Mulches Mulching is a vital part of dry gardening. Mulch provides a protective blanket, holding moisture in the soil through long dry period. Mulch can be ugly but it need not be, rather becoming a central element of the design.
Gravel is incredibly stylish when used well. It is a key ingredient in Beth Chatto’s amazing gravel garden in Essex, UK, and John Brookes has used gravel extensively at Denmans. There are numerous southern hemisphere examples of wonderful gardens using gravel mulch.
Contemporary mulches of rolled, recycled glass bring vibrant colour into a garden scheme. In colours such as clear blue and sea green, the glass mulch can complement hard-edged landscaping and structural architectural plants of minimalist gardens.
Compost is superb mulch, adding nutrients as it protects; the ideal if you can get enough of it. Ubiquitous bark mulch is efficient, but always use bark that will not blow away and check the colour. Bark can raise soil acidity as it decomposes, so use with care around alkaline lovers. (More on Mulching)
A Staged Development Once you have designed your garden, plan to develop it in stages as you can manage the workload, and as shelter and shade develop.
Newly established plantings especially take time and care, and weeding is a bigger job until plants begin to cover the ground. Don't push to develop all at once and then find you cannot manage it - plants will be lost and it can so easily all look a mess. Working through each area at a time you can ensure you have something to look at that gives you pleasure and enjoyment.
Establish shelter and major plantings and then move onto smaller, more time-consuming plants and those that need more help, and shelter, to survive. Bright annuals, such as the Californian poppy, or easy drought tolerant perennials, such as lupins, will add colour to yet-to-be developed areas; a chance to clear weeds and to assess how a particular garden area performs and changes over a season before permanent planting is in place.
Planting the Dry garden Dry climates make gardening a challenge, but here are plenty of plants out there that love the dry, and lots of examples of dramatic and colourful gardens in dry, arid regions. Plants that are healthy and look ‘happy’ and settled make for a far more successful garden. Resolve to banish plants that will not thrive without constant watering and moisture, unless you can provide this for them – but then it won’t be a dry garden!
Plants should be chosen to work within the planting zones and to provide a lively, interesting garden. Merge your planting into the style you have chosen. Contrasting textures and leaf forms, as well as varying plant ourlines lifts planting out of the ordinary, but don't overdo it or an endlessly busy look will result.
When planning your borders try to use plants that are more drought resistant. Many of the plants popular today come from the Mediterranean, others from Australia, South Africa and California. New Zealand native grasses make a wonderful dry garden planting, with loads of textural interest and movement in the wind they always look great. What you choose, however, depends on your garden's style, the degree of dryness and extremes of local weather.
Be bold with colour choices. In hot sun, colours fade and look washed out. For a standout scheme you must select really bold colours. Those tasteful pastels will disappear and should be kept only for shady areas or where you will sit in the evening light.
Winter frost-hardiness is an issue for those in inland gardens. Most dry garden plants have a better chance of surviving freezing temperatures in well-drained soils. (More on Planting the Dry Garden)
Drama in the Dry Dry gardens can be dramatic and that lack of rain does mean that we need to give up gardening – new challenges and astonishing, vital gardens await those that adapt their gardens, and adjust their aspirations, in hot dry climates.