Advice & Guides

How the gardens are coping in these extreme conditions

Heatwave Summer 2018

After weeks of hot and sunny weather with scorching temperatures, there is no doubt that it's turning out to be one of the driest and hottest summers on record.

Pond levels

Visitors may have noticed that the water level in our ponds has dropped very low. This is a combination of the dry weather and us having to use water out of the ponds for irrigating the garden and nursery, due to a faulty bore hole pump (which is being replaced and should arrive end of July). As there’s been no measurable rainfall since the first week of June, the ponds are not filling up very quickly and we have to use the water wisely. 

The reservoir

The big reservoir (currently covered in duckweed) which lies below the Reservoir Garden belongs to our neighbouring farmer, who uses it for irrigating crops. Therefore, we unfortunately have no control over its use or management. 


Due to the exceptionally hot and dry weather, we’ve had to water some areas of the gardens, mainly the Woodland and Reservoir Garden. Some visitors have expressed surprised to see us irrigating the gardens during the day, but the while the nursery has an automated irrigation system, which comes on early in the morning and then again at night, the irrigation in the garden must be switched on and moved around manually.


The Water Garden lies in a boggy hollow where the grass tends to stay green, whereas up in the Reservoir Garden the lawn has turned brown. To save water, we’re only irrigating where it’s absolutely necessary and given how little water there is in our ponds, we’ve made the decision not to water the grass, as droughted lawns always green up again when it eventually rains. 

Cutting back plants

A way to lessen herbaceous plants' need for water during prolonged droughts is to cut them back by half or right to the ground, depending on how much they are suffering. This year we’ve cut back several clumps of astrantia, phlox, rudbeckia, nepeta and salvia. They may not put on a great show this year, but should at least produce fresh foliage (and hopefully some flowers) once the temperatures drop and the weather turn wetter.


Plants coping with drought 

The Gravel Garden, created in the early 1990’s, is never irrigated. The plants here have been chosen for their ability to cope with drought. 

Different ways plants cope with drought:

* Very small leaves reduce the surface from which water is lost.
* Silver or grey leaves reflect the harsh sunlight, thus reducing the heat and evaporation.
* A coating of fine hairs helping to trap any available moisture, such as early morning dew.
* Glaucous leaves often a have a waxy, protective coating.
* Long tap roots go deep into the soil and can locate water deep underground.
* Succulent plants store water in their fleshy leaves. 

Some plants, such as Acaena inermis ‘Purpurea’, look dead but retreat underground during prolonged periods of droughts and re-emerge again once the weather turn cooler and wetter. 

This summer has really put the plants in the Gravel Garden to the test. Some plants have struggled while others have performed exceptionally well despite the tough conditions (see list below). 


Gravel Garden top performers, looking good and seemingly shrugging off the exceptionally hot, dry weather:

(You may find some of these plants, most of which are propagated from Beth's plants in the garden, are out of stock at the moment, but these should become available again in the coming weeks)


Althaea cannabina

Allium carinatum subsp. pulchellum. and A. flavum

Atriplex halimus

Ballota pseudodictamnus


Dianthus carthusianorum

Foeniculum vulgare

Gaura lindheimeri

Helichrysum italicum

Euphorbia segueriana

Eryngium bourgatii and E. giganteum

Genista aetnensis 

Hylotelephium (particularly H. ‘Autumn Joy’)

Lavandula angustifolia

Origanum laevigatum

Papaver somniferum

Perovskia atriplicifolia

Romneya coulteri

Salvia sclarea var. turkestanica

Stipa barbata, S. gigantea, S. splendens and S. tenuissima 

Verbena bonariensis 




Rainfall 2018


Rainfall in mm

Rainfall in inches























How the gardens are coping in these extreme conditions

Comments (2)

An interesting read, thank you. I'm especially interested in the plants that have done well as I also garden on light, stony soil and our rainfall is almost as low as yours and I grow mostly Mediterranean plants and similar. I know you're mentioning those in the Gravel Garden but some others that have done well here are

Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln'
Chamaerops humilis var. argentea
Euphorbia characias
Rosemaries and santolinas

but strangely, the Verbena bonariensis isn't doing well at all!

I'm very happy you're keeping the garden on. My best wishes to you all
Ish | 25/07/2018
I gained my deep love of the garden from visiting Beth's garden in its very early days . I can still picture the then new gravel garden...what enthusiasm it gave me.

I am now in my 80's and have just been forced to downsize and say goodbye to the garden I created on a hillside that I used to open for Charity in Bath.

I have brought many of Beth's choice plants with me and created a much smaller
garden to suit my advancing years.

Wandering round amongst them reminds me of of Beth and those early years. The enthusiasm she gave me for 'plants in the right place' is still very much with me .

Sheila Batterbury | 24/07/2018
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