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22 DRY HEROES | An abundantly blooming garden with drought-resistant flowers

What would it be like to enjoy a magical garden, filled to the brim with flowers but without having to constantly worry about watering? In times of climate change, with hot, dry summers, that’s a conundrum worth thinking about.

Photo: Syl Gervais


Whenever I’m asked if I spend my early summer mornings roaming the flower beds, armed with watering can and hose, my simple and honest answer is "Nope".


I only water pots. The plants in my flower beds usually have to look after themselves, and many of them happily do just that. This is partly because I have chosen varieties that can cope with drier periods, and also because I’ve trained them to grow long, deep roots. You’ll find more on how to do that and other valuable tips at the bottom.


I’ve compiled a list of 22 plants I have in my garden that cope well with drought. And ALL of them are wonderful plants for insects!


1. ROSES

Photo: Syl Gervais

No cottage garden without roses. That's why I'm unbelievably glad that roses are deep-rooted and can easily take care of themselves. The bigger the rose, the longer and deeper her roots will grow – easily a few metres. All the more reason to go for rambler roses! I have never had to water mine.


Insect Happiness Score: Unfilled flowers, yes!


2. LAVENDER

Lavender is often picked as pretty pairing with roses, but they’re actually not as well suited as you might think. While roses need a lot of nutrients, lavender prefers poorer soil. Try catmint or sage (more on these two below). Apart from that, lavender is wonderful and copes very well with heat.


Insect Happiness Score: Big!



3. LAMB’S EAR (Stachys byzantina)

So cuddly, so soft (that's why they're also called donkey ears) and incredibly decorative. I love lamb’s ear! Whether as a border, ground cover or in combination with ornamental sage, catmint and delicate roses like "Fairy" or "Ballerina".


It’s not the flowers that make it a must-have in my garden, but the leaves – they're not just pretty but even last in the winter! And it’s totally undemanding.


Insect Happiness Score: Huge!



4. SEA HOLLY (Eryngium)

Another marvellous option. The bluish-green colour is enchanting and looks oh-so-pretty next to lamb’s ear or even classic sage. And if blue isn’t so much your cup of tea, there are beautiful silvery-white varieties too.


The spherical, spiky flower heads last a long time and are perfect for dry flower arrangements and wreaths. In general, all members of the (noble) thistle family can withstand heat and drought well.


Insect Happiness Score: Happy-Dance-worthy!


Photo: Janina Laszlo

Eryngium magical

5. WOODLAND SAGE (Salvia nemorosa)

Photo: Syl Gervais

There’s a whole woodland sage love affair going on in the Cottage Garden.


Why?

Because it’s incredibly beautiful.

Because it blooms for a long time.

Because it blooms again after pruning.

Because it goes with EVERYTHING.

Because it comes in white, pink, blue and purple.

Because the colours alone give you endless options for beautiful plant combinations.

Because it is completely undemanding (can you tell I'm getting into the swing of things...).

Because it is pure insect happiness.



6. PURPLE CONEFLOWER (Echinacea purpurea)

Somehow, coneflowers always disappear all too quickly in my garden, and I’ve not yet been able to find out why – they’re usually quite undemanding and tenacious. Nevertheless, I plant them again and again because they fit so beautifully into the cottage garden.


Rather than a single perennial, I like to plant them in lush clusters. Enchanting with Verbena bonariensis or with Mexican fleabane and yarrow, all four of them gift us an unusually long flowering period. And it also comes in white: Echinacea purpurea "Alba".


Insect Happiness Score: YES YES YES!


Photo: Alexandra Lehne, Soulgarden


7. MULLEIN (Verbascum)

I don't have the classic variety (yellow – you know me and yellow aren’t besties) and I won't have it in my garden (mean, I know). Thank goodness for the wonderful non-yellow varieties like the purple Verbascum nigrum, which is also available in white as "Alba". I also love "Sugar Plum" and "Pink Domino". This old medicinal plant can reach an impressive height of up to one and a half metres.


Insect Happiness Score: 100%




8. BUTTERFLY BUSH (Buddleia)

Always on my ‘love list’. Blush pink, purple or white, this beauty blooms incredibly long, smells irresistible and magically draws butterflies into your garden. Whether as a stand-alone, in the background or as a smaller variety in the middle of a flower bed, I think this is an extraordinary plant.


Insect Happiness Score: 10 of 10 for butterflies and hummingbird hawk-moths.


P.S. Do you want to know where this is? Have a look here.



9. CATMINT (Nepeta)

Little effort – great effect. You can't go wrong with this blue-violet flowering perennial. Whether as ground cover or companion plant, it’s a delight for humans and bumblebees (and cats, too) all summer long, with lush flowers and a spicy fragrance. And it’s undemanding! It likes full sun best, and just a little water now and then is plenty. The flowering period is from May to August.


Insect Happiness Score: Big time




10. STATICE OR SEA LAVENDER (Limonium)

A truly unfussy and equally undemanding dry hero. Flowers cheerfully from June until the first frost in a wide range of colours, all the way from white to dark purple. Thrives just as well in pots and is ideal for dry bouquets. And it gets bonus points because snails leave it in peace.


Insect Happiness Score: And then some!


Photo: Janina Laszlo


11. YARROW (Achillea)

The hardy one. A charming and equally robust companion plant with fragrant leaves and a very long flowering period, all the way from June to October. This wildflower tolerates dry and hot periods without a single nag, is very popular with insects – especially butterflies – and is also well known for use as a medicinal plant.


It feels at home pretty much anywhere, but just watch it grow in nutrient-rich soil! Usually around 30 – 50 cm high, it can reach 80 cm to a metre tall when it gets some extra nutrients. One to keep in mind when you’re planning your flower bed!


Insect Happiness Score: Bull's eye.


Photo: Janina Laszlo

Available in so many beautiful colours, my favourite is "Summer Berries".

If you’re in the EU and would like to order, I'd love to see you in the (online) shop.

Shipping outside of Europe is impossible at the moment but we're working on it for you!



12. COMMON MALLOW (Malva sylvestris)

This wonderful creature with dark pink flowers is the epitome of a summer flower for me. And it’s not just me: wild bees, bumblebees and butterflies love it too. She’s another wild plant, just as happy in partial shade as in the sun, undemanding and easy to cultivate. She can grow all the way up to 120 cm, her flowers, seeds and leaves are delicious in salads (or the dried flowers as tea!) and is winter-hardy.


Insect Happiness Score: I’ll give you three guesses!


Photo: Janina Laszlo

Follow this link to more mallows in the shop.



13. MAURITANIAN MALVA (Malva sylvestris ssp. mauritiana)

And for an extra bit of ‘umpfh’, take a look at the Mauritanian Malva!


Easy-going, a blossoming star and in an insanely pretty colour. How’s that for a summary.


Insect Happiness Score: ABSOLUTELY!



14. RUSSIAN SAGE (Perovskia)

Also blue and also very charming. Unfussy and easy to care for, Russian sage is a wonderful plant that only needs a little protection in harsh winters. The delightful flowers appear from the end of July onwards. It does well in rockeries and you don't have to fertilise it either. How’s that for a must-have.


Insect Happiness Score: Undeniable!


Photo: Pixabay


15. STONECROP (Sedum)


All-rounder par excellence. Because it stores water in its chubby leaves, it’s perfectly prepared for dry periods. Its splendid flower umbels are a highlight from the moment they start to bloom until they fade and provide precious food for insects until October. Also beautiful in a winter garden.


Insect Happiness Score: Off the scale.


16. SAGE (Salvia)

Sage likes it dry – avoid waterlogging at all costs! Very frugal and easy to care for, it’s grateful for a relatively wind-protected spot in the sun or partial shade. At the height of summer (June to August), the velvety, fragrant, silvery green foliage is joined by violet-blue flowers.


And it shouldn’t be missing from any kitchen! It’s easy to dry and perfect for a sore throat, brewed up as tea with a little honey.


While we’re here: have you heard of Salvia viridis? A brilliant option too. And the best bit? Its incredibly long flowering period.


Photo: Janina Laszlo

You can find it here in the shop.



17. POPPY (Papaver)

Poppies are a Cool Flower (more on that in this blog post), which – simply put – means you can sow them in late summer, ready for the following spring. Or sow them in early spring to have them pretty-up your flower beds in the summer.


Delicate and silky blossoms in beautiful colours, my absolute favourite is "Amazing Grey", with flowers that vary from blue-grey to purple and pink.


Tip: always sow poppies straight outside, they really don’t take kindly to being moved (or transplanted, to use the correct terminology).


Insect Happiness Score: Oh, hello there!


Photo: Janina Laszlo

Have you heard of the "Bridal Silk" variety yet? Isn't she a beauty!



18. CUPID’S DART (Catananche caerulea)

Whenever I see Cupid’s Dart, I instantly picture a summer meadow swaying lightly in the breeze. Could be because it reminds me of cornflowers. Undemanding – as long as it gets plenty of sun and warmth, it’s not at all intimidated by drought. And the blue blossoms look great in a vase. This perennial flowers from June to September and grows up to 60 cm high.


Insect Happiness Score: Thumbs up!



Do you like it? You can find it right here in the shop.

19. CHAMOMILE

One of the oldest medicinal plants, I don’t know anyone who has never had a sip of chamomile tea. This extremely adaptable little plant copes well with (almost) all conditions apart from wet feet – it does not like waterlogging, not one bit. Insects love this native wild plant, it flowers from June to September and can be harvested when the flower heads have fully opened.


Insect Happiness Score: Can’t get enough.


Photo: Janina Laszlo

20. HOLLYHOCK MALLOW (Malva alcea)

No garden should be without this truly frugal creature. All it needs is a spot in the sun and dry, well-drained soil to delight us (and the bees!) with its simple pale pink flowers from June to September. This wild plant is an endangered species, so on top of it all, you’ll contribute to biodiversity preservation.


Insect Happiness Score: Off the scale.


Photo: Janina Laszlo

And you can find her right here in the shop.



21. MEXICAN FLEABANE (Erigeron karvinskianus)

Admittedly, I only stumbled across it pretty late in life. Don’t ask me why, but it just wasn’t really on my radar. BIG mistake (as Julia Roberts would say in "Pretty Woman").


It blooms and blooms and blooms. For months. Without taking a break. And reproduces wonderfully: in cracks, in walls, in beds, in pots. Light and delicate yet mighty with an abundance of flowers. Undemanding and, if it doesn’t get too cold, a hardy perennial.


Insect Happiness Score: Top level!



22. VERBENA OR PURPLETOP (Verbena bonariensis)

Another highlight – I can't ever get enough of her. Verbena delicately weaves her way through roses and other perennials and flowers tirelessly.


She reproduces all by herself (although she may need a little bit of protection in harsh winters), but her self-seeding ways never get out of hand. A beauty in any bouquet and butterflies are smitten.


Insect Happiness Score: Over the moon.



For a little Verbena Magic for your garden, head over here.



Here are a few tips for what else you can do to be more drought-ready:


The most important thing of all: Educate your plants! Frequent small amounts of water will make them lazy and, instead of digging down, they mainly form superficial roots. It’s better to water infrequently but then thoroughly. You can find more information on the topic of watering your garden in this blog post.


You can increase the storage capacity of your soil by adding water-storing granules or special fleeces to the soil (if you are interested, there will be a separate blog post on this soon). In most cases, this can mean you’ll cut your water consumption by half. Also ideal for pots.


Good to know:

A general rule of thumb that you can be fairly safe with: plants that have thickset (or chubby), rough or hairy leaves are usually good candidates for dry locations.


Also important: those that like it dry usually need a full-sun location and don’t tolerate waterlogging.


Avoid water guzzlers like phlox or hydrangeas. I have some of the latter, but they are all in mostly shady spots and usually manage pretty well through the summer. And what else needs a lot of water? Lawns, of course.


Super important: Anything newly planted neeeeeeds water in the beginning (the first few weeks). The same goes for seeds: please make sure to water them.


And may I make a weekend wish?

I’d love to hear which plants you’ve had good experiences with in dry conditions – maybe add a comment below?






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