a water garden, woodland and reservoir gardens. You can visit the restaurant, plant centre & gravel garden free of charge.