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Preparations are vital if leaving plants now

Drought tolerant plants at Beth Chatto garden.
Drought tolerant plants at Beth Chatto garden.

June is not a good time to be away from the garden, even for the shortest of holidays.

After weeks of nurturing young plants, you’ve just turned them out into the open and they’re at the mercy of whatever the weather dishes up.

Summer bedding, plants in containers and developing vegetables, they all need a regular supply of water initially.

And if, as was the case recently, there’s a hot, dry period, you certainly need someone to keep the tomato crop going.

Thanks to a reciprocal arrangement with a good friend, the lady of the house and I recently took such a break, which involved a drive South with garden visits in mind.

But first came the thorough watering of outdoor containers and all plants recently introduced to the garden.

Ornamental pot plants, including a streptocarpus collection, were placed on a series of deep trays containing gravel.

Topping up the water level in each encourages moisture to rise into the pots via capillary attraction, and the effect can last for several days, thus lessening the workload you’re leaving behind.

From a base on the Suffolk-Essex border, we visited a handful of National Trust properties, including gardens and the delightful Flatford Mill on the River Stour.

The highlight was the renowned Beth Chatto garden, which was top of our wish list. There, we found beautifully landscaped, undulating acres, with broad lawns linking water gardens, trees and sumptuous mixed borders teeming with variety.

Not a single plant support was noted amongst the herbaceous perennials, but close planting seemed to work. Nor were any labels visible so we faced the pleasant challenge of identification. There were oddities, such as the tall swamp cypress with its tell-tale, knobbly-kneed roots protruding at ground level.

The scree garden housed a large collection of alpines, and a huge gravel garden featured drought-tolerant species, which are never watered. Forms of the ornamental grass stipa, tall verbascum and Mount Etna broom (Genista aetnensis) appeared to be thriving.

Superb vistas and oodles of photographic opportunities sums it up well, but oh their continuing drought, betrayed by large brown patches of grass where footfall is greatest.

The long drive home was all the sweeter for thoughts of digging the first haul of potatoes, picking the first strawberries and seeing if any of the tomatoes had ripened yet.

The result was: yes, yes, no!