With summers seemingly getting hotter, we need to garden with a new perspective. One way to approach this is by working with climate change and using drought-tolerant plants, says dry garden expert Olivier Filippi, author of The Dry Gardening Handbook (available on Amazon).

“Happily, by working with our changing climate rather than against it there are lots of pluses for the gardener: The opportunity to grow the beautiful mounds of silver-leaved, scented plants that thrive in these conditions; less maintenance because there’s less weeding and very little watering; and the delight of watching your garden evolve by adopting a more relaxed approach,” says Filippi.


It’s tempting to think that you can help your plants survive summer droughts by giving them good growing conditions, with lots of water and a rich bed of potting compost. But for dry-climate plants, nothing could be further from the truth.

“Many dry-climate plants positively prefer stony, poor, well-drained soil, and repeated watering simply encourages shallow rooting which leaves the plants vulnerable to drought as well as harbouring fungal diseases,” Filippi notes.

Drought tolerant plants
Many plants prefer dry conditions (Filbert Press/PA)

Here are six drought-defying tips from Filippi, including his top plants for surviving a dry British summer…

6 tips for choosing drought tolerant plants

1. Choose survivors

Drought tolerant plants
Mexican fleabane will grow in dry conditions (iStock/PA)

Instead of going to the garden centre and choosing whatever looks nice and is in flower, start by looking around your neighbourhood and seeing which plants thrive naturally with little attention.

Are your streets overflowing with that pretty pink daisy (Mexican fleabane) growing out of walls and steps? Are your neighbours’ gardens filled with mounds of catmint flowering generously through May and June?

These are your local survivors. Encourage them to grow in your garden, learn from the conditions they like and develop your planting around them.

2. Check the roots when you buy

Drought tolerant plants
This healthy-rooted plant is ready for planting out (Olivier Filippi/PA)

Initially, a pot-grown plant puts out roots that grow freely in all directions. Then when the roots hit the sides of the pot they start to grown inwards, twisting around until they have created a hard knot.

If you plant this rootball in your garden, the plant will have a tough time sending roots downwards as if it ‘remembers’ being constrained by the pot. Only small secondary roots grow and it cannot anchor itself in the soil.

The plants will struggle to be drought tolerant as in these conditions it’s important for plants to reach deep down into the soil to find moisture. Don’t buy rootbound plants from the garden centre or nursery.

3. Ensure good drainage

Provide plenty of drainage for drought tolerant plants
Plants like lavender need really good drainage (Hannah Stephenson/PA)

Dry-climate plants have adapted to soil conditions that may look harsh but which suit them perfectly. Establish your plants in stony, poor, well-drained soil. Although it may appear counter-intuitive and against all you have read about gardening, these conditions are what dry-garden plants need.

What they can’t cope with – and many a lavender or cistus has been lost from this – is rich, heavy, compacted soil that forms puddles in which their roots suffocate.

4. Plant in autumn

Plant in autumn to give your plants the best chance (iStock/PA)
Plant in autumn to give your plants the best chance (iStock/PA)

This allows your plants the longest possible time to establish before the summer months and potential for drought takes hold. Plants put on a surprising amount of root growth during the autumn months before it gets cold and early in spring.

Although you may not see much foliage growth above ground in the first few months, the root system will be developing and branching to make a strong foundations and give it the best possible chance of survival.

5. Water wisely

Drought tolerant plants planting guide
Create a trench around the plant before watering initially (Olivier Filippi/PA)

Water your newly established plants in the first year after planting only, and water infrequently but copiously by filling the large watering basin you have excavated around it.

The water must form a patch of moisture deep in the ground seeping through to well below the rootball to draw the roots downwards. Here the moisture lasts longest without evaporating. Conversely, using the sprinkler every evening to give your plants a small quantity of water every evening makes them more sensitive to drought.

They form a thin carpet of roots just below the surface where evaporation is greatest. They come to rely on you for water every evening and will never learn to look after themselves.

After the first year, forget the hosepipe – once well established with deep roots, drought-tolerant plants will not need any additional irrigation.

6. Choose tough plants for a hot, dry summer

Drought tolerant plants - Californian poppies
Californian poppies are great for dry gardens (iStock/PA)

These include: Ballota acetabulosa (Greek horehound); Catananche caerulea (cupid’s dart); Centranthus ruber (red valerian); Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican fleabane); Eschscholzia californica (California poppy); Euphorbia myrsinites (broad-leaved glaucous spurge); Gaura lindheimeri (white gaura); Nepeta racemosa (catmint); Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ (Russian sage); Salvia sclarea (clary sage); Santolina chamaecyparissus (cotton lavender), and Verbena bonariensis (Argentinian vervain).

Best-selling dry garden books

Stuck for inspiration? Check out our list of best-selling Amazon products!

Bestseller No. 1
The Dry Garden
  • Chatto, Beth (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 09/06/2018 (Publication Date) - W&N (Publisher)
Bestseller No. 2
Plants for Dry Gardens
  • Hardcover Book
  • Taylor, Jane (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
SaleBestseller No. 3
Hot Color, Dry Garden: Inspiring Designs and Vibrant Plants for the Waterwise Gardener
  • Sterman, Nan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 324 Pages - 05/13/2018 (Publication Date) - Timber Press (Publisher)
SaleBestseller No. 4
Bold Dry Garden, The: Lessons from the Ruth Bancroft Garden
  • Hardcover Book
  • Silver, Johanna (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
SaleBestseller No. 5

Last update on 2021-08-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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