WE HAVE already had one hosepipe ban this year. Originally due to last until July 21, it was lifted by Irish Water recently after heavy rains. Water shortages are surely not one of our immediate challenges but future bans are likely, perhaps later this year and certainly in years to come, one of the effects of climate change in this part of the world.
Nature is of course hugely resilient and will overcome any challenge thrown at her, the energy in the soil beneath our feet will re-emerge after the harshest of droughts once it receives any moisture. Our garden plants and in particular, lawns are also very forgiving and will shake themselves down after much drought once they have received any drop of water and before too long will look at their best once more.
As always, in the garden it is better to work with nature for best results and to that end, I would suggest using plants that are more suited to dry conditions during the summer. Look at the way many have adapted to manage periods of drought and we will get inspiration as to what to include in our gardens.
Many plant species have adapted their leaves or stems in various different ways to cope. Plants such as many cacti have modified their leaves into what we call needles so as to have minimal surface area from which to lose moisture, which is stored instead in the swollen stem. As I said, nature is both resilient and jaw-droppingly, amazing.
I’m not suggesting that we all start planting our gardens with opuntia and other desert cacti but instead look at plants which may have less dramatic adaptations for shorter periods without water. Swollen leaves such as those of the Sedum and Agave retain water for long periods of time.
Silver-leaved varieties such as Convolvulus cneorum don’t just look great in the garden they also have a built-in drought resistance, as the sunlight is reflected by the silver/white colour more so than green leaves.
Some leaves are covered in tiny little hairs such as Stachys byzantina, commonly referred to as lamb's ear, because of how the leaf feels when it is rubbed. These hairs aren’t just for us to rub and to enjoy, again they exist for a reason. As water is lost from the leaf through transpiration, much of it gets trapped by these hairs to create little micro pockets of humidity around the foliage and thus reduce stress on the plant. Also, as rain falls, much of it is trapped on these hairs, again creating humidity but they also trap the moisture temporarily, allowing it to be released into the rootzone of the plant over a longer period of time.
Conifers too, have leaves such as pine needles, making them a good choice and there are many plants whose leaves are covered in a waxy cuticle to reduce water loss. Camellias, holly and euonymus all have this leaf coating and are a good choice for a garden during the hosepipe ban.
As with everything in the garden, the more we can do to improve the soil, the better. By adding organic matter into the ground, either by digging it in or by simply laying it on top of the ground as a mulch, we will improve soil texture and structure thus improving the soil’s ability to retain water and nutrients. So next time you think about throwing out the vegetable peelings or garden waste, just remember how beneficial these materials can be, once composted down.
Though it seems we are always giving out about the weather here, we don’t have a bad climate, it’s not overly hot nor cold, the real problem with our weather is that it is just so unpredictable. One week, we might be doing all we can so that our plants will survive during a period of drought and then the very next day the garden could be at risk of drowning after torrential amounts of rain.
A fine balancing act indeed is needed and on that note it seems wise to remind you that just because our planted baskets and containers are outdoors in the rain, that is not to say that they don’t need watering. Often such planted containers are sheltered from falling rain by the house or indeed, perhaps they are covered in so much foliage and growth that the rain doesn’t permeate to the compost and soil beneath.
So, do you need drought-resistant plants or do you need to clear the drains? In Ireland, it really is a case of, stick your finger in the air and decide.