Summer colour, naturally !

Summer is the most challenging time for gardens here, and for the gardeners ! Efficient use of water and watering systems tend to distract u...

Summer is the most challenging time for gardens here, and for the gardeners ! Efficient use of water and watering systems tend to distract us from enjoying our gardens, and the more drought resistant plants they contain. We focus on providing enough water for those needy tropical or sub tropicals we
have been tempted to plant in kinder, more humid months.
Take some time to observe the plants you have not watered, plants which do not shout for your attention with wilted leaves, sad drooping stems or dried flower buds. Look instead at the spectacular flowers of the caper, seed heads of fennel, clematis and the elegant grasses. The natural summer colour palette of browns and golds is the garden coping with the stress of prolonged drought. If you can train your eye to accept this, you will observe many small miracles of survival against the odds.
Summer foliage of Phlomis purpurea showing characteristic curled leaves

Phlomis leaves curl themselves into small upright tubes, with the silvery back reflecting the sun light and conserving moisture. Some plants elect to lose their leaves altogether in summer, there is a Euphorbia which sheds all leaves and reveals a decorative rounded ball of golden spines tightly packed together. This is the opposite of our experiences in northern Europe, where our cold winter months are the time of dormancy, leafless trees and skeletal plants.

Summer colour is not just the loud reds and oranges of bougainvillea, lantana and oleander. Despite great temptation, we have managed not to plant a bouganvillea in our own garden and we have no lawn. The seasons are marked by a more natural cycle of colours, vivid green follows winter rain and the soft silvery greys develop during the heat of summer. Summer colours for us now are creams, golds and browns against the backdrop of the blue-green local evergreen trees and shrubs.
Contrasting summer golds and browns with the evergreen trees and shrubs

There are plants which are adapted to fierce summers and revel in the heat, there are plants which will die if watered during their normal dormant months of summer. Ceanothus, Fremontodendrom, Caper, Clematis species will respond to your watering kindness by rotting and then disappearing. Some tender Lavenders will also reject your automatic regular watering regime by sulking. The good drainage many Mediterranean plants need is compromised by the thoughtlessly wasteful automatic watering regimes which run all year round. Many plants flower naturally in response to the first rains of the autumn. Rosemary is plastered with flowers during the winter months. To achieve summer flowers in a drought resistant, non-irrigated garden, is a challenge but it is not impossible. After all, we have the whole mediterranean world to raid !

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The Mediterranean flora has a huge variety of plants which produce flowers during the summer months. Gaura lindheimeri from the Texas/Mexico area flowers throughout the summer on minimal water and there some lovely deep pink cultivars available to mix in with the more usual white floating stems of flowers. The salvias have some fabulous plants which will flower through the summer, their blues mix well with the tender lavenders and silvery foliage plants. This is also true for the catmint family, the nepetas give softer grey blue colours. Focus watering where it will pay back your generosity and give colour close to the house, in containers, raised beds and decorative pots of summer flowering bulbs. Many succulents look fabulous in containers and there is huge variety of leaf shapes and colours to choose from.

Foliage plants have an important role at this time of year and can be the back bone of a drought resistant garden. Achillea, santolina, helichrysum and ballota can provide rounded hummocks of felty, silvery grey – which can look spectacular in the moonlight or with one or two garden lights to pick out their shapes. The elegant golden brown seed heads of tall Stipa grasses added to the mix gives movement and interest.

Providing minimal water as a support for your flowering plants helps to prolong the flowering season, but this must be set up to provide a good soak infrequently so that it benefits the roots of plants and does not build up soggy areas around stems of vulnerable plants. Once every four to six weeks is enough to make the difference between survival and loss for many garden worthy plants and shrubs. Use of mulches, organic or inorganic, is of enormous help in retaining moisture without the need for daily or weekly watering regimes. Many plants, once established, can be taken off watering systems completely. This is the contemporary challenge to mediterranean zone gardeners everywhere. Let nature be your guide and learn from the plants - take things easy in the garden during the long hot summer months.

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