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Plan now for a drier future.

While i am sure it is criminal for President George Bush to shut his eyes to global warming, the climate at Plas Cwm Coed does not seem to have changed much from this gardener's viewpoint.

Despite hosepipe bans in southern England, that arrive each year like the swallows in early summer - and could have more to do with water leakage than water shortage - the climate in my corner of Monmouthshire is not very different.

Although the pattern is occasionally broken by hot, dry summers, the prevailing climate remains one of cool, dull summers, with mild, wet winters.

That is not to deny changes are afoot. The plants could be screaming for water more often than they have in the past, producing less seed than previously, and evolving differently, but none of this has yet appeared on my radar screen.

Anyone uncertain of how global warming will pan out, or simply wanting reduced maintenance by avoiding the need for regular summer watering, can plan for either by creating a dry garden.

This type of garden allows for the planting in moderately rainy areas of plants accustomed to dry conditions. These dry 'Mediterranean' gardens are either flat or on gently sloping screes, others on raised, free-draining beds. But whatever the type, soil preparation is much the same.

The poorer the soil, the more well- rotted farmyard manure is needed to enhance the structure and increase drainage. If the soil is heavy clay, large quantities of sharp grit may need to be added, and if it remains too acid (below 6.5 pH), raise the level by adding hydra- ted lime at 8-10 ounces a square yard.

Avoid sites with overhanging trees and hedges, and remove all deep-rooted perennial weeds, because if you don't they will return to haunt you by creating unnecessary work, year after year.

While early spring is the best time to plant, if it has to be done in summer then the plants will require thorough watering until established, even though they are accustomed to dry conditions. Pot- bound plants should be avoided at all costs, because they will never develop the extensive root system needed to tap into all available moisture.

A two-inch covering of gravel or pea-shingle is often spread across dry gardens to help suppress weeds and provide good drainage around plants.

Weed control is more important in dry gardens. Not only is eradication time-consuming, but weeds also compete for water. For the same reason it is a good idea to dead head plants that produce an abundance of seedlings.

Among the most drought- resistant plants are those with grey foliage, such as Artemisia with silver filigree leaves, and Santolina (cotton lavender) with tiny button-like yellow flowers. All the sages like dry soils: Ruta graveolens (rue) has intensely blue leaves and yellow flowers that cause a rash if touched; while Perovskia (Russian Sage) is quite harmless with spikes of blue flowers.

For a contrast try Anthemis tinctoria 'EC Buxton,' producing masses of lemon- yellow daisy over a long period.

The key to a successful dry garden is a sunny site and good all year round drainage, especially in winter.
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 23, 2005
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