Posted on 05.12.2022 |
Added in Sheila May's Blog

Drought this summer – winners and losers in our garden (2)

Continuing on with my review of winners and losers in our decorative garden this year of drought and heat.

As you all know, we have almost no topsoil to speak of on our chalk hillside – and a great deal of labour intensive garden (as opposed to grass/hardlandscaping) – which if you had asked me I would have told you looked after itself mainly, with no watering of the beds, and little intervention from me.  Given how little we have been here this summer, and how much of the time we DID have here had to focus on the veg garden, if this year has shown me anything, it has shown me how much I DO do without realizing it – all those deadheading/weeding/pruning ‘5 minutes' each morning and afternoon on your way to some other main job elsewhere in the garden really do make a difference.  The being present to notice that something needs tying up, chopping back or removing altogether; or eg that the lily beetle are decimating the fritillaries or lilies and dealing with them.  How much different the garden is without a mad 15 mins pulling up bindweed, or keeping on top of the brambles escaping into the garden under/over the fence from next door.   Not being here for much of this summer has really affected the “pretty” garden.

A plus of being on chalk is that many plants have their roots into the chalk, which is like a sponge soaking up all the winter wet, so that the three months drought to June didn't really make any difference to the growth of the garden – here are some “before” shots from June and July to show you how the garden looked then:-

The Philadelphus ‘Belle Étoile' has definitely been a winner – it flowered beautifully, for a long period, smelling divine – it is also still in deep green foliage as I write now in later October.  Here is a shot taken from almost the same spot on the patio above the pond as the last of the three photos above taken just one month later on 18 August:-

We had been away almost the entire month between the two photos, and as we all know July/Aug were the most intensive heatwave periods too.  Not only did we have almost 40 degrees during the “bad” heatwave, it went down to “only” around 30 degrees for much of the rest of the time.  There is no colour suddenly in anything.  The white splash of the Leucanthemum in the bed has gone.  Walking down I was shocked – I have never seen these plants look like this:-

Another shot showing across to the area in the first picture of the “before” garden which also feature the Leucanthemum in the bottom right corner:-

I know most of the most dramatic browning is withered top growth of hardy perennials which (hopefully) will come back next year – but this was 18 August, we had at least one more month of drought after this, even if it wasn't as bakingly hot, and no watering was undertaken.  You may notice some spikes of towards the top left – normally they would be in flower then, but went over very quickly – making impressive seed pods (which with careful investigation with gloves showed no set seeds) – here is the seed spike of ‘posh' Bears Britches  – Acanthus Spinosus – as tall as the hanging basket of Begonia ‘Apricot shades' still flowering in mid September (in fact this basket on the pergola is still flowering at the end of October – one of the success stories of our neighbours assidulous watering of our baskets and pots whilst we were away.  We have consequently not fed them as much as they would otherwise have been fed, and yet, they still flowered their hearts out. :-

I think the shock of the complete lack of colour in what should have been a vibrant part of the garden in August – vibrant from Day Lilies, Leucanthemum, Cephalaria gigantia, and Crocosmias – was overwhelming.  At least the lavender HAD flowered, but run to seed very quickly, whereas the day lilies simply stopped flowering dead, and the crocosmia never started.  I don't have great hopes for these corms recovering as they didn't make much top growth to be able to take in nutrients to feed the corms for next year.   Strangely, the Cephalaria gigantia threw up a couple of new flowers towards the end of October – another indication of the unseasonably warm month we had – here on 23 October showing  a shorter flowering stem as you can see the taller seedheads of the much earlier flowering:-

Some colour was visible further down the bed under the Leucanthemum on 18 August:-

Whilst I wasn't surprised that the Santolina  chamaecyparissus foliage was looking good still (not flowering,) I was surprised that this patch of was looking like it normally does – I fully expected it to have brown withered leaves (like it did elsewhere in the garden), particularly as Stephan Buczacki has it down in his book on water gardening as one of his top ten plants for a bog garden.  I find it likes hot dry places, though this one is in a slightly more shady position under a dogwood, and I am sure you all remember I propagate it by letting it seed into the gravel/hoggin paths and digging up the baby plants and distributing them around.  I cut off the browned Alchemilla leaves elsewhere, and MOST of the plants started making new green tiny leaves once it rained.  In the above photo you may just be able to glimpse the foliage of the dwarf acer ‘Atropurpureum' behind it – see below, with its red foliage scorched green by the heat and the sun – a state of affairs that never improved for the rest of the year:-

In previous years I would have expected the view down the garden from the pond terrace to have a big blob of pink in it right up until December from the but you may recall that when we revamped the bed below the pond where it had resided, we took it out.  I had taken cuttings and rooted them, and in one of the new areas of the garden I mentioned last month that we created I had planted a couple of small plants in – which unlike the rest of that area I did not water at all once planted in the early spring 2022.  Without any help from me the Lavetera thrived, and on the last day of September looked like this:-

We had previously given another of these rooted cuttings to the neighbours who helped us with our watering this year whilst we were away – and they planted it beside their summer house a couple of years ago.  It is visible over their 2m fence from our bedroom. When we came back on 18 August it was drooping/wilting, but flowering.  Once the rain happened in September it bounced back and is still in full flower at the end of October, a truly useful plant in our current climatic conditions.

If you look at the shrubs this year, most have done well – a survivor is the Portugese Laurel () which I can never get far enough away to show you the height of – but hopefully this shot during pruning at the end of September showing the 7 step stepladder in place gives you an idea how rampant it had got – hiding the Hawthorn tree to its left in this photo from our sight:-

You may notice the loppers bottom right?  The var. robbiae that grows beside the Laurel to the left of the photo had “jumped” the path, and moved into the grass under the pear trees near the loppers – a not altogether surprising winner in the drought as it copes well with dry shade:-

(Though the number of brown leaves from the Laurel shows even this survivor had shed more leaves this summer than usual.)

When we came home on 18 August I found the leaves of the white Michaelmas daisies that I had by the fence were burnt to a crisp, and so I thought I had lost them all.  However, whilst the white ones did not flower this year, some of them (not all) did start to put green leaves out again towards the end of September.  Fortunately, the pink flowering ones –  ‘Andenken an Alma Pötschke' were in full flower in a stuffed border at the end of September:-

Perhaps, like the Alchemilla Mollis clump I mentioned above, because the leaves of this clump are overshadowed by other foliage, unlike the white clumps which I had carefully freed of all overhanging growth when I replanted that bit of the garden in the winter, they had had a bit of protection from the baking sun.

This year has reminded me that what we do fulltime is tend this garden – both the pretty and productive gardens.  It takes two people most of the gardenworthy days (ie when it is not bucketing down, not frozen solid, or not howling gale; anything else we are dressed appropriately and out there playing) to keep it even at the romantically scruffy level it normally exists at.  We miss being in it, and miss doing the gardening when we are not there.

Next time, a review of how the drought affected our vegetable growing, and a giant plant surviving the drought in style.

Sheila May