The wonderful weather the UK has been experiencing in recent months has had a dramatic impact on our gardens. The prolonged, hot periods of dry weather with minimal rain that the UK has been experiencing are likely to occur more often in the future. As a result a great deal of thought needs to be given to how gardens can be designed and maintained to be able to cope with these changing conditions. Here are some tips:
1. Prepare your soil - dig in large quantities of organic matter to improve soil structure, soil water retention and water availability for plants. Well-rotted garden compost, mushroom compost, composted bark and well-rotted farmyard manure are all suitable forms of organic matter. Apply a thick top mulch, for example shredded bark, which will help to retain any moisture and also suppress weeds.
2. Choose appropriate plants - try to choose plants that are suitable for the site's soil and aspect as they will be more tolerant of varying climatic conditions as well as of pest and disease problems. Some species of Mediterranean plants (lavandula, stachys and perhaps some salvias) are already adapted to hot, dry conditions in free draining soil and may also be able to withstand waterlogging through flooding events (which will also be a factor to consider in the future).
3. Store rain water - many parts of the UK are now experiencing drought conditions with bans on the use of hose pipes. The bans are intended to be temporary but ongoing water conservation will probably become a priority in the future. Positioning vessels and containers, e.g. water butts, around the garden that can capture water when rain does come will help reduce the burden on the water network.
4. Don't worry about your lawn - most lawns at the moment are probably very brown but they are surprisingly drought tolerant, and usually recover well when it does rain. Lawn irrigation should rarely be required, if at all, to keep the grass healthy. But, if you have a small garden and you don't want to look at a brown patch all summer, you might consider creating a gravel garden instead. These are typically low maintenance as opposed to having to maintain a lawn once a week.
Rob Howard, Garden Designer