23 January 2023
We’ve put ‘sustainable gardening’ in quotes as it means different things to different people. We use the term in two ways, really: 1) trying to use up as few resources as possible (which includes not wasting water, not using products that have to be mined, and so on); and 2) gardening in a way that increases the chances of our plants’ survival during the extreme weather events that are becoming more and more common as a result of climate change.
A lot of garden writers focus on ways of reducing watering, and on how to save rainwater, so as not to waste expensively-processed mains water. We do that, too – we have a couple of containers round the back that provide enough water to wet the compost we make, and as we’ve said here previously, we add organic matter to the soil so it’ll hold water well, meaning we don’t have to use the water tap very often. And of course, we have a lot of drought-tolerant plants in the gardens.
However, that’s only part of the story. After the very wet autumn and the couple of really cold spells we’ve already had this winter, it’s time for a few words on the other type of extreme weather events. Those drought-tolerant plants may be perfectly happy in heatwaves and droughts. but unfortunately, most of them really don’t grow well in cold, wet heavy ground. And that’s what we have in the gardens here – in a couple of beds there’s a layer of sand on top, but lower down, they have a layer of thick clay – just like the canal has, to keep water in.
So we’ll be really interested to see how many of our salvias, rudbeckias, hebes, eryngiums and other drought-lovers survive. We’d seen signs of life on them in January, two to three weeks after the sudden severe cold snap in December, but we won’t really know till April or so whether they’ve made it through the whole winter. We took cuttings of some of the plants in the autumn, so hopefully will be able to fill gaps; but in any case, we’ll no doubt see any gaps in the flower beds as opportunities to divide more plants and sow more seeds!