How resilient is your garden?

This Hampton Court Flower Show garden, designed by Hamzah-Adam Desai, put drought-tolerant planting at its core

Resilience. It’s one of the buzz words everyone’s talking about right now, part of the zeitgeist. And it’s true. We do need resilience in all walks of life – emotional, physical, spiritual, psychological. And the planet needs resilience, too, although a glance to any news bulletin will confirm that we’re not doing too well on that score.

For any organic body to thrive it needs the right conditions, and the environmental factors that promote wellbeing are critical. When it comes to us as gardeners we must start thinking about resilience, if we aren’t already doing so. We have a huge responsibility as proprietors of our little plots, guardians of the earth, to change our practices to make the best use of its precious resources.

We have a huge responsibility as proprietors of our little plots, guardians of the earth, to change our practices to make the best use of its precious resources.

We're all having to think of ways to use less water in our gardens
We’re all having to think of ways to use less water in our gardens

Water is vital to life and gardening uses a heck of a lot of it; new plants need it for success and during tough times of drought, heatwaves, irregular rainfall and hosepipe bans we worry that our precious plants and crops won’t survive. The bad news, the stark reality, is that these vagaries and levels of unpredictability looks set to continue in the face of climate warming. So how do we continue to do what we love – grow food, plants, curate and beautify our little slice of paradise here on earth?

Drought-tolerant plants need further investigation. They are our best bet for plants that are robust enough to survive the future unpredictability of rainfall. A big shout out to the plantswomen and men whose tireless development and creativity means an increasing availability of disease and drought-tolerant plants. Gardens designed and planted for resilience should be the direction of travel for us all. Ask yourself what is good for your garden and the planet.

Instead of mowing your entire lawn, try leaving patches to grow wilder to benefit wildlife
Instead of mowing your entire lawn, try leaving patches to grow wilder to benefit wildlife

The British love affair with lawns must come under scrutiny. As much as I love the look of a large swathe of green in the garden, lawns are hard work and sometimes command too much space. The preoccupation with how green, how level, how perfect it should be is time-consuming and expensive. The movement towards no lawns is a good one, provided you can find the right solution to replace them. More planting is the obvious answer but when the reliance on plants means using more water, then initially it might seem like a contradiction. However, by the second year, these plants should be properly established, and less watering will be required.

Another consideration when moving towards larger planting schemes is to plant shrubs, lots of them, interplanted with resilient perennials. I’m a big fan of shrubs and small trees in a border. They add structure, bring wildlife into the garden, and take up more space, so fewer plants. Add some evergreens and you have year-round presence, plus a huge range of foliage, textures, and colours to choose from. And don’t forget about bulbs as they extend seasonality in the garden and are a reasonably low maintenance option.

Picking the right plants means you'll be reaching for the watering can far less often
Picking the right plants means you’ll be reaching for the watering can far less often

If you choose to stick with a lawn, consider allowing it a degree of freedom. The ‘No Mow May’ campaign is a good start, letting all or some of it go wild. Rewilding is all the rage now, and a wilder lawn has many benefits. That temporary relinquishing of the cutting regime does wonders for the pollinators. Suddenly the garden is awash with insect activity. The best payback for resting the mower. And you get to put your feet up, too!

We also need to take a deep dive into what we eat and grow. Our lifestyles here in the Global North are over-reliant on food crops (many of them exotic and available out of our seasonality) from around the world, and that too needs to change. The upsurge in recent years of growing your own is massive and speaks to our concerns about food miles, the provenance of our food and at a fundamental level our reconnection with nature, our more primal selves, and regaining control over what we eat.

Trug with freshly harvested crops in
Trug with freshly harvested crops in

Changing our mindsets about how our gardens look is the work to do, going forward. Images of gardens that don’t fit our own gardens’ fundamental conditions, which we try to replicate, equate to a lot of trial and error, wasting money, resources and critically water, the primary elixir of life.

Our attitudes to water, what is readily available through rainfall, or not, and what is available from the tap, should inform how we move forward. Harvesting rainfall wherever we can is a good first step – water butts should be present in every garden these days. As should compost bins. Access to homemade compost for mulching is another must have for any self-respecting gardener. Your plants and soil will love you for the moisture retention and all-round goodness you gift them. Plus, it feels so good to spread your own compost on your garden. But even if you can’t achieve either of those, the simple but conscious act of planting more resilient plants (and ones that are a magnet to wildlife) is a big thumbs up for the movement.

There’s no quick fix but if we keep resilience in mind at all times, we can help future-proof our gardens, and make our practices a little greener in the process.

More ideas for resilient gardens:

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Want to share your views on how you’ve made your garden more resilient to changeable weather conditions? Email us at: letters@gardenersworld.com

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