How do you keep the plants in your garden going in an extended hot spell? Mediterranean plants, succulents and well-chosen annuals are key – oh yes, and plenty of watering. Jane Moore gives her tried-and-tested methods for dealing with drought

These have been trying times for gardeners and, if your garden is anything like mine, it has suffered. The lawn is brown in more places than it’s green and the borders have flopped despite my best efforts at staking. It’s enough to make you weep. But I must also confess to a somewhat two-faced reaction to this weather as the kid in me – yes she’s still there – loves the fact that it’s shorts every day, bare feet and ice cream is the norm and every weekend feels like a holiday.

There are, of course, tips and tricks that help the garden along. If you’ve taken my advice and planted a tree, then you’re already on the way to giving the garden some shade, which will really help the plants beneath – although don’t forget to water the tree.

But there are the stalwart star plants that just keep flowering whatever the season throws at them and, along with a few tried and tested techniques, the show does go on.Stachys

The usual suspects

These are those lovelies that often hail from the scorching temperatures of the Mediterranean. Things like furry lamb’s ears, Stachys and the statuesque stems of Verbena bonariensis thrive in the sunny, scorched earth that is presently middle England. Besides these, think herbs such as sage, rosemary and lavender, which are all having a great time this season, as well as all the grasses, especially Stipa and Pennisetum. Good shrubs include Cistus with its lovely tissue paper flowers, Artimisia and Perovskia – in fact anything with silvery, furry leaves is perfectly adapted to the summer heat.

More survivors

A great many shrubs will handle these temperatures as long as they’ve got their roots well down – anything recently planted will need regular watering until it’s established. The born survivors of this season for me have been the roses which have been beautiful, covered in bloom and with healthy, disease-free foliage. Early summer flowering shrubs such as Philadelphus and Weigela have been looking good even though they haven’t had a drop of water. Key items like our box hedges and topiaries are fine too, although it’s a dilemma as to when to trim them in these temperatures. Box, with its small leaves and sturdy growth, is remarkably well adapted to hot weather and the RHS lists it as one of its top drought-tolerant plants.
Sea holly and allium

When it comes to perennials the list of true survivors is limited, although plants like Eryngium, the sea holly, are obviously adapted to dry conditions. Think seaside a little more and you’ll come up with thrift, Erigeron and Crambe cordifolia, the sea kale, one heck of an imposing plant but not for the faint of heart or a small garden. Other great doers include hardy geraniums and Crocosmia, both surprisingly sturdy and floriferous and with lots of varieties to choose from.

Succulents

These are the way to go in these trying times as they need virtually no water at all. Pots of dainty Sempervivums or blue-green Echeveria add a dramatic look to any terrace or table, as well as looking great planted in raised beds or larger planters. In the border you really can’t beat Sedum spectabile or Euphorbia characiasEcheveria

Short lived, but long loved

Ahh, annuals – where would we be without them? Many annuals, due to their swift growth and short season, are perfect for a hot summer. All my favourites – such as Cosmos, Calendula, Amaranthus and Nicotiana – are being utterly brilliant in this tricky summer. There is plenty of choice, from bedding stalwarts such as Pelargoniums, Gazanias, Bidens and Felicia to the more cottage garden lovelies like Nigella, poppies and sunflowers, so if you have some gaps, get some bedding in pronto.

Love your lawn

It’s the grass that suffers most in this weather and the best thing you can do for your lawn is to forget about mowing it for a while. If you must mow, then raise the height of cut and don’t box off or collect the clippings. They will act as a mulch and slow down the evaporation of water from the surface of the soil. Having said that, this only works if the clippings are small – too many and they will smother the grass and cause dieback and yellowing.

Water if and when you can – stick to the advice that follows here, but I know that’s not always possible due to hosepipe bans, water meters and your own personal philosophy. The thing is to remember that your lawn will recover once we get some rain. Promise.

Watering and maintenance

  • When you water, water well. Water only once or twice a week, but do it really thoroughly. For example, leave the hose soaking a newly planted tree for at least 20 minutes. Pots will need more regular watering, but again try to do it just two or three times a week if possible, soaking the pots in buckets or trays or using the hose for five minutes a time.
  • Either water late or water early. At home I water my garden in the evening so the plants have all night to soak it up with no sun causing evaporation. At work I get in early and try to do the bulk of the watering in the cool of the morning.
  • If you must plant, plant small pots such as 9cm pots as they will get used to their growing environment as they develop. If the worst comes to the worst and you can’t keep them going, then at least you haven’t spent too much money.
  • Make your own compost. Adding organic matter to the soil before planting does wonders to improve water retention in the area around the roots. It may seem easier to buy organic matter in bags from the garden centre but it isn’t a patch on the stuff you can make yourself – but either is better than nothing at all!
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch. After watering, even a little mulch around individual treasured plants will help to keep the roots cool and moist. Of course, if we get some rain – remember that stuff which falls from the sky? – after you’ve done your lunatic happy dance across the garden, then mulch everything you possibly can.
Jane Moore is an award-winning gardening columnist and head gardener at The Bath Priory Hotel. Twitter: @janethegardener
Featured image: Annuals including Calendula and cornflower