12 Jun Perfect Plants For Dry Gardens
Garden Designer Katie Moyes reveals her top 14 perfect plants for dry gardens.
There is an absolute wealth of plants for dry gardens that thrive in the UK. The trick to selecting the best plants for your garden, is to consider what the soil conditions are like throughout the year.
In some parts of the UK, particularly in East Anglia, gardens really do get very dry in summer time, but at other times of the year they can be quite wet. It’s soggy soil that kills drought loving plants and so, before investing in plants for dry gardens, it’s a good idea to improve the soil to create the best all year round conditions.
Improving the soil may involve adding a drainage system and incorporating grit and gravel into your planting beds to help keep roots dry all year round. Or it may involve adding more organic matter so that the soil to improve water retention in summer and give you a wider range of plants to choose from.
Katie’s advice is to talk to a garden designer before buying your plants. Matching your plant species to the soil type and the conditions in your garden will ultimately lead to a better looking and more manageable garden.
Here are Katie’s top 14 perfect plants for dry gardens
A glossy leaved beauty with a spectacular floral display in spring time. Plant it well away from paths as the sap can cause skin irritation in some people.
Perovskia (also known as Russian Sage)
A very hardy plant beloved of bees. It grows to around waist height and has plumes of blue-grey flowers in summer time. This plant moves beautifully in the breeze and gives a lovely cottage garden feel to any space.
Stachys (also known as Lamb’s Ears)
As a general rule of thumb, plants with fleshy, hairy or silver coloured foliage do well in dry soils. Stachys ticks all three boxes. Plus, it keeps its leaves all through the winter. Great for ground cover, this plant is a master at suppressing weeds.
Back garden in Essex with a nice collection of plants for dry gardens.
Plants in this garden include Stipa tenuissima grass, sedums, alums, bergenias and mediterranean herbs.
Eryngium (also known as Sea Holly)
A striking plant with silvery leaves and very distinctive flower heads. Look out for a variety named “Miss Willmott’s Ghost”. Ellen Willmott lived at Warley Hall in Essex at the turn of the 20th century. She was a respected horticulturist who cheekily dropped seeds of this plant in gardens she visited. Weeks after she had left the premises, sea holly’ plants would mysteriously appear in the beds and borders.
A mediterranean herb with a rather appetising aroma. This small shrub has dark green, needle like leaves that are designed to protect the plant during hot dry weather. Plant into well drained soil and once it’s well established, snip off a little bits of foliage to use in cooking. It goes well with roast lamb and makes a tasty addition to a tomato and cheese tart.
A cottage garden favourite that quite frankly, looks good almost anywhere in the garden. Blue-grey, leaves are small and flat but it’s the flowers that bring all the bees to the garden. They smell divine when they are basking in the sun. Cut some and hang them upside down to dry indoors where they will fill your home with their sweet scent.
It’s not a plant you see much of these days, the bearded Iris seems to have fallen out of fashion. But the Nurture Landscapes Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023 looks set to change that. Designed by Sarah Price, this garden is defined by tall irises in subtle shades of peach and olive.
Erigeron (also known as Mexican Fleabane)
A low growing, happy little plant that is guaranteed to make you smile. Its daisy like flowers just keep on blooming all through the summer, no matter how hot or dry the weather is. Grow it between cracks in the pavement, in pots and underplanted around lavender and rosemary. It’s simply delightful.
Another culinary herb with mediterranean origins. There are many different types of thyme to choose from and each one will bring a slightly different flavour to your cooking. Katie particularly recommends Thymus vulgaris aka Common Thyme because it’s easy to care for and reliably produces swathes of pretty pink flowers in May and June. Bees seem to like it too.
A coastal themed planting plan for a dry garden with a pretty water feature set amongst pebbles.
Adding a water feature or a piece of garden art brings even more interest to an arid garden.
Stipa tenuissima (sometimes called Mexican Feather Grass)
A pretty ornamental grass that grows to around 30cm tall and wafts in the breeze. It looks beautiful amongst herbaceous perennials but is equally spectacular planted en masse. Leaves become straw coloured in autumn but the plant is quick to recover when spring time arrives.
Festuca Glauca (Blue Fescue)
It’s the colour of this ornamental grass that makes it so attractive. That and its hummock forming growth habit. These are perfect plants for dry gardens and look amazing planted in the front of the border to add interest and texture.
Panicum virgatum (aka Switch Grass)
This grey-leaved grass erupts from the ground like a fountain. At 75cm tall it needs careful placing in the border buy my goodness, it can really make an impact. Feathery flowers appear in summer time and look fabulous when paired with the flowers and seed heads of alliums.
Glorious globe shaped flower heads made up of hundreds of star shaped florets. Alliums are planted as bulbs in autumn and its easy to forget they are in the border until they make their presence known in summer time. Keep the spent seed heads for dried flower arrangements indoors.
Installing well drained raised beds will mean that your perfect plants for dry gardens are more likely to survive where the soil tends to be wet in winter time.
Did you know that there are over 400 species of sedum? Not all of them will survive a UK winter but those that can are a delight. Provided they have well drained soil and plenty of sunshine, sedums are virtually self sufficient.
Try Sedum Hylotelephium ‘Matrona’ for a mid-height plant that looks wonderful with grasses such as Stipa tenuissima. Or, for ground cover, you can’t beat Sedum spurium.
Help With Planting Plans For Dry Gardens
If you are struggling to find the right planting combinations for your dry garden, Tapestry Design Studios can help. Our “Inspired By Chelsea” planting plans are tailor made to your taste will help you to transform a troublesome dry garden into a gorgeous outdoor space just as good as a show garden.
All you need to do is chat to Katie about your garden dreams and fill in a very simple questionnaire about your plot. Katie will send you a list of suitable plants along with a scale drawing of the area you want to transform showing what to plant where. In no time at all, you could have a designer planting scheme that will turn your neighbours green with envy.