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West Dean Gardens respond to climate change by introducing drought tolerant flower beds – part of the focus on sustainability at the college

by | 16 Aug 22 | News

As the UK records its highest temperatures on record and has introduced hosepipe bans, it seems timely that West Dean Gardens (Chichester, West Sussex) has introduced a new drought tolerant experimental meadow that is covered in recycled stone mulch. As Head Gardener Tom Brown explains: “Over recent summers, we’re becoming increasingly aware of how much water we use in our gardens, and the need to explore a new range of plants that require less resources to grow and most importantly look beautiful and attract pollinators. With this in mind; we have grown a number of deep rooted and drought tolerant perennials to make up a new meadow which can be used to teach people at our College about gardening with less water”.

He continues: “Normally people think of drought tolerant plants being cactus and agave, however these flowers and plants are colourful and have benefits to wildlife, so we are planning to collect all the seeds later in the year, building their numbers and growing plants to be sold in the shop next year.”

This is not he only project that West Dean Gardens are focussing on; they are supporting the catering team in the College of Arts and Conservation by sowing seasonally reflective produce. They are planting the vegetables in quadrants and using the no dig method, developed by Charles Dowding.

As Tom Brown comments: “We found that the ground was cracking over the summer so we have covered the beds in homemade compost and it’s doing very well and has needed much less water and fertiliser to achieve some lovely produce”.

Among the three or four vegetables that they are planting are to be harvested each month include French beans, tomatoes and courgettes in August through to celeriac, parsnips and Brussel sprouts that can be used in our menus in December.

Nestled at the foot of the South Downs, West Dean Gardens is one of the greatest restored gardens open to the public today. The Gardens are open between 10.30am to 5pm each day except December 24, 25 and 31.  Between March to October, entry costs £12, children under 16 are free and last entry is 30 minutes before closing time. The Gardens Restaurant and Shop are also open.

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. For those interested in learning more about how to work with climate change in their gardens, landscape designer Mark Laurence will discuss ‘Designing gardens for climate adaptation’ in a garden lecture on Sunday, September 4, 2022. He will look at what we could expect from the future climate, resilient design principles and how we can create new ecologies so our gardens can become seed banks and refuges for plants, insects, animals and ourselves (£85/ suitable for all).

For full details, please visit

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