Drought Tolerant Gardens.

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.

10 thoughts on “Drought Tolerant Gardens.

  1. Interesting for me to see similar planting to what grows well for me here. This garden has been top of my list for some time now… when I get the chance to spend a longer holiday in the UK. 😃

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Those certainly exhibit a different standard of drought tolerance that we observe in the chaparral climates of California. I find it difficult to use the term ‘drought’ nowadays though. Our normal climate is considered by most (who migrated here in relatively recent times) to be in a perpetual state of drought. I try to explain that a drought is an unusually dry weather pattern that lasts only a few or several years. If it happens annually, as it does here, it is not unusual. It is our normal climate.


  3. I just love this garden, and had read about it, but nothing compares to visiting it oneself. I did that when on holiday in that area, and I had a huge smile all through the day. The plants available for dry area in the nursery too were very tempting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My part of the country and I definitely recommend a visit. A barn stood on part of our garden so we covered it with gravel and went to Beth Chatto’s for some inspiration. I love the fact that lavender now self seeds whereas in my old garden it hated the wet clay in winter and rarely thrived.
    Great photos Brian and useful checklist of plants. I should really buy her book and expand my plant selection.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good to revisit this garden, Brian, with its variety of conditions. I wonder whether gardens in East Anglia generally are faring better at the moment than some of the rest of us…


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