Climate change gardening at RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival

The environment, climate change, water and plastic waste were common themes running through this year’s show gardens.  Having just written a book on climate change gardening, I was keen to see what the designers had done on these topics.

The garden that really got to grips with water and  climate change  was Thames Water Flourishing Future Garden that showed how gardens could cope with increasingly unpredictable weather, drier summers and wetter winters. There were features such as permeable paving, contrasting drought-friendly and moisture-loving borders and a central rainfall pavilion with ornamental rain chains that directed water into a wetland area.  

Still on the drought theme was the Drought-tolerant Garden celebrating Beth Chatto, the 2019 RHS Hampton Court Horticultural Hero. The team behind the garden recreated her famous drought-tolerant gravel garden in Essex. Beth Chatto worked with nature, designing planting scheme with a ‘right plant, right place’ approach. This is going to be important for all gardeners in the year to come as we cope with heatwaves, droughts and changing seasons.  Not longer will we select plants for herbaceous beds for their looks but for their ability to cope with the conditions.

Succulents were everywhere this year and these, too, are drought-tolerant plants. There were hanging baskets, wall displays and interesting planters containing succulents in a wide range of form and colour.  While most can cope with dry weather, not all like to be in full sun all day, while others are not cold hardy so you need to choose carefully. Their fleshy leaves, so important to survive drought, are damaged when water in the leaves freezes in cold weather and damages their cell structure.  Some of the  popular aeoniums, agaves and aloes are classed as half hardy and need to be moved to a frost-free location for the winter months. But most sedums and sempervivums are tough plants and, being native to mountainous regions, can cope well with temperatures below freezing.  

And to end with a query.  The Drought-tolerant Garden featured 4 types of bergenia: Adendglocken, Ballawley, Bressingham Ruby, and Morgenrote. As you can see from the photo bergenia have been planted at the front of the beds in full sun. I know bergenia are tough and can cope with anything from full sun to full shade, but they do need a moist and well drained soil. Will a drought-tolerant  gravel garden suit them? Will the gravel mulch retain enough moisture for them?  

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