Planting inspiration for sun-baked gardens

Do you have a hot, sunny garden with soil that always seems to dry out? Well, lucky you, because there are loads of gorgeous plants that absolutely love these conditions

This selection of inspirational ideas for choosing and using the right plants shows just how much variety is available – and if you'd like to see them for yourself, why not visit the Dry Garden at RHS Garden Hyde Hall, which hasn’t been watered since 2001!

How plants cope with dry conditions

Plants have evolved various ways of coping with hot, dry conditions. Leaves can give you a big clue: if they’re spiky, strappy, silvery, furry, waxy, scented or needle-like then the plant is likely to enjoying growing in full sun.

And if a plant’s leaves have two of these qualities (such as the silvery, scented foliage of lavender), then it’s pretty much certain to be a sun-worshipper and not mind going dry from time to time. 

The Dry Garden at RHS Garden Hyde Hall in Essex is full of drought-tolerant plants
Stachys and Stipa

The wonderful thing about these adaptations to heat and drought is that they give plants amazing personalities, full of interesting colour, texture and form. In the garden you can use this to your advantage: mix up plants with different attributes for best impact. The furry grey leaves and flowers of lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) contrast beautifully with the fine-textured golden upright sheaves of Mexican feather grass, Stipa tenuissima.

Mimicking the Mediterranean

Many scented plants love hot, dry conditions – think of lavenders and rosemary growing wild on sun-baked Mediterranean hillsides. Grow them next to paths so you can easily brush past their aromatic leaves or sniff their perfumed flowers with ease.

Many grasses and bulbs work well in sun-baked gardens
Gravel mulch keeps down weeds
Verbascums and fan palms evoke sunny climes

Keep your Mediterranean theme going by using a gravel mulch – this makes everything look smarter and helps keep the weeds down too. If your soil is heavy and bakes like concrete in summer, digging in some gravel can help loosen it up, making it easier for plants to grow and thrive.

Use the conditions to your advantage – a hot, sunny spot means you can grow plants that might not survive elsewhere, such as palms, succulents and acacias. Growing plants that are suited to your conditions means less work for you and better results from your garden.

Evergreen plants such as Mediterranean cypresses work well in this kind of scheme – they look great all year and their needle-like, fragrant leaves mean they’re superbly adapted to drought and heat.

Hot dry sites are ideal places to try out exotic plants
'Skyrocket' junipers add strong vertical accents

If your garden isn’t big enough to fit one, try an upright juniper like ‘Skyrocket’ instead. Other evergreens like box and rosemary can be clipped into topiary shapes to give structure and solidity and ‘anchor’ plantings on a smaller scale.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.