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The Drought-Resistant Garden: Beth Chatto’s Legacy at RHS Hampton Court

Published on July 5th 2019
Visitors have been flocking to the drought-resistant garden to see Beth Chatto’s Essex-based gravel borders recreated at the RHS Hampton Flower Show this week.

Right Plant, Right Place

Beth designed and planted the original garden in what was once a car park nearly 30 years ago with her husband Andred Chatto. Despite living in one of the driest parts of the UK, it has never been irrigated. Her approach was to select the right plant for the right place – an idea ahead of its time which now forms the basis of ecologically-sustainable planting design. The gravel garden was created on poor dry sandy soil in full sun using plants from all around the world that thrive in these challenging conditions.
Beth Chatto died last year aged 94 but her legacy lives on through her gardens, her approach to planting and the Beth Chatto Educational Trust - a charity that supports children and adults to learn about plants and the environment.

The Garden

The Drought Resistant Garden includes nearly 200 different species from around 100 genera – a vast and hugely exciting range of plants for a show garden. As well as creating inspiring borders, the design team from Beth Chatto Plants and Gardens have presented an encyclopaedic collection of drought-resistant plants that visitors can explore for ideas to take home for their own gardens. With climate change causing rising summer temperatures and creating increased pressure on water resources, drought resistant planting schemes are becoming increasingly relevant.

Plant Highlights

It is almost impossible to choose key plants from the extensive range in the garden, but the team picked out the following:
David Ward, the garden and nursery director at the Beth Chatto gardens, pointed out these beautiful Mediterranean hardy sub-shrubs as we toured the garden. With their compact domed habit and white-grey foliage, they create low structure in the dry borders and set off the brighter colours of the surrounding flowers. The thick woody stems store moisure and the grey leaves are covered in minute silvery hairs which reflect light and heat, and help to trap water to aid with drought resistance. Species in the garden include Ballota acetabulosa and Ballota pseudodictamnus.
The design team dotted ‘self-seeded’ alliums and poppies throughout the borders to recreate the naturalistic look that is a key part of the ecological development of the gravel garden. Allium amethystinum ‘Red Mohican’, Allium cristophii, Allium ‘Summer Drummer’ and Allium sphaerocephalum flowers and seedheads add height to the borders and, as with many bulbous plants, they are protected from excess water loss and heat by completing their growing season in spring and becoming dormant during the hot summer months.
A plant in a garden
Hylotelephium (Sedum)
The succulent foliage of these late summer flowering perennials stores water, making them ideal for hot, dry spots. Often becoming top-heavy in rich soils, Hylotelephium thrives in the poor sandy soil of the Essex gravel garden and is an important later nectar source for pollinating insects. The drought-resistant garden showcases a wide range of Hylotelephium including ‘Herbsfreude’, ‘Jose Aubergine’ (a new purple-leaved form), ‘Karfunkelstein’, ‘Matrona’ and ‘Purple Emperor’.
Foxtail Lily
I’d have to choose the foxtail lily (Eremurus x isabellinus ‘Pinokkio’) as my plant highlight. It towers above the other perennials with rusty orange flower spikes contrasting against the purple and blues of the globe thistles and sea holly. There’s nothing quite like a foxtail lily for creating a dramatic architectural presence in a dry sunny summer border.

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