The Dry Garden revisited

The key to successful gardening is making the plants feel at home. But what happens when some make themselves too much at home?

Verbascum olypicum makes a colourful statement in the summer monthsOur Dry Garden was constructed on a south facing slope in full sun, the first part created in 2001 and the second part only in 2011. On this hill it is exposed to all of the elements that Hyde Hall has to cope with.

The winds that whip up Clover Hill can at times be an unforgiving gale that has a harsh drying effect on the plants that face it. It will of course offer no shelter from the sun either, but some lucky species can nestle themselves in behind a gabbro boulder here and there. In its natural state our heavy clay soil does not suit these plants, so sandy grit was dug in, deeply and generously, to help all our winter wet drain away. The purpose of this is of course to demonstrate that a beautiful garden can survive without the need for watering.

The plants that we selected have adapted in their natural habitats over time, originating from the Mediterranean or South Africa for example. Some will grow happily on the side of a cliff edge or high up a mountainside, keeping low and close to the ground so the wind simply passes over them. The leaves can be small so that they have less surface area to lose water from, or be silver to reflect the sun’s glaring rays - or be fleshy to swell and keep available water within.
Still here they remain happy in their situation, some almost too content - so they have spread around too much, spilling their seeds in places that are no longer attractive, some even colonise the path edges, proving too tricky to remove. The stone mulch that we originally put on to reflect the sun’s rays and suppress the weeds is thinning and being lost in amongst a mass of planting that has over-spilled its area. 

Allium cristophiiSo we are re-addressing one area at a time, first taking a long hard look at what has outgrown its space and needs removing. Bulbs that were once planted such as Allium cristophii but now declining beneath mature shrubs can be re-introduced and there are lots of other species, new varieties and cultivars to try.

Each year we do of course weed out the unwanted, replace the worn out and add something new for interest but on a much smaller scale than we are planning now.

Verbena bonariensis is a favourite with pollinating insectsSome visitors will have already noticed large spaces emerging, old perennials and shrubs being removed and the much needed thinning of plants such as Verbascum olympicum (see photo, top) and Verbena bonariensis (left) becoming apparent. This will all be complemented with a lovely fresh stone mulch at the end of the month.

Next year we will do the same again on the next bed down, continuing on until the oldest part of our Dry Garden looks as fresh and new as it once was, easily merging into the landscape of the Essex countryside.

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