Clifton Nurseries: how to save your garden in a drought



Following the drought warning from Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, London’s most respected plant nursery, Clifton Nurseries, will be helping gardeners to beat the drought with a range of plants and sundries that will help keep gardens blooming without using too much precious water.

Managing Director Matthew Wilson, who in 2001 designed a zero irrigation garden for the Royal Horticultural Society which has never been watered, said “From April, we will increase the type of products we sell to help conserve water, such as new types of water buts, controlled watering systems, clever products such as moisture control gel, self-watering planters and drip-feed systems. We always keep a stock of plant types for all gardening conditions, but we’re anticipating more interest from consumers in low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants. For people with established gardens which may include more thirsty plants – there are plenty of things they can do to keep their gardens healthy while respecting the need to conserve water”.

Matthew is the also the author of several books and articles covering drought; some of the best ways to conserve water, he says are pretty well known, such as re-using domestic water and watering plants early in the morning and late at night. Here are his other tips for gardeners:

  • Create an earth ‘berm’ or dam around the base of plants in established beds, to ensure water reaches the roots rather than rolls off a dry surface.
  • One good session per day (preferably at night) of deep watering is better than frequent sessions of shallow watering. Aim the water right at the soil and not sprinkled over the plants.
  • Apply a good top layer of mulch to conserve water; a lightweight soil improver such as mushroom compost can also help to retain water in the soil below it.
  • Groups plants together: drought tolerant together, thirsty plants together and so on. Pots are the easiest to care for in groups and can be moved to shady conditions as much as types will allow.
  • Remove weeds: they’re thirsty too and will take much needed resources from your favoured plants and crops.
  • Avoid digging as this exposes water and allows it to evaporate.
  • Collect as much rainwater as possible now and water from all household sources – collect the odd levels left in the kettle; tip the water used for cooking food. onto the garden, ice from the ice-maker. There are plenty of systems and advice available to collect household ‘grey’ water although this should not be used for food crops.

If drought conditions did get bad enough to necessitate a ‘survival of the fittest’ watering regime in the garden, here are the types plants that can be left longest without water before they start to wilt:

Any Mediterranean plants, from woody herbs such as Lavender and Rosemary, to Olive trees; shrubs such as Hebe, Cistus and Santolina.
Climbers: Campsis, Passiflora and Solanum
Herbaceous perennials: Alliums, Salvias, Euphorbia and Sedums will all be happy to go to the back of the queue.

What will Clifton Nurseries be doing in the nursery? “While our business is dependent on water for the plants’ survival”, says Matthew, “we will also be doing everything we can to conserve water. We use highly efficient flood benches, for example, for watering plants, which keeps the water levels close to the roots, we have several water buts and we always water in rotation to ensure the water we use goes to the plants that need it most. We will also be keeping in close touch with the Environment Agency for any further guidelines”.

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