Right at the height of summer, the single most time-consuming job in the garden has to be watering. But even for those who don’t mind battling with a kinked hose every evening after work, eventually hosepipe bans, holiday breaks or, frankly, worrying about the water bill, will probably get the best of you. However, simply swapping some of the more water-hungry species for drought-resistant choices will give you a garden that looks its very best with far less time, cost and effort, not to mention being kinder on the planet, too. Here’s a rundown of my favourite herbaceous perennials that will sail through a summer drought, but also handle some of the wettest, chilliest British winters.
First up, I love agapanthus, for despite their lush, strappy foliage and glamorous, nodding heads of lily-like flowers, their South African provenance means they can cope with some pretty extreme droughts, once established. One of the most reliable species in my books is ‘Arctic Star’, bred in the UK, which gets to almost 1m tall with its ice-white flowers on plants that are super hardy.
Fast on their heels is another Southern African genus, kniphofia, whose whorls of architectural, aloe-like foliage are punctuated with slender spikes of flowers which give it the old-school name, red hot pokers. ‘Alcazar’ suits this label right to a tee, with orange and red spikes from mid-summer right until the first frosts. If you want something quirkier, check out ‘Green Jade’, whose mint green blooms age to creamy-white.
Sticking with the flowery theme, gaura will handle pretty much any degree of drought and heat that we could ever experience in the UK, even on the thinnest of soils. It kicks out white and pink flowers like clouds of butterflies. If you are looking for something more understated, the towering plumes of the elegant grass calamagrostis, will provide wonderful height and structure to a border. A great backdrop for more colourful perennials and a pretty effective screen, too. Panicum virgatum is a smaller version, whose silky plumes of grass flowers swish delicately in the wind.
Finally, further down at ground level, if you have really well drained soil, delosperma is a wonderful trailing perennial that will spread across gravel gardens, walls, and even large planters and window boxes with its dazzlingly coloured, daisy-like flowers. Likewise iberis creates just as effective drought-resistant ground cover, but will handle far more winter wet, offering up much more traditional drifts of delicate white flowers. It’s a mainstay of cottage gardens everywhere and is tough enough to grow in cracks in walkways and crevices in dry stone walls.
With so many options to pick from, you are spoilt for choice for any drought-stricken spot. You’ll be able to spend less time watering and more time relaxing, no matter what the weather.