A Kew botanist reveals the plants that keep gardens lush in a heatwave


This summer has seen record-breaking temperatures, hosepipe bans and drought conditions, leaving our poor gardens looking a little worse for wear. While this year’s plants might struggle, we decided to get in touch with Faye Adams, the alpine and rock supervisor at Kew Gardens, to find out how to plant for heatwaves.

Field of Californian poppies

Californian poppies can cope with hot, dry summers © Getty Images

  • Choose plants with small leaves that lose less water through transpiration. These include thyme (Thymus), French lavender (Lavandula dentata), sea rosemary (Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius) and rough-leaf conebush (Leucadendron modestum).
  • Try planting plants covered in white hairs. These help reflect UV rays and trap a layer of humidity around the leaf. Examples are lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) and Turkish sage (Phlomis russeliana).
  • Opt for plants with succulent leaves that have a reserve of water, such as Aeonium, hardy aloe (Aloiampelos striatula), prickly pear (Opuntia) and Delosperma brunnthaleri. A lot of these can cope with cold temperatures but do not like wet in winter, so they’re not suitable for really heavy soils.
  • Some self-seeding plants will keep coming back every year and can survive in cracks of brick walls or paving. Good examples are Californian poppy (Escholzia californica) and Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus).
  • Some grasses are great in drought, especially Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima), Peruvian feather grass (Stipa ichu) and Chinese fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides).
  • There are lots of choices for the herbaceous border. Sea hollies Eryngium maritimum and Eryngium bromelifolium, blue globe thistle (Echinops bannaticus), blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) and fiery wandflower (Dierama igneum).
  • Bulbs that are from warm climates such as Abyssinian gladiolus (Gladiolus murielae) and pineapple flowers (Eucomis) cope well, as do spring flowering bulbs that are dormant during the summer and don’t mind the heat, such as arum lilies. It is an opportunity to experiment with more unusual bulbs such as starfish iris (Ferraria crispa).

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