For the last 8 years I have been transforming our 2 acre garden near Carcassonne in the South of France at South of France hotel from a barren hard and dry weedy patch half planted with vines and old fruit trees into a colourful garden full of drought tolerant plants; plants from all over the world.
The changes started with a bang; laying paths, creating beds, planting avenues of trees. Since then, the garden has evolved in a series of jumps into what it is now:
During this process I have learnt an enormous amount about which plants will work and those that won’t. Drought tolerant plants are exciting as any others. This does mean learning a whole new way of gardening that is marvellously rewarding and one that is based on minimising the use of water; which is scarce during the long hot summer as it is in many parts of the world from Arizona to Spain.
All advice on this blog is based on my own experience and photos are from our own garden.
Some Photos of the Garden
A selection of photos of the garden, before its transformation are shown in About the Garden.
South of France Hotel
More About the Garden
As I sit in the cool interior of our wine cave amongst century-old oak barrels and vast wooden roofing beams, looking out through open doors to the garden, I am struck by how things arranged years previously lie distant in the memory until they suddenly come into their own and start doing what we had intended them to do all along. Three metre high oleander bushes vivid with cerise red blooms, planted years previously, burn brightly against an azure blue sky for it is mid afternoon on a blazing hot day in late July. July is so much the month of the oleander – or perhaps I should call it by its more romantic French name, Laurier Rose. Few plants are more Mediterranean than this; tough pointed green leaves withstand hot dry days and it flowers during the hottest months; white, yellow, pink, orange or red. Some varieties are scented deliciously of honey in the heat of the midday sun and a large hedge can perfume a whole garden. ‘Sister Agnes’ is my favourite for she is covered in single virginal white scented blooms and forms a snaking hedge on the edge of our vineyard interspaced with yellow ‘Leuteum Plenum’ and single red ‘Grandiflorum’. …continue reading this: about the garden
Principles of Drought Tolerant Gardening
Gardening in the British Isles is a popular past-time partly because it is so easy and rewarding. Relatively regular rain and a mild temperate climate mean that an enormous range of plants can be grown with comparatively little effort and up until recently, at least, water was cheap if not virtually free – there having been no water meters in many properties.
I didn’t realise how easy it is to garden in the UK until I moved to South of France Hotel. Gardening in a climate in a hot dry summer where it doesn’t rain for months and the temperature stays resolutely above 30 degrees C with 12 hours or more of sunshine forces a radical rethink about everything in the garden, to say the least. I often say this to visitors and especially to those that have moved to the area; I am always met with a ‘Oh-it-won’t happen-like-that-in-my-garden look’ – but it will!
In these conditions - and of course the most pressing problems being the lack of regular water – gardening needs to be entirely re-thought.
First of all what plants will survive?: continue reading this: principles of drought tolerant gardening
Drought Tolerant Garden Design
A proper drought tolerant garden design will, fortunately, be both low in maintenance and be of interest nearly all year round. It will look radically different to a traditional temperate garden with its lush green planting and thick velvety lawns – attempts to replicate this look will fail. Many old style Mediterranean gardens make great use of ‘rooms’; different zones that are largely formal in style with low hedging and a great deal of hard landscaping, such as tiling, fountains, seating and areas that are shaded and cool. There is invariably almost no lawn at all, which is not an accident, but a necessity due to the great demands for water that they make.
Constructing such an effect in your garden is clearly possible but will be prohibitively expensive and not in the modern gardening style – however one can still learn the important functions of elements in these gardens and replicate those.
The first of these is to provide areas of shade….continue reading drought tolerant garden design
Sources of Water
Having learnt the techniques of gardening in hot dry summers and selected the correct drought tolerant plants, you will still be faced with needing some water in the months where there is no rain, for either establishing new plants, watering summer flowering treasures that need some additional water, for lawns, or for simply making some plants grow (like agaves and aloes). Little summer water can mean slow growth, but if you are prepared to put up with that then you don’t need any summer water at all after the first planting season, if you choose the right plants, but just don’t expect a bright display of summer flowers. (Note even in carefully selected plants, slow growth does not always mean that the plants need more water; they could be suffering from chlorosis, be planted incorrectly in the wrong place, etc.)
For a large garden, tap water is too expensive, although in emergencies it will have to be used (of course here we do have water that is available in the tap at a cost, in other parts of the world, water may simply not be available at all). In the first few years of our garden at South of France Hotel we racked up bills of €10,000 or more in tap water. If you have a small area then it may not be economic to install another solution, there are up-front costs for all of them and these can be big – but it all depends on what your requirements are and how costly/available water is. I’m a big fan of keeping it very simple, the worst thing to do is to over engineer and end up with a solution that is too costly and complicated.
So where to turn for water? There are 3 potential areas: continue reading this: sources of water