Seasons in the sun
I am blessed with our soil here – two generations ago the land was market gardens that provided fruit and veg for Bath. When there’s enough rain to keep the hearty south-facing slopes moist, my plants grow athletically, and I have to keep them in check.
In a dry summer such as this, however, our sunny slopes provide challenges. My American swamp lilies are half the height they should be and even though the hellebores are snuggled in the shade of the willows, their rosettes are splayed with thirst.
When building the new vegetable garden, I included a water-harvesting tank to save rainwater from the barn’s roof. Harvesting water is a discipline I encourage my clients to build into their gardens, to raise awareness that it is a finite resource, and also because rainwater is better for your plants.
I made the new vegetable garden by cutting into the land and creating a terraced bank. The steep rubbly slopes that fall away are made with the subsoil from the excavations and sown with a wild-flower mix, which as I write is in its first summer and filled with bees. The wild flowers prefer the poor soil to our rich ground and the grasses are lovely when they dry to tawniness.
Beyond the garden, between two outbuildings, is an area that was backfilled with brash to provide dry access to the compost heaps beyond. The pockets of soil up close to the buildings were given to plants that would do better in good ground.
Being hungry for as many different habitats on the land here, I didn’t add any topsoil to the areas either side of the path. I wanted a contrast to the heartiness elsewhere, and selected a range of plants that would thrive in the free-draining ground. Sea kale, with its young foliage the colour of red cabbage and later sprawl of honey-scented flowers, Baptisia ‘Chocolate Chip’, in dusky tones that suit the rusted tin, and a good hybrid Phlomis called ‘Edward Bowles’. This is creamy yellow like its parent P russelliana, but takes on a semi shrubby form from P fruticosa. Euphorbia ‘Copton Ash’ is new to me with low, glaucous foliage and lime-green flowers. Drifting, as if self-sown, crimson Dianthus cruentus, lilac Centranthus locoqi and Beupleurum perfoliatum mingle throughout.
I planted openly to broadcast a seed mix I’d made up of plants that I knew would take to the dry, loose shingle. Evening primrose, bronze fennel, sweetly scented Matthiola incana ‘Alba’ and ‘Miss Willmott’s Ghost’, Eryngium giganteum. Beth’s poppy, a gift from Fergus Garret at Dixter, passed in turn to him from Beth Chatto from her dry garden was already up and rejoicing in the stony ground this April. It is a nice reminder of Beth’s mantra: the right plant in the right place, and you can enjoy a dry summer.
When planting a dry position do so when there is moisture around, in the spring or autumn. Soak the pots in water until the bubbles stop rising to the surface, and try to have courage to let the plants find their way thereafter.
Read this article on the Observer website
Photograph courtesy of Alamy