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Stone in love with you; As our land gets drier, one expert finds plenty of gravel can work wonders in your pride and joy.

THE last 10 days have seen me undertake an adventurous trek - around the courtyard gardens of Marrakech, on a train past the arid plains to Tangiers, by boat to view the coast of Spain, stopping off briefly to appreciate summer in Manchester and Wicklow.

And now I'm back to hillside Mediterranean terrace gardens in the south of France.

In all of these locations I am struck by the lushness of planting when people decide they will garden even in the hottest of places.

Our gardens in northern Europe have traditionally had plenty of water. We're told however that this will change and when we hear of wonderful wine being produced in Kent vineyards, the change is obviously under way. So more of us are going to have to become aware of gardening in drier conditions.

As the sun shines and water begins to become scarce, it's time to look at those plants which are drought tolerant, have adapted to poor conditions and don't demand irrigation or moisture-retentive soil.

The best-known exponent of this type of planting in the UK is the renowned plantswoman Beth Chatto OBE, whose wonderful gardens and nursery you can visit in Essex.

She has transformed the poorest of soils into enchanting gardens.

Beth started off with a neglected wasteland in the 1960s, some of it boggy, some shady and some of it bone dry. By forming dams in the marshy part, ponds and a bog garden were created. In the shadier part of the site beautiful woodland gardens are home to a wide variety of shade-loving plants.

And on the very stony, sun-baked soil, she created her famous Gravel Garden, showing just what can be achieved in a garden that is subject to annual drought.

To improve the soil she dug in tonnes of home-made compost, farmyard manure and mushroom compost to give plants a good start and chance to spread roots. Then everything planted was mulched with 5cm of gravel, which conserves moisture and keeps weeds at bay.

Through trial and error she has found out which plants are best suited to these arid conditions.

And if things get really tough in prolonged periods of drought, she cuts back the affected plants to help them get through to the autumn.

It's best to plant younger specimens which will adapt more quickly to their tough surroundings than older ones which might have got used to a comfortable life in a nursery pot.

Whichever you choose, water well before planting and while the plant establishes itself.

Beth's gardening is based on a simple principle of "the right plant for the right place".

Beth's best for blooming in tough conditions HERE is a selection of Beth Chatto's recommendations if your soil is very dry, sandy and hosepipe bans become a regular occurrence: BULBS are often at home in free-draining soils and Beth has used these to great effect - lots of elegant red tulip sprengeri and purple alliums. She also suggests scilla peruviana, Portuguese squill and nectaroscordum, Sicilian garlic.

in bloom |GRASSES - silvery blue ones such as festuca glauca, koeleria glauca and helictotrichon, feathery stipa tenuissima and the ornamental pennisetums with their bottlebrush plumes.

MEDITERRANEAN. LOOKING plants with silvery or hairy foliage - santolina (cotton lavender), verbascum, phlomis (Jerusalem sage) stachys (lamb's ears), ballota, convolvulus and lavender are all hardy.

SUN.SEEKERS from New Zealand - senecio and libertia grandiflora.

VALERIAN, which you see growing on stone walls, is as tough as old boots and won't let you down. Euphorbia will flourish in the most inhospitable of environments and hypericum asks for nothing but gives back tonnes of happy yellow flowers to reward your neglect.

COTTAGE garden favourites - nepeta, anthemis, crocosmia, euphorbia, penstemon, bearded iris, gladioli, asphodels and verbena will work well.

DRAMATIC giant fennel ferula communis with its massive yellow flower heads, as well as cultivated fennel.

THIS is a just a selection - the Chatto nursery, near Elmstead Market, in Colchester, Essex, has more than 2,000 species. For more information visit bethchatto.co.uk. The gardens are open from 9am to 5pm (4pm in the winter).

If your garden tends to be dry, make a virtue of it with rocks and gravel and drought-tolerant plants

CAPTION(S):

Allium in bloom

Flowering lavender cotton

Orange crocosmia
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 4, 2015
Words:706
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