July 10 -’Phew what a scorcher! – Coping with the dry spell’

July Article – Herts and Essex Observer


‘Phew what a scorcher! – Coping with the dry spell’


The weather in the past few weeks has been magnificent, especially for sun-worshippers like us. At long last we seem to be experiencing the rarest of things; a decent summer. For us it can never be too hot; the sun always lifts our mood and puts a positive spin on everything, helping to banish the distant memory of our dreadful performance on the football pitch last month. Out come the barbeques, summer garden parties, village fetes and Pimm’s on the lawn, how very quintessentially English.


But before we get too carried way with the weather forecasts we ought to spare a thought for our poor drought stricken gardens. Take a look around and you see the grass verges are turning brown, plants are struggling and hanging baskets across the country are withering and dying, all through lack of water. I must admit I’m struggling to keep my pots watered just like everyone else. I’ve got a fabulous elecampane (Inula helenium), a large moisture loving wild flower, and as I’ve been re-organising my garden recently it’s ended up in a pot. Big mistake! It absolutely guzzles water and if I miss a day with the watering can boy does it show off.


So, what do we do if we haven’t got the time to spend hours watering and don’t have the cash to splash on a posh irrigation system. Well, there are quite a few plants that we can choose that will tolerate dry, sunny conditions. Generally, plants with a tough, silvery leaf such as cistus, lavender, lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), Russian sage (Perovskia), dianthus, phlomis, rosemary and thyme will all do well in the sun and many will give the added bonus of a fabulous scent. They originate from the Mediterranean and they all are used basking in the sun. Other plants that will do well are iris germanica, alliums, thrift, coreopsis, agapanthus and gaillardia and if you want a splash of colour then you should find that geraniums and osteospernums are the most draught tolerant of the summer bedding plants. A nice red geranium, especially if planted in groups, can do wonders for your borders.


If you have a dry shady spot then that is a bit more tricky. But it is not impossible to overcome. Top of the list is the Epimedium rubrum, a great little plant with a pinky purple flower, and then there is Mahonia aquifolium or Oregon Grape which is an evergreen shrub with fragrant yellow flowers in late spring.  Periwinkles (Vinca), elephant’s ears, liriope and butcher’s broom (Ruscus) will also do O.K. For foliage colour go for the many euonymus varieties such as ‘Emerald and Gold’ or ‘Silver Queen’ or try the Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Album’ which has a great white flower and will do well in dry shade.


To try to reduce the need for watering in the first place get the secateurs out and cut back the excess foliage on your perennials, this will keep them bushy and reduce the watering burden. If you are on a water-meter and don’t want to use too much water from the mains, collect rainwater (when and if it comes) from water butts and use that. Many plants especially rhododendrons and camellias prefer it. When you do water remember to water around the base of the plant so that the water goes straight down to the roots where it is needed and doesn’t evaporate off. Avoid watering in the heat of the day, instead try to water either in the evening or early morning. As a final thing to conserve water in the garden, keep the weeds down as much as possible as they can be nutrient and moisture robbers, taking away much needed water from your cherished perennials.


As for general gardening tips for this month, there are still jobs to get on with if we can brave the heat.


To extend the flowering season, keep dead heading your bedding plants and feed them once every two weeks with something like ‘Miracle-Gro’ or liquid tomato feed to give them a boost. Remember, water tubs every day and hanging baskets twice a day.


Cut back the spent flowering stems of perennials such as campanulas, delphiniums and aquilegias as they finish if you don’t want them to seed all over the place and cut poppies and geranium phaeum right back to the ground to encourage new growth and new flowers.


Keep an eye out for pests, snails shouldn’t be too much of a problem in this heat but greenfly and blackfly can still be about. Give them a blast with the hose, pick them off or use something such as ‘Provardo’ but always read the label.


If you’re keen you can also divide your bearded irises now that they have finished flowering and cut back the ugly suckers from the bases of trees to keep them tidy.


Finally, if you can spare any of your precious water make sure that you keep your water features and ponds filled up.



Did You Know? Essex is the driest county in the U.K, with St Osyth being the driest town, receiving just 506.9mm of rain on average per year in the last 40 years.


Saying of the Month: ‘St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain, Full forty days, it will remain, St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair for forty days, t’will rain no more’  (St Swithin’s day is 15th July)