Flash floods, gales, soaring temperatures: no matter where you live in our green and pleasant land, the recent weather extremities won’t have escaped your notice, especially if you enjoy spending time in your garden.
The climate is changing and, doomsday headlines aside, this is a challenge my generation of garden designers must face. It informs not just what plants we use, but where they were raised, how much water they’ll need, and what value they bring to a garden’s ecosystem.
The only trend that matters now is reducing our impact on the planet. Everyone thinking about this will be wondering, what can I plant now to future-proof my garden against extreme weather? Here to help are five experts, including designers, nursery people and horticulturists.
1 Ballota pseudodictamnus
A contrast to taller, drought-resistant grasses
David Ward watched this small, drought-resistant Mediterranean shrub thrive last year when there was no rainfall at the Beth Chatto Gardens for more than 55 days. He says: “Rounded woolly leaves are covered in minute hairs, protecting the leaf surface from the intensity of the sun, giving a silvery-grey appearance. Interplant with bulbs, such as the taller alliums, the ballota being ideal for hiding the bulbs’ untidy foliage. It’s an ideal contrast to taller, drought-resistant grasses, such as the golden oat grass, Stipa gigantea.”
2 Carex elata ‘Aurea’
Will grow happily in waterlogged soil
“Few plants can cope with long periods of flooding,” Ward warns. “But this sedge, often at home in a more general garden soil, will quite happily grow with its feet in water in times of flooding and will even survive as a marginal pond plant.”
3 Carex secta
Copes with most soil types, and the wind
“A waterside grass from New Zealand, this can cope with dry conditions and stays evergreen, forming architectural hummocks over time of a bronzy-green hue,” advises Matthew Pottage. “Use as a repeated planting to create a sense of cohesion. It tolerates most soil types and suits coastal and windy locations too.”
A substantial shrub with beautiful flowers
Louis Benech has a lot of time for Californian shrubs – especially those that he thinks are overlooked in the UK, such as ceanothus. This plant’s dusky blue flowers and dark green foliage give depth to a colour scheme and are useful in young gardens; they’ll take easily and give substance to sparsely planted places.
5 Cichorium intybus
Long-lasting flowers in all weathers
A bushy perennial, also recommended by Benech. The plant, more commonly known as chicory, produces beautiful and delicate blue flowers over a long period in summer. Established specimens can tolerate all sorts of weather conditions.
6 Cistus populifolius
Hardy, and beloved by bees
Florence Mansbridge is partial to rock roses for their hardiness. “Cistus populifolius is a favourite with our visitors [at The Eden Project],” she says. “Its plump, red buds open to bursts of beautiful white flowers with yellow stamens that bloom late spring – and it’s very popular with bees.”
7 Crinum x powellii
Flowers profusely in the heat
This seemingly indestructible bulb from South Africa comes highly recommended by Pottage. “It’s able to cope with anything Mother Nature throws at it and flowers profusely in the heat,” he says. “It makes a bold statement and is at home with other strappy-leaved plants such as red-hot pokers and yuccas.”
8 Cyclamen hederifolium
Grows in any soil, survives drought or flood
This much-loved little plant is another favourite of Pottage’s. “These little corms are brilliant in shade and can grow on sand to clay and anything in between,” he says. “They have survived both flooding and drought in my parents’ garden in Yorkshire.”
9 Euphorbia mellifera
Attracts pollinators and looks exotic
No list of tough plants would be complete without a euphorbia, and Pottage recommends E. mellifera. “This shrubby spurge is surprisingly tolerant of a wide range of soils, takes some shade and is brilliant for pollinators,” he explains. “It can grow more than a metre tall on good soils and creates a jungle-like feel.”
10 Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’
Fruits in August and can grows outdoors
“This fig species is probably the best cultivar to grow outside in the UK as it produces succulent fruit in August,” says Mansbridge. Originating in Asia, it was introduced to the Mediterranean by the Greeks and Romans. It can be trained against a sunny wall or, if you have space, grown free-standing.
11 Gaura lindheimeri
Drought-tolerant and flowers until frosts
“This woody perennial is a native of the summer-hot states of southern Louisiana and Texas and an indispensable plant for any drought-resistant planting,” says Ward. “Flowering from July until the frosts, the thin stems are clothed with a never-ending supply of moth-like white flowers opening from pink-washed buds.”
12 Genista aetnensis
Blends well with other dry-loving plants
This elegant little tree is hardy and ideally suited to the look and feel of a sunny, dry garden. “We value this tree broom as it casts very little shade and can be underplanted with other drought-resistant plants,” continues Ward. “The yellow flowers contrast well with soft blues such as perovskia (Russian sage), or early agapanthus.”
13 Hesperantha coccinea
Copes with most soil types, and the wind
The river lily is a tough, semi-evergreen perennial from South Africa. “Also known as the crimson flag lily, it produces showy, crimson, gladioli-like flowers from late summer to late autumn,” says Mansbridge.
14 Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’
A bulb that can handle wet soil all year
“While most bulbs are the ultimate drought-resistant plant, many dying down and dormant during the summer, the Loddon lily can quite happily sit in a damp or waterlogged soil all year round,” says Ward.
15 Melianthus major
Gorgeous foliage, and surprisingly hardy
“This is hardier than perhaps first thought, and now flowering much more freely than years ago,” says Pottage. “No other plant has such beautiful foliage, and it can regenerate from the base if frosted down in the winter. It looks great with purples, mauves, whites and silvers and can be used in both exotic-style plantings or traditional herbaceous borders.”
16 Oryzopsis miliacea
A good linking plant for dry gardens
When creating an exotic scheme of textures and scents, says Benech, you need a grass to link it all together. In his designs for Fondation Carmignac – where water is in short supply – he planted this alongside eucalyptus and acacias.
17 Osteospermum jucundum var. compactum
Covers the ground with a carpet of flowers
“Originating from South Africa, this beautiful daisy-like flower provides wonderful ground cover – great for preventing weeds,” says Mansbridge. “Producing a cheerful carpet of purple flowers from late spring through to autumn, it needs little maintenance, although deadheading keeps it tidy and more compact.”
18 Parrotia persica Karan
A low-maintenance tree for tough sites
Junker recommends Parrotia persica, a tough yet beautiful tree. Junker specialises only in plants that have been grown in open ground, meaning they are tougher. “The plant will be more compact and the wood firmer and riper, already acclimatised to the weather, and needing minimal staking,” she says. “Thus the plant is more robust than one pushed on in artificial compost in a pot under cover.”
19 Tipuana tipu
Happy in the heat or rain
This bright South American number is the only member of the genus Tipuana. Suggested by Benech, the semi-deciduous tree is also known as rosewood or tipa. Always ready for heat and rain, it can grow to 10-30m, more if conditions are in its favour.
20 Zauschneria californica
Undemanding and thrives in containers
‘Dublin’ The California fuchsia is an eye-catching flowering dwarf shrub which produces masses of scarlet flowers from midsummer through to autumn. “This is a great plant for those with limited outdoor space as it thrives well in a container and doesn’t demand frequent watering,” says Mansbridge. “It’s also a great plant for attracting pollinators.”