about this blog



I started this blog in 2008. It started mainly as a way of tracking the evolution of my dry garden, and that led to an interest in photography and in the creatures that live in the garden. It's still about the garden and wildlife, but now my passion is thinking about how we humans can learn to co-exist with wild animals and plants, especially in urban areas.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

even dry gardeners need to water sometimes



The drought seems to have broken for the time being, in Melbourne anyway, but why waste precious water resources when you don't need to? I love the challenge of establishing a sustainable dry garden, that I can leave when I go away, and that I don't need to bother watering.  

Dry gardening is not necessarily an easy option. It doesn't just mean planting the garden, then watching it grow. It is important to choose dry tolerant plants, but that alone won't ensure success.


You have to nurture the soil.

Remember that most of the plant is not visible to us because it is below the ground. The larger the plant the larger underground the root system, and the less likely surface watering will be effective.

When it does rain, the water barely penetrates hard, dry, compacted soils. As a growing medium, the best healthy soil is dark, crumbly, alive with micro-organisms like animals, fungi and bacteria. Such soil is best left undisturbed, just mulched.



Some gardeners seem to be able to establish a pretty permanent structure for their gardens, so maybe they don't need to disturb the soil much. Not me. I'm always digging things up and moving things around.  So ...  my beautiful soil gets stressed at best, at worst turns to dust.

Dust is turned into soil by the addition of compost and worm juice, and you can also buy soil conditioners. One that I bought recently and recommend is Diggers Club Biochar, described as 'an environmentally beneficial carbon sequestering soil conditioner.'  It works. The soil has turned black and hospitable again.

Even dry gardeners need to water sometimes. I water plants when I first plant or move them. For the first summer I watch them. If they droop I may drip water them overnight. Grow baby, grow, I croon encouragingly. Sometimes I think they hold back on growing because they don't trust me, knowing that as soon as they get their roots comfy, chances are I'll dig them up and they'll have to start over again. I am a caring gardener, but in a hard, ruthless way. 



When you need to water, do it drippingly, infrequently, and deeply.

Like everyone else I need a hose. When I received an offer to trial a new hose for Toro Australia, I accepted. This hose is marketed as anti-kink. And it is. It's not completely kink-free. Nothing's perfect. But it hardly ever kinks, and when it does, it is easy to pull it straight. Which saves time, energy and high levels of frustration. There a funny ad for it on Youtube.




In my daughter's garden I trialled an irrigation kit made by Pope. It's aimed at gardeners growing vegetables in raised garden beds. Years ago I tried to instal a watering system, but it didn't work in my cottage garden because the plants kept coming and going and moving around, so the drippers never seemed to be in the right place. This one is easy to instal, and since it is above ground, easy to move around. You can also adjust or close individual drippers. Very clever design. 










24 comments:

  1. A garden you don't have to worry about, soundsgreat! It must be well planned, but it's rewarding. Happy weekend, Catmint!

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    1. so-o-o rewarding, but I still worry about the garden. Happy weekend to you too, Satu.

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  2. I agree, go with the conditions that you have. Plants here only get watered the first year (2 for trees)but we are the opposite, very heavy clay which holds onto the water. We are on a water meter so have to pay for every drop that comes out of the tap. Any watering has to be done from our water butts, it has worked so far thank goodness!

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    1. hi pauline, i guess the fact that it's expensive is a constant reminder that it is a valuable resource not be wasted. That heavy clay soil sounds a challenge. Anyway - congrats - your garden looks divine!

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  3. Most of my plants need little to no supplemental watering once established. The big exception came last year when we had a horrendous drought. I just couldn't bear to see my guys wilting in the heat, so I gave in and watered.

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    1. Hi Jason, thanks for very interesting comment. I think as drought becomes the new normal, we are going to have to make hard choices.

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  4. You bring up an important point to water retention - the soil! I, too, dig a lot in my garden. Poor plants! I hadn't thought about what that was doing to the soil!

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    1. dear Holley, your plants looks so happy and healthy, you couldn't be making them suffer soil deprivation. They'd let you know. Btw, I miss participating in your book club - hope to be able to get organized soon and get back to it.

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  5. It's a treat to see things blooming in your garden, catmint! Spring appears to be dragging its feet this year but I did manage to get two new roses planted yesterday.

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    1. 2 new roses - how divine - hope they grow well and produce lots of gorgeous flowers for you.

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  6. I also water sparingly... as I tend to move things a lot, I have to water things in for a while but after the first year the plants get plenty of snow and water and thrive on their own here...we are lucky here with water but another drought like last year will be trouble for my garden.

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    1. Hi Donna, it's great that your plants can thrive on their own, that's what I'm always aiming for, sustainability. But the climate's changing, and next year's weather is hard to predict. I guess that's why gardening's never boring!

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  7. You are so right! To have beautiful plants, make beautiful soil! We have a strange climate here; it rains a lot from October until about July 5th every year. July - September usully don't have any rain at all. Because we get so much water in the winter, I don't mind having a few areas that need water in the summer but most of my garden is fairly drought tolerant.

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    1. hi tog, that is a strange climate, but you've obviously adapted to it.

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  8. Hi Catmint! I'd like to try the Diggers Club Biochar.
    The soil I work with isn't even really soil; it's sand. Everything's getting better, but it will take years and kind climatic conditions before things here get to be really green.
    I like that you work with what you've got, that you're not forcing it to be other than what it is.
    And you do that, and you have a good, organic design.

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    1. dear faisal, I think there are plants that like sandy soil. Can you mainly grow them? I think we can't change things too much, even if we want to.

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  9. I am so glad you posted this. So many encourage planting drought resistant plants and don't mention that they cannot live without water or improved soil structure. The plants might linger, but not meet potential. Too often those touting the benefits, unwittingly don't mention the plants do need some care.

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    1. hi donna, it's when plants linger, not meeting their potential, that there's a dilemma, whether to get rid of them or not. If they die, then at least you know where you stand!

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  10. It’s interesting what you say about watering systems, I have been thinking about installing one in my garden, but the initial cost has stopped me for now. Also, with so many dismal summers in a row here in Britain it hasn’t really been that necessary. I have found a system here though, with just one long, perforated black hose that you weave around your plants from one end of your garden to another – something I might look into if we ever get a normal summer again.

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    1. hi helene, that hose sounds effective, and simple. Will we ever get a normal summer again? What's normal now?

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  11. Very often the reverse is the case here catmint. More often than not I look for plants that enjoy wet conditions, like Hostas, ferns, Astilbes etc.

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    1. hi alastair, all the things that i can't grow. That's why I'm always surprised when you grow things that i grow. Which does happen occasionally. I guess some plants are very un-fussy about their growing conditions. Or maybe by the time they've made it so far south or so far north, they're so confused they'll put their roots anywhere.

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  12. The only watering system I have is my Soaker Hose Super Highway, that coils around my garden beds. It's very easy to pull up and rearrange when I redesign a bed. I don't have a permanent system, either. I think the biggest lesson all gardeners learn is that you have to feed the soil if you want success. I'm always looking for plants that can thrive in dry soil. They make life so much easier! :o)

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    1. Hi Tammy, I agree - makes life easier and garden - caring enjoyable and relaxing.

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