Dried out garden solutions

Val Bourne / 20 July 2012

Find out how to make a dried out summer garden bearable.



August can be a lacklustre and tired month because the garden is often at its driest. But by early September night time temperatures start to drop and as a result morning and evening dews begin to revive the garden - and your spirit.

You could turn a blind eye for a week or two in the knowledge that the garden will soon bet back on song.

But if you're desperate to liven up your tired garden, the best 'quick-fix' way is to plant up some large containers with tender plants. These distract the eye when placed in the areas that look most tired. You have to use colour-themed displays packed into large pots to create an effect however.  These can be placed at ground level or raised up using bricks or a plinth.

You should still be able to find pelargoniums now. Choose a blend of dark-maroon, pale pink and mid-pinks making sure that some are upright and some trailing, if possible. Choose a repeating plant filler as well: you could use the fine-green ponytail grass (Stipa tenuissima), or a small-leaved variegated ivy or the short pink or white Gaura lindheimeri.  Mix them up to make a perfect container for a sunny position - the filler plant gets away from the old-fashioned bedding look.

You should also be able to find lots of agapanthus. These look best planted on their own in a row of simple pots. Line up 5 pots along a sunny wall or path.

Lavenders, salvias and silver-leaved plants could also be mixed together.  All these, including pelargoniums, thrive in sun with little care as long as a loam-based John Innes no 3 is used in the container. Avoid peat  - it dries out.

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For Shade

If it's a shady area that needs a face lift the most accommodating shade lover is impatiens, or busy Lizzie. There are some sultry larger-leaved ones in rich reds and oranges which look good planted with brown carex. Coleus are also good in shade or you could do a mixed-foliage container with ferns, ivies, heucheras, variegated grasses and hostas. These perennial plants could then go in your garden at the end of September.

How to choose the best plants

Any plant chosen for a container has to be in tip top condition. The best way is to take a trolley round the nursery or garden centre and pick out suitable eye-catching candidates. Arrange them in your trolley as you go.

Long-term solutions for avoiding that dry, tired look

1. Feed and mulch plants with organic material in late spring to conserve moisture at ground level. Only mulch after rain and always apply blood, fish and bone to the ground before mulching.

2. Dead head all repeat-flowering roses, perennials and annuals with kitchen scissors. This fools your plants into producing more flowers.

3. Choose plants that either survive drought or perform in August.

Drought-tolerant Survivors

1. Tuberous dahlias like 'David Howard'

2. Fleshy-leaved dark sedums like 'Purple Emperor'

3. South American zinnias, cosmos and salvias

4. South African kniphofias, arctosis and osteospermum

Plants at Their Peak in August

1. American prairie plants including heleniums, echinaceas, rudbeckias (annual and perennial)

2. Late-season grasses- miscanthus and pennisetum

3. Buddlejas, hollyhocks and small-flowered clematis

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.