The Dry Garden at RHS Garden Hyde Hall has been extremely popular since we first developed it in 2001. Representing a rocky and rolling Mediterranean landscape with huge gabbro boulders and large undulating mounds, it showcases a fantastic selection of plants that thrive with low rainfall.
The Dry Garden was constructed on a warm, sunny, south facing slope but it is also buffeted by the prevailing south-westerly wind which makes it an extremely exposed part of the garden. It is sheltered from the cold easterly and northerly winds which eastern areas are prone to.
Conceived as an experiment, this area is never watered by us and the plants must survive with just natural rainfall. To help conserve moisture, a thin layer of pebbles was spread over the soil surface which also helps to keep weeds down.
A diverse collection of plants
This area of Hyde Hall is planted with a fantastically diverse collection of plants that come from the Mediterranean-climate regions around the world, and at this time of year many of them need their annual haircut.
The Dry Garden has generally been low maintenance - and we encourage a naturalistic feel to the area where we let plants self seed. But having said that, we still need to manage the planting to keep the balance between the plants and the hard landscape elements.
The bulk of the maintenance work has just taken place on the Dry Garden by the team that look after the Hilltop Garden to give it its annual makeover. This work involves cutting back all the herbaceous perennials and grasses to their base before new growth emerges.
We also take the opportunity to prune lots of the shrubs such as lavenders, cotton lavender (Santolina), Perovskia and Brachyglottis. The trick with these is to not cut them back into the ‘old wood’ but remain within the new wood from where new shoots are still emerging.
Removing unwanted self-seeded plants
The longest and most painstaking task on the Dry Garden is removing all the plants that have self-seeded that we no longer want. The stone mulch acts as a fantastic seed bed and it takes the team many hours of painstaking work removing a lot of the seedlings such as euphorbias, eryngiums, Californian poppies (Eschcholzia) and annuals such as Nigella. While plants such as nigellas (love-in-a-mist) can be pulled out easily, perennials (e.g. eryngiums) with deep tap roots can be more challenging. These plants have long tap roots so they can seek out the moisture from deep down in the soil, but as the soil gets baked during the summer it makes it very difficult to remove the seedlings successfully with their roots intact.
Take pity on the gardening team
Although the Dry Garden is very popular with our visitors, it is not so popular with the gardening team that look after it, as it's very hard to get a fork into the soil and remove plants as the soil gets baked in summer. The pebbles also make it difficult to tidy as it can’t easily be raked.
At this time of year it can also be extremely hot working on the Dry Garden, so next time you come and visit the garden and admire it, spare a thought for the garden team that have been toiling away getting it set for the summer season that’s just around the corner (we hope!).