Tag Archives: drought

Summer gardens – summer holidays – architectural plants that can cope without watering

teasels in bud

teasels in bud

Most established planting, both shrubs and herbaceous perennials, should be fine without watering by you, whether you’re at home or away. This does assume that the soil is good and that the plants have been chosen correctly, shade lovers in a sunny border are not going to be happy, for example.

This isn’t a blog about drought tolerant planting (that’s another one) but some suggestions for planting that will be quite happy if you ignore it and don’t water it, don’t deadhead it but simply admire it. I was considering the idea from a ‘going on your summer holiday’ perspective, but the plants are easy maintenance once established so would of course be happy in your garden at all times of the year.

persicaria red dragon

persicaria red dragon

The term architectural planting generally describes tall, statuesque plants often seen in very contemporary gardens, although it also includes ornamental grasses, Phormiums and bamboos. People are often put off from choosing some of these plants, concerned that they may not fit into a mixed border, or might be too big for their garden. Generally speaking though, adding a ‘wow’ plant can really lift a border, giving it a new lease of life.

Architectural plants may be herbaceous perennials, annuals and shrubs as well as ornamental grasses and bamboos, and it is herbaceous perennials that I’ll be suggesting as if it’s your first foray into architectural plants you may feel reassured by the domestic familiarity of plants which die back over winter and shoot up in the summer.

acanthus mollis

acanthus mollis

The plants will work as part of cottage style planting, minimalist and contemporary gardens, many historically inspired schemes (the Victorians in particular were great Plant hunters and introduced quantities of species to Britain). They’ll also be useful in potager and ornamental kitchen gardens as pollinating insects and predator insects will be encouraged in by their flowers.



Persicaria are members of the knotweed or Polygonaceae family, but are now often referred to as smartweeds, rather than knotweeds to distinguish them from their invasive cousins. Persicaria like a moist or damp soil and will tolerate shade partial shade and sun, but this latter with moist soil, or it will droop and look unhappy. There are a range of varieties to choose from, with the dark pink flowered Persicaria ‘firetail’, the bronze leaved Persicaria microcephala ‘red dragon’, and the edible Vietnamese coriander, Persicaria odorata.

acanthus flower

acanthus flower

Acanthus mollis, ‘bear’s breeches’ is a wonderfully architectural herbaceous perennial that is drought tolerant, so will not notice if you’re away on your holidays and haven’t watered it. What Acanthus is not so keen on though, is being under the shade of evergreen trees, where it has to fight for its water and nutrients; it grows to a large plant and doesn’t do so well with competition. However, it will cope with being grown against a wall, so long as the soil is humus rich at root level. With its glossy green leaves and tall flower spikes Acanthus mollis suits both modern and cottage garden planting. Acanthus spinosus has similar leaves but with a spine at the tip – hence ‘spinosus’.

giant scabious in garden

giant scabious in garden

Giant scabious (Cephalaria gigantea) is a plant that is happy in the Isle of Skye, Cornwall, Greater London and all gardens in between. With large heavily dissected foliage and soft yellow flowers that are fascinating from bud stage to seed head this plant has to be a winner. Bees and pollinating insects also adore the flowers, whilst birds enjoy the seed heads. The flowers are carried on long stems and may need staking in very dry conditions, so if you’re growing it against a wall or fence where it may not benefit from rainfall, be sure to dig in lots of organic matter into the soil when first planting.

giant scabious flower

giant scabious flower

Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) is a British native species. I’ve cheated a bit as this is a bi-ennial not herbaceous perennial, but once established by sowing seed two years running you will have plants every year. As with the Giant Scabious, Teasels are a popular feeding plant for wildlife. The seed heads often last right through to the following spring, although the birds will have eaten the seed off well before then. One lovely feature of these plants is the way rain water collects in the cup like depression of the leaf where it meets the stem. Both stem and leaves are covered with prickles, so it’s a good idea not to plant too near a path or seating area.

teasel with water in stem cup

teasel with water in stem cup

When established, Giant Scabious and Teasel both have a tendency to self seed with enthusiasm but the seedlings are easily recognisable and simply removed by hand or with a dandelion trowel.

Hopefully this selection has given you some inspiration for adding a different type of plant to your garden – one which once established you can wave goodbye to when you venture on your summer holiday, knowing it will be quite happy while you’re away.

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design
Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

teasel flowers

teasel flowers

Sitting in the garden enjoying the sun or sitting on a cool veranda in the shade?
“In Your Summer Garden with Plews Garden Design” – the newest in our eBook series of Gardening Almanacs makes good reading wherever you are.


Gardening tips for watering in the hot weather

oriental poppy

oriental poppy

Many parts of Britain are basking under a summer sun; and our gardens are potentially baking under a summer sun. How do we enjoy the fine weather, keep our flowers blooming , our grass green and still have an easy maintenance garden?

We would all like to have an easy life and a beautiful garden in the hot weather. There is the option of not having any organic planting whatsoever, but I will be looking at zero planted gardens in another blog, so we’ll leave that topic for now.

The two main areas to consider for hot weather gardening are watering and drought planting. Watering your garden during a sustained hot spell or drought is  a short term response to the weather. Drought planting is a longer term design plan to reduce the maintenance requirements of your garden in hot, dry summer weather and in cold icy winter weather.

The short term – what do I do about it now? – tips for reducing the amount of watering that needs to be done in your garden during a drought period can be broken down into three types: re-think what and when you water in the garden; reduce the amount of water needed; re-use water when you can.

As most people would prefer to spend their leisure time enjoying the weather rather than watering the garden we’re concentrating on easy maintenance options.

santolina in need of watering

santolina in need of watering

Focus on the plants that need watering; this sounds obvious, but many people use limited water supplies on tending their established shrubs first and have run out by the time they reach their tomatoes! Food crops have different watering requirements. Fruit bushes and trees need watering at key times such as pollination & fruit setting. Annual food crops such as peas and tomatoes need more frequent watering as they have a shallower root system.

Flower, shrub and tree borders planted this year will need watering too as they won’t have had time to send roots deep into the soil. A thorough watering of the roots is more effective than spraying water all over the soil or plants. Not all of your new plants will need watering everyday even in prolonged hot, dry summer weather if you’re thorough in your ‘root watering’ . Check the soil at root level by gently digging down; if it’s damp then the plant doesn’t need watering.

Established plants should rarely need watering. There will be some exceptions, flowering herbaceous perennials under the shade of a tree, for example. Pot plants and annual bedding will also need watering.

Lawns – when you’re in your local park have a look at the grassy areas. They haven’t been watered. Neither do you need to water your lawn at home; the grass will recover when it rains. Set your mower to a medium rather than short cut as the longer blades of grass tolerate drought better. The only exception is where you have a recently laid turf or seeded lawn. These will need regular watering for about six weeks after installation and will require you to water them during a prolonged period without rain in their first growing season.

newly laid lawn with edges of strips separating - not laid by Plews!

newly laid lawn with edges of strips separating- not laid by Plews!

When should you water? Water in the evening as this reduces evaporation; unless you have a slug/ snail problem in which case watering in the early morning is better. This reduces the moistness around the plants overnight, when those gastropods are most active.

Re-use water; how? Your water butt may be empty, but there’s plenty of spare water in western households. When you’re washing up dishes in the sink rather than the dishwasher, wash them in a bowl instead. The water can be tipped into a bucket outside the back door and used on your ornamental plants once it’s cool.

Put a bowl in the basin so when people wash their hands this water can be used as above. This ‘grey water’ doesn’t store without treatment so use within a day or two.

Do you need to run the tap to get hot water? Make sure the water is running into a basin not straight down the drain! As this is clean not ‘grey’ water it can be used on food crops as well as ornamentals.

tomato tigerella

tomato tigerella

If you need to feed your peppers and tomatoes, water them first, as they then absorb the feed more efficiently.

Whilst we need to get the water to the plants’ roots rather than the top level of the soil, the soil surface shouldn’t be crusted. This will cause both your watering efforts and the rain (when it arrives) to bounce off the surface rather than be absorbed, which is not what is wanted! Break the soil up with a hoe if necessary.

Drought planting or designing a garden which is sustainable in prolonged hot weather is a long term view, something which we would plan for at the beginning of a garden design. Part of the design brief and discussion would be to look at how hot the climate is and for how long; what is the water availability for watering ornamental plants; how much time does our client wish to spend maintaining the garden (watering, deadheading, pruning etc) ; and the size of their budget. It’s an interesting topic, relevant to sustainable gardening and easy or low maintenance gardening and worthy of a blog post in its own right. (Watch this space)

For more tips on watering your garden during a drought, check out our blog archives or drop us an email with your specific query. We like to help.

Plews Garden Design – Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner

Chilean Glory Flower (Eccremocarpus scaber)

Chilean Glory Flower

Water, water everywhere


With British rowers winning the first gold medal for the UK in these Olympics, my thoughts turned to water as inspiration for this week’s blog.

We certainly seem to have had a lot of issues with water in Britain this year, drought, hosepipe bans, floods, Wales and Northern Ireland had their wettest June since 1910 and even the Olympic flame got doused. We should have known that once we declared a drought we’d get a flood…

When we knew we were short of water, with many reservoirs only half full after a dry couple of winters, some of us planned ahead. Water butts came into their own in gardens and on allotments, and various water conservation and recycling tips were to be had – not least from Plews Garden Design, determined to keep your gardens growing.

Rainwater, pouring off roofs and into gutters then diverted from downpipes into water butts and carefully conserved.  Then the stored water was used to irrigate food crops, new plantings, ‘fussy’ plants such as camellias that find tap water too full of chlorine and other chemicals and of course the water was also to keep ponds topped up so fish, newts and tadpoles survived.

This collection and use of what would otherwise be wasted clean water straight into the sewage system is something that many of us partake in. we do it regardless of rain, flood, drought because it seems an obvious thing to do, an easy task to accomplish, an environmentally sound pursuit, an occupation to be praised.

After all, no-one else is going to use the rainwater are they? It doesn’t belong to anyone in particular, it belongs to all of us and none of us; it just falls from the sky and is either soaked up by plants and soil or runs off hard surfaces into the drains. By collecting it and using the rainwater in our own gardens we’re reducing the amount of water that gets washed away.

May I suggest that you don’t move to the State of Oregon in the USA. “Oregon law that says all of the water in the state of Oregon is public water and if you want to use that water, either to divert it or to store it, you have to acquire a water right from the state of Oregon before doing that activity.” This law includes rainwater that falls on your land. Interestingly, if you collect the water from your roof as many of us do, that’s ok. But if the rain is collected in your pond, or sits in puddles on your lawn then it doesn’t belong to you.

An interesting concept?  Or a crazy law? Could it happen here? You tell me.

If you would like some design advice, or a consultancy on how to manage the water – or lack of it – in your garden, we have the inspiration and the know- how to help you ‘go for gold’

Show Chelsea a Flower


There is, funnily enough, a showy element to this week’s blog. It is that time of the year again after all, when the media and the Garden Design world all start patting each other on the back or sniping behind the aforesaid backs. Chelsea Flower Show can bring out both the best and worst in people.

Show Chelsea a flower and she may start sneezing; many people are allergic to pollen from one or more plant species. The London Plane trees that line the avenue at Chelsea (a permanent feature) are known to cause grief to many visitors as this is the exact time of year when the Plane trees’ pollen brings out the sneezes and wheezes; the infamous ‘Chelsea cough’.

Trees have been something of an issue at the Show this year; some of the designers have trawled the world, it seems, for the tallest or widest specimens; thereby causing a few headaches for those organising the event as some of the aboricultural delights only just fit through and on site. Importing trees for a short time in this way has to raise questions about sustainability and the environment.   Not just trees of course; importing Chinese slate when we have Welsh slate near to hand belongs to a similar dispute. But it is the trees that have made the headlines. At a time when London and the south east is suffering from a drought which was pretty much on the cards when this year’s gardens were being designed, was it a responsible action? Not only have the trees been imported (carbon footprint etc, etc, etc) but as they are such large specimens and have been recently transplanted they will require gallons and gallons and gallons more of water.

As someone who designs largely drought tolerant gardens (which fall nicely into the ‘easy maintenance’ brief of many of our clients) and who knows many other designers and landscapers who likewise incorporate a raft of environmentally friendly aspects into their work, one can be majorly irritated by the display of showmanship or see it as childishness. But there are plenty of designers showing at Chelsea who have not succumbed to this attitude. Their trees are native species, or sourced from nearer to home; or smaller specimens; or no trees at all, just shrubs and flowers. These, perhaps are the gardens to praise, these are the gardens that delight in showing that size is not everything…

Chelsea Flower Show is a showcase; it should be an inspiration – for designers, creatives, and for the ‘general public’ (whoever they are). It usually is an inspiration. It should also be an education; and yes it is, there are gardens and displays that tell us how we can live a life that balances computers and smart phones with bee friendly outdoor spaces.

Back to those pollen laden plane trees that are making Chelsea sneeze…Platanus x hispanica is found across London and other cities. It is very tolerant of pollution and of the root compaction that urban trees also have to deal with. Root compaction from the amount of hard surfaces rather than soil surrounding them and from the constant flow of traffic pounding the earth into a hard state.  Deciduous, so showing a tracery of branches over the winter and with palmate, ie hand-like, leaves and a peeling bark which is its most appealing feature (!) this tree is not native to the UK. Colloquially known as the ‘London Plane’ it has become a largely accepted immigrant, although there is still not full agreement on its antecedents; the ‘x hispanica’ nods in the direction of one of its most likely parents, the Spanish plane tree. Flowering time? May –June, of course: just in time for the Chelsea Flower Show!

It is of course a patriotic year, with both the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics appearing on the national calendar. So in her hunt for flowers, our Chelsea is likely to make a bee-line for the Great Pavilion and probably need a sniff of Rosa ‘Queens Jubilee Rose’ and Rosa ‘Royal Jubilee’. These are obvious contenders for RHS ‘Plant of the Year’ award. Roses, also being pollen bearers, may cause an allergic reaction, as may the perfume, either to nose or skin. But hopefully, these celebratory roses, whilst scented, will not cause too many sneezes or skin itches. They are lovely looking roses and their scent promises to be good too.

Oh and while Chelsea does like her flowers, she’s also into hair styles – so let’s hear it for the Chelsea Fringe – a series of events and open gardens running from today (May 19) until June 10. http://www.chelseafringe.com

And whether you’re seeing Chelsea for real, watching it on TV or your computer, Plews can help you with the view you see every day – your own garden. For ideas that are inspired not just by Chelsea but by the many wonders of the world around us,  why not contact us and let us design and build you a sneeze free garden?


Drought? Flash floods? Wrong sort of rain? How British!


The last Saturday of April, and we’ve certainly had April showers – hail showers…
Many of our clients have asked why, when they can see water levels in local streams and ponds rising, do we still have a hosepipe ban? Oh yes and why is it the ‘wrong sort of rain’? Isn’t rain, well, rain? And wet?

Taking the second question first: using analogy of a sponge makes it easier to explain. Take a dry, hard sponge, drip water onto it constantly, it becomes sodden. Equally, dripping water onto it until damp then pouring water onto it, the water is still soaked up by the sponge. Take a dry, hard sponge and drown it with a bucketful of water held above and the water bounces off…
Hence ‘wrong sort of rain’; it bounces off the soil rather than soaking nicely through to wet plant roots and work its way down to the water table. It flushes itself into drains and sewers; catapults off impermeable concrete and washes away nutrient rich top soil.

Taking the first question second; yes thankfully there are some streams and ponds which have rising water levels. However, we’re still in a drought situation because the reservoirs and rivers need a lot more water; they have been deprived of rain for more than a few weeks. So what is or makes a drought? A drought is a shortage of rainfall which consequently causes a shortage of water for the environment, ie habitats, flora, fauna (animals), agriculture, industry, businesses, households, domestic gardens, parks – in fact just about everything and everyone. 

There are basically two kinds of drought; a short intense drought caused by a heat wave and lack of rain; then a longer term drought that develops over time, ie where there has not been enough rain over previous months. In the UK we generally get most of our rain over the winter months, and the last two years have been well below average, in other words, dry (if snowy). Think back to spring 2011 – again, drier than normal. This means that the reservoirs and rivers have not been able to fill up as per usual.

Importantly, the groundwater levels, which are the underground water resource, are also at seriously low levels. This is the water that would fill wells; that is tapped by bore holes and that fills rivers, lakes and reservoirs from below as the rain fills them from above. Without getting too technical, and using the sponge analogy again, the ground, or rather the soil, has a capacity to hold water both near the surface and lower down at the bedrock level.

The amount of water a soil is capable of retaining varies (this bit you probably know); sandy soils are not good at holding water, so gardeners need to add lots of organic matter to increase their ability to retain water so the plants have something to drink. Clay soils in contrast are very good at holding water (put simply, it’s because the clay soil particles are tiny so there’s more room in between them for the water). That’s why clay soil is often muddy and unworkable over wet winters, it is full of water. Or rather it should be full of water; not in a drought.

Going back to the short intense drought, whilst shallow ponds will dry up and clay soil crack on the surface, below ground, lower than most gardeners are likely to dig there are still reserves of water. So the effects are mainly short term, although from a climate perspective they would still need monitoring to see if they’re part of a larger trend.

A drought that has developed over time – our two dry winters, for example –is different. Groundwater levels need to replenish over the ‘wet season’ as during the growing season trees and plants use most of the rainfall before it soaks down through the soil to the lower levels. It is actually a good system, if you think about it. The soil stores the water until it’s needed, the plants make use of the bounty from the skies first before drawing on the reserves. Nature is really quite efficient.

One of the problems with a long term drought is that humans, especially in the developed world and definitely in Great Britain, are generally profligate with water, ie not just that we use a lot of water but we waste it. Not always on purpose, often without realising we’re doing so. We have to change our mindset and our habits, and that includes new builds having grey water and water catchment systems as standard; and ways of retrofitting older houses, offices and industrial premises, parks, farms, nurseries…

At Plews we care about water conservation; our planting schemes are designed to be miserly in their watering needs once established. Plus we have plenty of ideas and solutions to make your garden – at home or at work – an oasis in the desert