It may be tempting fate, but on the whole summers are getting hotter. So whether for environmental or practical reasons it makes sense to use plants in the garden that once established need little watering. Drought-tolerant plants tend to originate from hot, dry environments and adapt in different ways to cope: Silver leaves to reflect sun; succulent leaves to store moisture; tiny leaves to reduce evaporation and aromatic leaves that release essential oils to keep cool. These plants often thrive in well-drained poor soil. So in clay soil, add grit or sand to help with drainage. Here’s my pick of sun lovers:
1. Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s ears). This is a useful spreading ground cover plant with silvery woolly leaves. (S.b. ‘Silver Carpet’ has smaller neater leaves than S.b. ‘Big Ears.’
2. Lavender. This is a classic for a sunny spot. Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ is a popular compact variety with dark purple flowers. Or for a change, try Santolina chamaecyparrisus another compact silver leaved shrub with yellow flowers in late summer.
3. Cistus (Rock Rose). Sun loving Cistus are useful evergreen shrubs with grey green leaves and short-lived but abundant papery flowers. C. x pulverulentus ‘Sunset’ has vibrant magenta flowers and golden anthers, and Cistus x purpureus ‘Alan Fradd’ has large white flowers with burgundy markings.
4. Euphorbia. E. characias originates from dry rocky Mediterranean conditions and once established copes well with drought. With evergreen blue/green leaves it creates stately structure, with billowing lime green flowers from Feb to June. (Deadhead these down to the base).
5. Sedum. Their thick succulent leaves store water and they’re best in dry conditions, often becoming floppy in wetter soils. Sedum provide a long period of interest and their large flat flower heads turn glorious shades of pink in late summer/autumn. S. Matrona with grey green foliage, purple stems and pale pink flowers is striking.
6. Gaura lindheimeri . The airy spires of flowers on this perennial go on into autumn. The pink, tinged white flowers of G. ‘Whirling Butterflies,’ are particularly lovely. The long taproot that makes gaura so drought tolerant also makes it difficult to move.
7. Festuca glauca. This evergreen grass forming tidy mounds of spiky blue/grey foliage are at their very best in full sun. F. g. ‘Elijah Blue’ is a classic variety.
8. Perovskia (Russian Sage). A tall perennial with pretty silvery foliage, and beautiful spires of violet blue flowers in late summer, early august. P. ‘Blue Spire’ gets to 1.2m while P. ‘Little Spire’ (60cm) is a neater choice.
9. Achillea. With flat flower heads in an array of colours, the silvery-leaved varieties such as ‘Terracotta’, and bright yellow A. ‘Moonshine’, cope particularly well with dry conditions.
10. Bearded Iris. These store moisture in their rhizomes, so prefer a dry garden. Make sure the rhizomes are on the soil surface in full sun. I. ‘Black Swan’ is a sumptuous dark purple variety and I. ‘Jane Phillips’ is a pretty pale blue variety.
11. Thymus. A pretty and useful herb to have in the garden, to grow it successfully you’ll need to put it in a very sunny spot and work lots of grit into the soil. T. ‘Silver Posie’ is a lovely silver leaved variety.
This article first appeared in the June 2018 issue of SE22 magazine