Creating a Dry Garden


Choosing the right plants to help your garden cope with climate change.

Climate change is likely to bring with it hotter, drier summers, so it’s worth planning at least part of your garden to be able to thrive in these conditions. There are many plants that will cope with dry soil, and will create spectacular displays.
Site and soil

Most of the plants that tolerate dry conditions also revel in the sun so the ideal site is south or west facing, with little or no shade. They also hate cold, wet soil so the ground should be free-draining. If your soil is naturally wet, or cold and heavy, then you may need to build raised beds and incorporate gritty sand into the planting area to improve drainage. Drought-tolerant plants generally have low nutrient needs. Do not add any extra fertiliser as this can encourage lush growth which then needs more water in summer and is more easily damaged by frost in winter.
Planting tips
Drought-tolerant plants may need some help to get going so follow these tips:

  • Some sun-lovers are not very hardy so check before you buy and aim to plant these in spring, so they are well established before winter arrives 

  • Choose small, young plants so they get used to their growing environment as they develop. Larger, older plants are harder to establish in difficult conditions 

  • Add organic matter to the soil to help improve structure and moisture retention 

  • If the soil is dry when planting, fill the planting hole with water to get the moisture down at root level. Then put the plant in, and backfill with dry soil which seals in the moisture 

  • After planting, mulch with water-retaining materials such as gravel or bark 

Plant characteristics

Drought-tolerant plants tend to share a range of characteristics that help them conserve moisture so that they can cope in areas of low rainfall. This is a good example of plants showing adaptations to their environment, and includes the following:

  • Hairy leaves to help reduce the drying effect of the wind e.g. catmint, Jerusalem sage 

  • Grey or silvery leaves to reflect more of the sun’s rays, keeping the leaves cool e.g. mugwort, sea holly 

  • Leathery or waxy leaves to help prevent water loss e.g. daisy bush, strawberry tree 

  • Succulent leaves to store moisture e.g. delosperma, sedum 

  • Thin, needle-like leaves which have a very small surface area so lose little by evaporation. Some plants roll their leaves inwards, reducing their exposed surface even more e.g. blue fescue, pine 

  • Tiny leaves which lose less water by evaporation e.g. kerosene bush, lavender 

Recommended plants

In a very dry season, even these plants may need extra water until they are established, but after that they should survive on rainfall alone.


Crinum (Crinum x powellii) Nerine (Nerine bowdenii)

Ornamental onion (Allium) Wild tulip (Tulipa tarda)

Herbaceous perennials

Californian fuchsia (Zauschneria)

Catmint (Nepeta)

Delosperma (Delosperma cooperi)

Globe thistle (Echinops)

Ice plant (Sedum spectabile)

Mullein (Verbascum)

Osteospermum (Osteospermum)

Poppy (Papaver)

Red-hot poker (Kniphofia)

Sea holly (Eryngium)

Spurge (Euphorbia)

Verbena (Verbena bonariensis)

Wild indigo (Baptisia australis)

Yarrow (Achillea)


Blue fescue (Festuca glauca)

Fountain grass (Pennisetum)

Golden oats (Stipa gigantea)

Miscanthus (Miscanthus)

Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana)

Switch grass (Panicum virgatum)

Small shrubs

Box (Buxus)

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina)

Hebe (Hebe)

Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa)

Kerosene bush (Ozothamnus)

Lavender (Lavandula)

Lavender cotton (Santolina)

Mugwort (Artemisia)

Rock rose (Helianthemum)

Rosemary (Rosmarinus)

Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)

Sage (Salvia)

St John’s Wort (Hypericum)

Thyme (Thymus)

Medium-large shrubs

Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora)

Broom (Cytisus ‘Burkwoodii’)

Ceanothus (Ceanothus)

Daisy bush (Olearia macrodonta)

Eleagnus (Elaeagnus angustifolia)

Juniper (Juniperus)

Sun rose (Cistus)

Yucca (Yucca)


Chilean glory flower (Eccremocarpus)

Jasmine (Jasminum officinale)

Passion flower (Passiflora caerulea)

Potato vine (Solanum crispum)

Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans)


Golden honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Sunburst)

Golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata)

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