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Drought tolerant planting “isn’t all” cactuses at West Dean Gardens

West Dean Gardens’ head gardener Tom Brown shares insight into the introduction of drought proof plants and plans for future sustainability.

West Dean Gardens is part of West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, which offers a wide variety of short courses – both in gardening and art and craft subjects. Being an active garden and a college, West Dean Gardens’ goal has been to be “ahead of the trend in terms of what people are going to want to learn about in the future” according to Tom. With this in mind, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Tom first thought of creating a garden which required less water a few years ago.

Tom says: “We were looking at smarter ways to manage the area. We were looking at some simplifications in some places, but enhancements in others. We then started looking at this big area in the middle of the garden that had a very free draining soil.

“Where I’d made those simplifications, I had a lot of flowering drought tolerant plants that I’d lifted and had healed in.

“Lots of different things came together to then try and create this dry meadow. I really like the idea of this matrix style planting, where you can put a community of plants together. Therefore, rather than planting three or five plants, start planting things in seventies and eighties”.

The dry meadow has 2500 plants with 50 different plant types, of which Tom’s favourite 10 are:

Dry Meadow 3 August
  • Rudbeckia maxima,
  • Gypsophila pacifica,
  • Agastache Liquorce Blue
  • Eryngium planum
  • Limonium gmelinni ssp hungaricum
  • Echinacea purpurea
  • Echinacea Paradiso Yellow
  • Tulbagia violacea
  • Eryngium planum
  • Agastache Liquorce Blue

Being based at a college, education is also at the heart of this meadow, with the aim being to encourage creativity within the students and to also remind them that “drought tolerant planting isn’t all cactuses”. One of the best examples of this is Rudbeckia maxima which is a tall herbaceous perennial producing a mound of large, smooth, blue-grey leaves. The flowering stems rise to 1.5m, carrying yellow-petalled daisy flowers with central dark brown to black cones from midsummer to mid-autumn. The colouring along with the herbaceous nature is a clear example of the vibrant creativity one can have with flowers which require little water.

As well as working on the dry meadow, there are a number of things Tom and the team at West Dean Gardens are doing to help with sustainability. They have been spending time producing seasonal food for the college with vegetables such as celeriac, parsnips and Brussel sprouts that can be used for the December menu at the collage. In addition to this, Tom and the team have been evaluating what is used in their glasshouses and have concluded that “growing things in containers is quite water hungry. So, we are looking at what plants we can put into beds within the greenhouse.”

One project which West Dean Gardens has coming up is the opening of its own nursery – another sustainable step for the college and a great way to encourage others with their gardening.

To find out more about West Dean Gardens please visit: www.westdean.org.uk and https://www.westdean.org.uk/gardens

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