Watering (or not) – taking stock after the drought

19 August 2022

I wasn’t expecting to write a third post on watering after the two explaining what we usually do to conserve water, but the heat and drought this year have been exceptional, and their effect on the gardens is becoming increasingly visible.

While many plants will recover, we’ve become aware that it’d take an unreasonable amount of water and watering to keep some alive, and we’re having to think about which ones to allow to die, which is sad but necessary. But then, we can be more positive in thinking about which plants we should be growing more of – ones that can cope with this kind of drought, and even more importantly (as we have so little experience of this) which ones survive the kind of extreme heat we had in July.

The first to go, sadly, will be the carrots and flowers we’ve been growing with the preschool children – they’re lovely, but take a lot of time and water, and even then they haven’t thrived this year. Some of the staff from the local preschool said they’d water, we’ve been watering them, but the ones that are still there have barely grown. It’s time to call a halt.

A few French marigolds have survived but they’re struggling and barely flowering, so we won’t be watering them any more. It would be more realistic to work out what to grow instead, rather than keep plugging on with the watering cans in the hope they’ll have more than one or two flowers.

The nasturtiums the children sowed have done what nasturtiums usually do in this garden, i.e. take their time about germinating, put on a couple of leaves, then decide it’s too much trouble and just shrivel up. One managed to flower, and would have been glorious – a deep, vibrant scarlet flower – but the 40-degree heat was just too much for it. We’d been seduced by the constant mentions of nasturtiums as really easy to grow; not in these gardens, they’re not. Try something else.

So we won’t be sowing half-hardy annuals again – those are the ones that can’t go out till after the last frost – but for several of the last few years, that’s coincided with a period of very little rain, and they haven’t thrived.

Most of the perennial plants will come back, although they won’t have put on as much growth as usual, so won’t have spread themselves as they usually do. But they’re producing enough nectar for bees, and hopefully will recover fully over the winter.

One that probably won’t is bugle – Ajuga reptans – which has shrivelled up so completely that I can’t imagine anything will regrow. We’ll watch out for it, of course, but the time’s really come to replace it with something more resilient, like pot marjoram, which seems to be completely unaffected by either 40-degree heat or the drought; we’ve hardly watered it, but it’s just growing the way it normally does.

We did plant out a few cuttings of marjoram a couple of months ago, though, and they keep shrivelling up. They do recover if we water, but it would be better just to take more cuttings for next year, and to see that they’re well established over the winter, well before the droughts start. We chanced it this year; we lost; in future we’ll just see they’re planted out earlier.

We’ll also lift the rudbeckias (yellow daisies in the second bed up from the memorial cross), which need constant reviving. Bees do visit them when they’re not shrivelling up, but not much, and they’re hardly bee magnets. We’ll grow something else that is.