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17 October 22

Autumn tips for the garden from Affinity Water and the Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens in Essex

Affinity Water has teamed up with the Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens in Essex, famous for its drought resistant garden, to produce a new series of three podcasts to help gardeners find the “right plant for the right place” and to “use the sectators not the watering can”.

In these exclusive podcasts for Affinity Water, David Ward, the Garden and Nursery Director at the Gardens says this years’ drought has provided challenges for gardeners, but that plants and the dry brown lawns are now growing back.

These podcasts have been produced to support the launch of Affinity Water’s DRAFT Water Resources Management Plan. The Plan sets out the action we must take collectively and the new sources of water we will need to ensure a long-term sustainable supply of water that is resilient to the effects of climate change and meets the demands of a growing population.

In the podcasts, Mr Ward takes a tour of the seven-acre site, the drought-resistant Gravel Garden, The Water Garden, and the beds and lawns. He recounts the sites history as he walks and describes the philosophy that led Beth Chatto and her husband Andrew to design the spectacular grounds which rely on finding the ‘right plants for the right place’. The drought-resistant garden was built on a former grassed car park.

Mr Ward says: “People can come along here and see you can have a drought-resistant garden looking good. The summer of 2022 has been the most challenging summer I have known since the 1970s. We’ve had this drought garden on this poor, sandy, fast draining soil for thirty years, with no artificial watering, so by choosing a range of drought- tolerant plants, we have proved it is achievable.”

Gravel Garden

In the First podcast in the Drought Garden, he comes up with a surprising tip saying that using the “sectators” to cut away dry and dead leaves can regenerate your garden and can be as effective as using a watering can.

“Don’t use the hose pipe, use the sectators – clear up the garden so the rain that is now falling can get to the roots. You can cut-back your lavender, catmints and other early flowering perennials. Plant choice is key to coping with these dry hot summers like the one we have just had,” he advises.

Water Garden

In the Second podcast in the Water Garden Mr Ward says a pond does not need to be topped up with a hose, but maybe the water butt can be a useful source of replenishing - water if need be. He certainly recommends a water feature of some kind as it helps wildlife.

“Don’t top up your pond too much, it doesn’t need to be full, use water from water butts and of course it will fill up naturally in the winter. Water is such a benefit to wildlife in the garden, do consider making a pond even if you don’t have one. You don’t need fish; frogs and newts will soon populate a well thought out wildlife pond, and make sure the hedgehogs can escape with a ramp on the edge.”

Lawns & Border Beds

In the Third podcast walking across the lawns and viewing the border beds Mr Ward gives tips for keeping your lawn in tip top condition by spiking and feeding it in the Autumn, or even reducing it by extending borders, planted up with insect friendly plants. He says soil preparation is key to helping your borders and beds:

“Our lawns have taken a bit of a hammering; we didn’t water at all in the summer. The Autumn is the time to spike and feed them. But do you need a lawn? or perhaps extend your borders or think about getting rid of your lawn completely and growing a different range of perennials and plants. Think about our native pollinators and solitary bees, that are in fact far more effective pollinators than honeybees. Build it and they will come.”

He explains: “Bulbs are the ideal drought-resistant plant as they are dormant in the summer. With bulbs a good tip is not to plant all your bulbs in the ground in the autumn, as it's often difficult to know where to place them. Put them in pots and then plant them in the spring. The reason being is that you can plant them exactly where they will look good and give maximum impact.

“Soil preparation and plant choice is important, even if you just dig the soil over so that young plants can get their roots into the soil. If you can add some organic matter, such as spent mushroom compost or green council waste, you will greatly improve the structure of your soil and give your plants the ideal conditions in which to establish.”

Mr Ward says gardeners should plant for the conditions of their soil and site, including drought. “There’s no need to choose plants that require lots of water. By choosing drought-resistant plants, preparing your soil well, there will be no need to water as once you water a plant will put on extra growth and it will want more water, neither do we feed those plants in the drought garden.”

He advises that there is lots of information on the website and lots of books on the subject: “There are possibilities for every situation in the garden which will reduce your water usage, save your water for your vegetables. There is no need to water an ornamental garden.”

The Beth Chatto gardens are now overseen by her granddaughter Julia Boulton. They are located at Elmstead Market, Colchester in Essex. They have a mail order service.

NB: Our photographs show David Ward in the Gardens.

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