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Gardening with Gael - Coping with a dry garden



Buxus sempervirens-279The drought has come early for the north. My friend Jan says it has rained regularly in Cambridge and her garden is flourishing. I can’t help but wish it would just slide north as I drive up to the Block observing the bare brown hillsides. Here in Mangawhai tanks are running dry. Water is being conserved in every possible way.

Dishes washed in buckets and tipped on the vegetable garden, shower water collected, all possible means of redistribution are being used. Vegetable gardens are being abandoned. I am still watering my basil, dill, parsley and coriander (or cilantro if you use the Spanish translation). Box is watering the tomatoes which, at this time of the year, ripened in the sun, are absolutely glorious.

Well mulched, established plants cope. Their roots are well down and in some fortunate areas where there is a little ground water, they find it and flourish.

Plants planted in the winter last year have not had enough time to become established and need the extra help. Up at the Block I have a little tank with water collected from the spare room for my roses. I am using it sparingly. A deep water once a week will encourage the roots to go down. I am pleased to find the wood chip mulch is working really well and there is still moisture below it. The tea plantation which gets fed from the drainage area is coping well so far. If I can get the plants through this year they will be fine.

It is a good time to take stock of the plants that are coping and remember them for further planting. The plant that gives me great satisfaction during a drought is my box hedge.

Buxus sempervirens has been used as a clipped hedge worldwide. Native to areas in western and southern Europe, from southern England to northwest Africa and northern Morocco, southwest Asia and through the Mediterranean regions to Turkey, it is a small evergreen shrub that can grow from one to nine metres tall.

For a long time I thought it took too long to form a hedge and opted for faster growing options such as coprosma middlemore, lonicera nitida, lavender and varieties of hebe. As they grew quickly and I failed to maintain them as often as I should, each in turn became leggy, spindly and then ultimately unattractive. Meanwhile my knot garden of box hedges carried on through all weathers. As a result they are my ‘go to’ plant for a small hedge, which I have used extensively up at the Block. I have never watered any of them.

Corokias are another plant which tolerates this weather. Their divaricating form and small leaves respond well to clipping and make a great hedge. Many tolerate salt winds and dry exposed areas.

Some Olearias make great hedges and prove drought resistant. Olearia albida, or tanguru, and the more compact variety angulata have narrow oblong leaves with wavy margins, and are

two that grow well in this area. I have just been through the gorge road to Langs and the white flowers of olearias are sprinkled throughout the bush.

There are 15 species of muehlenbeckia which are ideal for our coastal situations. From ground cover to sprawling shrub different varieties can provide cover in awkward areas. Muehlenbeckia complexa can also be trained as a climber.

I have given up looking at the forecast and being disappointed. Instead I am accepting that this summer is hot and dry and we will just have to do our best to manage and think of innovating ways of coping.

HEDGE: Buxus sempervirens is slow growing, low maintenance, and won’t use up your water supplies.

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