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The Dry Garden


By balcony


The Dry Garden

I thought I would continue my series of blogs made up with material from the Cambridge Botanical Gardens. This time I want to show what can be done in our gardens to save water, time & money!

If Climate Change is here to stay then we are told to expect hot, dry summers. If that is the case many of the plants we love will struggle & eventually die. So it’s well to be prepared for what may become very hot, dry summers. So Mediterranean plants will feature more often in our gardens in the coming decades.

Gardening in a Dry Climate

Water is a precious natural resource. All living things depend on it, but water supplies are limited.

Bringing clean water to our taps is costly. The more water we use in our homes, the less is available to the natural environment.

This garden demonstrates how you can create a beautiful space without using precious water.

Thinking about water

To reach your tap, each drop of rainwater is collected from rivers, reservoirs or aquifers (porous rocks that hold water). It is then purified and treated to kill germs before being piped to your home.

In 2000, people in Cambridge used 80,000 cubic metres each day. By 2020, this is expected to increase to 125,000 cubic metres. To avoid water shortages we will need to be more water-wise in our daily lives.

Gardening with your local conditions

Cambridge is one of the driest parts of Great Britain. With only 56cm of rain per year, on average. Cambridge has less rain than Barcelona!

How much water do you use?

Each person in the UK uses 150 litres (Two bathfuls) of water each day on average. Hosepipes and sprinklers though use 450 litres per hour. Water-wise gardening can help us to take considerably less water from the environment.

Gardening is easier when you consider your local climate. Try to grow plants that will thrive in your particular conditions.

This garden is a living experiment in water-wise gardening. We are finding out which plants and techniques work in Cambridge.

Water-wise Gardening

We have imposed a permanent hosepipe ban in the Dry Garden!

Soil preparation, cultivation and choosing the right plants all help to create a beautiful water-wise garden.

Remember, watering less saves time & money, and helps the environment.

Preparing the soil

To prepare this site we dug it over, but did not add any organic matter or fertilizer. We wanted to keep nutrient levels low because then plants grow slowly. This gives us compact, tough plants that are more resistant to drought.

Planting out

Plants need to grow a healthy wider scavenging root system. Autumn & early winter are the best times to plant. Rainfall is relatively high, evaporation is low & plants can establish a good root system before summer.

Lawn or not?

This garden has a paved area instead of a lawn. If you do have a lawn, resist the urge to water it. Grasses are some of the most drought resistant garden plants, as a summer-browned lawn usually recovers.

Cultivated lavenders derive from Mediterranean species. The small, needle-like leaves are a good clue that Lavender is suited to dry conditions. Surprisingly though, even large-leaved plants like the Male Fern can survive droughts if they have well-established roots. The leaves may droop or even dry back, but the plants will soon recover after a dry period.


A mulch covers the soil surface. It lets rainwater through, but reduces soil drying. Mulch also helps prevent weeds growing. Here we use gravel & bark chips as mulch.

Some of the plants that can be seen growing in the Dry Garden of the Cambridge Botanical Gardens.

In a day or two I’ll post a second part with many more flowers that were growing in this garden.

More blog posts by balcony

Previous post: Cambridge Botanical Gardens (Compost Corner) 4

Next post: Plants from Dry Places



A very interesting blog Balcony.
In Kamloops we have an average precipitatioin of 25.7 cm of which only 17.5 cm is in the form of rain. Pair those levels with the soaring temperatures of the summer (maximums up to 40C) and the plants in the garden have to have a lot of drought tolerance....even with irrigation and mulching.
One of these days when watering restrictions become more stringent, I'm afraid my roses will be a luxury that I can't afford. But, saving what little rainfall we get to supplement the irrigation is my first step. LOL

3 Dec, 2010


It makes sense to save water, even here in Wales where it's usually quite rainy even in summer. With all the new housing estates that are springing up all over the place there will be an increasing demand on natural resources.
Thanks for this interesting blog .

3 Dec, 2010


Glad you guys liked my blog. :-)

It is time we started to be more concious of the use we make of water in our gardens.

I suppose I became more concious down on the allotment this summer. I haven't gardened on soil for 30 years or more having done my gardening on balconies in Spain & now here in the UK. I've always had to buy all the compost I use for my pots. Growing in pots you have to use quite a bit of water. They dry out so quickly.

This coming year we will put some guttering up around the shed & greenhouse roofs. Last summer we had so little rain that we didn't really think about it. The shed had no decent felt on it, even though Gerry bought a roll & it was standing in a corner of the shed for months before we got around to putting it on!

The greenhouse was put up late & wasn't finished glazing till a few weeks ago. Even now there is still a piece of glass missing!

3 Dec, 2010


Do you add any water retention material to your pots Balcony? I know there are products like "soil moist" which is a gel that soaks up the water, but a lot of people around here use thick wads of newspaper. You soak the newpaper in water and put it in the bottom of the pot then add your soil on top. The newspaper acts as a bit of a reservoir for the water and soaks up extra each time you water. A lot of people also double pot their plants....placing the pot with the plant inside a slightly larger one and filling the space inbetween with straw or newspaper. This helps keep the heat from the roots and keeps the soil cooler.

3 Dec, 2010


"Do you add any water retention material to your pots Balcony?"

Well, yes & no! I do add about 20%, by volume, of vermiculite to the compost I buy for my pots. The plants love it & it helps retain moisture & open up the compost so it doesn't become too compacted. The plants form a tremendous amount of very fibrous roots & the vermiculite holds on to some water.

Two years ago I bought a packet of water retaining crystals for my hanging baskets that I had planted up with new Fuchsia plants I had bought. I found that in the hottest weather I only had to water ONCE a day instead of THREE times!

I don't use any other method of water retention. The crystals I've only used in the 5 baskets with Fuchsias. Somebody told me they are no good after one season & can even damage the plants. My Fuchsias stayed in the same baskets for two years. I did have to water them TWICE a day this year but then the plants were bigger & we had a hotter, drier summer.

4 Dec, 2010

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