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Embrace the summer heat

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Choose resilient water-wise, Mediterranean-style plants for your garden to withstand the hot and dry climate

Gardening in a hot, dry summer has become an art. Now is the time to choose climate-tolerant plants for your garden this summer. Mediterranean-style plants are among the most amenable climate-tolerant plants for water-wise gardeners.

The Western Cape region of South Africa, coastal California, the south-western coast of Australia, central Chile and countries around the Mediterranean Basin are all defined as Mediterranean climate regions. In these regions, no rain, light or infrequent rain falls in summer.

These plants are used to dry summers and are naturally drought-tolerant in the heat. Follow our guide for choosing water-wise, Mediterranean-style plants in your garden this summer.

Garden style

Whether your garden is level or on a slope, is exposed to wind or enclosed, has sandy or clay soil, will determine the style and the plantings. A level plot can be made more interesting with small “hills” and depressions that, rather than allowing water run-off, will allow water to soak into the soil.

A slope is an opportunity to grow a waterwise type of garden that requires a sunny aspect, good air circulation and well-drained soil. Include a meandering path and flat rocks as seats.

Thirsty lawns can be replaced with ground-covers, gravel, bark chips or nuggets. If you use a permeable weed-suppressing membrane, this will restrict weeds and plants from spreading. Without a liner, plants will not be as restricted and will be able to spread and grow, but so will weeds.

While the traditional border is high maintenance and has high water needs, it can be adapted to a more water-wise approach with loose and flowing plantings of hardy plants, chosen for their form and texture that are as important as colour.

To be able to enjoy and relax in your summer-dry garden, shade is a necessity. Where there is no space for a tree, a pergola shaded by a water-wise vine is a pleasant alternative. Style and plantings There are many ways of covering the ground, always allowing for some restful spaces.

A base of plants of varying textures that grow in carpets and mats, in bumps and mounds, in shades of green and silver-grey, play an important if somewhat muted role in a planting scheme.

Once the base planting is done, it is time to introduce plants of varying heights, and shapes – spires of kniphofia, flat-topped achillea, globe-shaped echinops, fans of dietes, paddle-shaped leaves and crane-like flowers of the crane flower (Strelitzia reginae) and umbels of agapanthus.

Texture and form

Blue umbels of the indigenous agapanthus signal the height of summer. Picture: Etienne Cremer

Many of the plants from summer-dry regions have grey and silvery leaves that reflect the sun’s rays (lavender), hairy leaves that lessen the drying effect of wind (lamb’s ears), leathery or waxy leaves that help lessen water loss (cistus), thin, needle-like leaves that reduce the surface area (rosemary) and succulent leaves, stems and roots that store water (aloe).

There are the structural forms of aloes and proteas, of cylindrical leaves of the crane flower (Strelitzia juncea) and of the spekboom (Portulacaria afra), known to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

The circular whorls of orange, apricot or cream flowers of upright lion’s ear (Leonotis leonurus) and nectar-rich tubular flowers of the Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) will bring birds, butterflies and bees to pollinate your garden. Orange pride of de Kaap (Bauhinia galpinii) forms thickets that provide birds with nesting sites.

Add texture and movement with feathery gongoni grass (Aristida junciformis), the arching grass-like leaves and tiny white starry flowers of weeping anthericum (Chlorophytum saundersiae), and the soft evergreen foliage of Australian basket grass (Lomandra longifolia). Blue festuca (Festuca glauca), with silver-blue foliage, forms neat mounds and is an excellent ground cover when massed.

Versatile lavenders can be grown as a low, clipped hedge, in a gravel garden, a scented garden, a herb garden, edging a pathway or encircling a sundial, planted in drifts under olive trees, randomly among perennial grasses and in meadow gardens.


Flowers appear on the pride of de Kaap (Bauhinia galpinii) from December. Picture: Lukas Otto

Brighten a verge with yellow euryops and blue felicia daisies. Alongside a driveway group clusters of Australian anigozanthos (kangaroo paw) with fuzzy funnel-shaped red flowers, and under-planted with a carpet of upward curving leaves of blue chalk sticks (Senecio talinoides var. mandraliscae), previously Senecio mandraliscae.

An idea for a border: vertical interest with Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and blue agapanthus, orange achillea with ferny green foliage and long-lasting flat flower heads and blanket flower gaillardia, and edge with feathery grey-green mounds of santolina and catmint (nepeta).

An orange wall is a great background contrast for tall indigo agapanthus or giant purple statice (Limonium perezii) from the Canary Islands. Echo a coral-coloured wall with the different forms and textures of golden sedum (Sedum nussbaumerianum), firesticks (Euphorbia tirucalli), grass-like burn jelly plant (Bulbine frutescens) and Carex “Frosted Curls”. 


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