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Gardeners told to try the dry life for a splash of colour

Dust bowl: Cultivate a taste for Mediterranean plants and acres of paving ready for drought, the water companies warn

Gardeners attacking their borders this weekend should bury their desire for a Venetian sunken garden. The garden of the future is more of a Gobi desert in the grounds, with Mediterranean herb borders.

Despite one of the coldest, wettest Mays in memory, low cumulative levels of rainfall mean that the traditional British garden, complete with verdant lawn, bedding plants and vegetable patch may soon take on a slightly less lush appearance.

Earlier this month customers in the Severn Trent area were advised to pave over lawns in stead of watering them to conserve water.

And this week more than 200,000 households in Sussex faced an indefinite ban on the use of sprinklers. Southern Water yesterday insisted on water meters for those with sprinklers and swimming pools, saying the shortage of rain has made the situation more critical than it was in drought-ridden 1976.

In anticipation of another long, dry summer the company is urging gardeners to swap thirsty English flowers for plants from hot countries to reduce water consumption.

It has sent out 33,000 leaflets suggesting that customers buy plants from arid climates - such as yuccas - to cut down on the use of hosepipes and sprinklers, and reduce the need for water restrictions.

"Last summer there was a hosepipe ban in part of the region and we were conscious that it was inconvenient to gardeners," said a spokeswoman.

"We wrote to all customers in the Spring before any possibility of water restrictions. Leaflets were sent out in response to requests on a freephone number. In addition to that we have made leaflets available through garden centres. We wanted to make sure that people were able to enjoy their gardens," she said.

The leaflet, illustrated with a picture of a giant cactus, has been written by Meridian television gardener Richard Jackson. As well as advocating drought-friendly plants such as yucca, sage and lavender, he advocates filling the traditionally empty areas between flowers with mulch to prevent moisture-loss.

Bedding plants, pride of gardens everywhere, will be less welcome in the "dry" garden, as will fragrant camelias, rhododendrons and azaleas, all of which thrive in the damp, he said yesterday.

"People are already having problem with their buds falling off these plants after a summer of dry conditions," he said.

According to Doug Parsons of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, areas such as the vegetable patch are also unlikely to benefit.

"The most subject to drought conditions is the cauliflower and the Brassica range, which includes cabbages," he said. "Potatoes initially don't need any water, but do once they're marble sized."

Ironically, it may be the laziest gardeners who benefit most from the drier conditions.

"A lot of people nowadays want labour-free gardens and they're planting shrubs - which don't require a lot of water because they search for it - and laying mulch on the surface to cut down on weeds," Mr Parsons said. "In drought conditions, they will do very well."

At risk in dry




Thrive in drought