Gardening with Drought-Friendly Plants – Review

A new title from Kew Publishing could not be more appropriate as at the time of writing this review we are in the middle of experiencing one of the driest springs on record. ‘Gardening with Drought-Friendly Plants‘ is the latest book from Tony Hall who is well known to us as Manager of the Arboretum and Gardens at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where he has worked for over 18 years.

In his new book, Tony gives the reader a brilliant overview of planting possibilities for all kinds of situations and as we move into a changing climate of warmer, drier summers (and maybe springs!) Tony’s advice will be welcome to many.

As he says in the Introduction – ‘A lesson we all learn is that we have to work with nature‘ – and while we can put things in place to help the plants in our gardens, it is nature and the weather who will always have the last say.

Today, with climate change, many plants that were thought not to be hardy outside the Mediterranean zones can now grow happily elsewhere. So, whether you have a large or small garden, courtyard, patio or balcony, there are hundreds of suitable plants you can now grow.

In addition, warmer winters are now becoming more supportive to many Mediterranean plants and so Tony is exhorting us to push the boundaries a little and perhaps consider planting a plant we admired on holiday or in a friend’s garden.

Many of the plants chosen in the book are found growing in Mediterranean climates, and provide year-round interest through their form, colour and scent, while continuing to perform during winter with evergreen colour, silver foliage or attractive dried seed heads and all are perfectly suited to water saving gardening.

Plants not only have to cope with full sun but also in our challenging climate there is the problem of extremes in rain both too much as well as too little. For Tony, this is part of the challenge for adventurous gardeners to enjoy by selecting those plants that will survive these changing conditions.

(above: Cistus albidus)

The early chapters of the book look at global warming and climate change, plant adaptations and low-maintenance gardens before the plant list section which deals with annuals and biennials, bulbs, climbers, grasses, palms, perennials, shrubs, succulents and trees. There is a useful section on flowering by month, flower colours and fragrance as well as plants for wildlife set out at the back of the book in table form.

Beautifully illustrated with a plant section that is easy to follow and clearly laid out, each plant description contains information on origin, growing habits and pruning as well as hardiness, flowering period and aspect.

There are just masses of suggestions here, some plants will be familiar such as Stachy’s Byzantina and Verbena Bonariensis but there are others that will definitely stimulate your interest if you don’t already grow them such as Melaleuca Pallidus (Lemon bottlebrush) Crambe Maritima (Sea Kale), Lavandula stoechas (pictured right) and Pistacia Lentiscus (Majestic tree) which took my eye.

Just looking through Tony’s book made me feel like a hungry child in a sweet shop and before I was half way through I had a long list of ‘possibles’ ‘maybe’ and ‘absolutely’ covering plants throughout the seasons. Providing year-round colour for the garden is always at the forefront of our mind and so finding plants that continue to perform in winter with evergreen colour, silver foliage or attractive dried seed heads is always welcome, particularly when they might be unfamiliar to you.

Tony has studied, collected and worked with Mediterranean and drought-tolerant plants for more than 20 years and is author of The Immortal Yew (Kew Publishing, 2018) and Wild Plants of Southern Spain (Kew Publishing, 2017).

Getting to know the plants that will thrive in the hotter, drier conditions that seem likely to be our future is important for gardeners and Tony’s book goes a long way to helping us make informed decisions about what we could grow as well as stimulating our adventurous streak to try something new.

‘Gardening with Drought-Friendly Plants’ by Tony Hall, published by Kew Publishing, is in hardback priced at £25.00.

A copy of this publication was provided for review by the publishers.