Chris Bonnett is the founder and CEO of Gardening Express
If your garden is looking really sad and burnt out after the last few days of hot weather, it could be time to consider some new plant choices in your garden – plants that will not only survive, but thrive in hot, sunny dry conditions. They’ll need watering when freshly planted until established, but once they’ve got roots down into your own soil, they can take a lot of neglect, and pretty much any weather that’s thrown at them. It’s not all arid desert plants and palm trees either – there are even flowers that will grow in challenging conditions. Being in Britain, we’ll also need plants that can handle weather at the other end of the thermometer when temperatures plummet too – so I’ve selected six of the best below.
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Mediterranean Fan Palm – Chamaerops humilis (heat tolerance rating 10/10)
In its natural habitat, this palm is naturally found as far north as the coast of France, but all over the Mediterranean in what might be deemed as typical tourist hot spots. You may well have seen it on your holidays, and it’s a certainty you have even just grown at the roadside on the French and Italian riviera.
All this means it will easily handle intense heat well, yet also be right at home when temperatures drop to as low as -13c in winter.
The Mediterranean Fan Palm can be used as a beautiful specimen plant on its own or combined with any number of tropical and jungle-style plants. Perhaps you want to go for the minimalist Mediterranean look combining the plant with olive trees for example. Left unpruned it grows into an attractive shrubby form, given an occasional trim up, it will grow into a single-trunked tree.
Both options provide an architectural element in any garden setting. It’s also ideal in a container for a patio, deck, or balcony – and will forgive you if you forget to water that pot from time to time.
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Ornamental Sage – Salvia nemorosa – (heat tolerance rating 9/10)
There’s a vast array of Salvias to choose from, including the well-known herb Sage. For ornamental purposes, how about the nemorosa type, ‘Caradonna’ with midnight blue-purple flowers or ‘Rose Queen’ with soft baby pink blooms.
These are going to thrive in poorer, well-drained soils that are often a real challenge, they’ll bloom from late June all through the summer and into autumn. You can dead-head the spent stems to encourage the plants to throw up even more, yet they’ll only reach 60-80cms tall so are well behaved in any garden border.
In winter they’ll migrate to a clump at ground level (hardly surprising when they’re reputedly tolerant to temperatures as low as -40c) only to re-emerge each spring and do it all again whilst they tolerate temperatures into the 30’s+ with ease.
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Tree Hollyhock – Hibiscus syriacus – (Heat tolerance rating 9.5/10)
With flower options of blue, white, pink and purple, plus combinations of all those, and double-flowered forms too, there is plenty to love about Hibiscus – yet they remain underused in gardens and landscapes across the UK.
Hopefully, the weather we’ve been having is set to change. They are very easy to grow and low maintenance, requiring absolutely no attention, and to top it all, are one of the most prolific flowering shrubs from mid-late summer into the autumn.
They’ll make magnificent, hardy, erect ‘tree hollyhock’ shrubs with bright green leaves coming to their own when many other shrubs are looking tired, so really are perfect to continue displays from mid-summer.
Try the variety ‘Marina’ for trumpet-shaped blue flowers with a darker centre, or perhaps the powder puff bloomed ‘Pink Chiffon’ for pastel pink flowers that look like a ruffled silk blouse. Fully hardy to as low as -18c, so there are no winter worries. Give Hibiscus a well-drained sunny spot.
Allium senescens Millenium (heat tolerance rating 10/10)
This is now possibly my favourite Allium – not for its size, but for its sheer flower power and continual blooming all summer long. I’ve been growing this one since 2005 in my own garden, so it’s certainly stood the test of time with me and has now picked up wider acclaim in recent years by the horticultural trade a large – they sell it under the name ‘Millennium’, about the time I first grew the plant and started the Gardening Express nursery – so it’s very apt.
There’s a huge swathe of these thriving in the 40-degree heat outside my office as I pen this column, all bursting into flower, and I know we can enjoy that skeptical at least until September, their fleshy leaves show no sign of wilting in the heat.
It has proved to be a very well-behaved plant and provides great value and interest flowering for weeks on end in summer. It’s highly attractive to bees and butterflies too. Forming a tight clump, it will throw up numerous strong stems each around 60cms tall and topped with a head of soft purple-pink flowers.
Alliums are the unsung heroes of every Chelsea flower show in recent memory, but with millenniums, the flowers keep coming and going on over a very long period, months, in fact, making this deserving of a place in any garden.
It’s even perfectly edible as other Alliums, and can be used as an interesting addition to your summer salads or a stir fry! I’m told it can handle -35c, but have not put that to the test – so I’ll play it safe and advise you -20 in the winter, which should cover all of the UK.
Senecio Angels Wings (heat tolerance rating 7/10)
There is something quite spectacular about the appearance of this plant, you can really see how it got the name Angels Wings. It’s not the hardiest when it comes to winter, only handling around -5c, but summer is no problem for it.
The attraction here is the angel’s wing-like leaves, they’re very unusual and eye-catching, huge and silvery grey-white, each with a texture of soft velvet – people find them irresistible to touch. An evergreen perennial, it will very rarely produce a few yellow flowers, but this one is all about the foliage.
Angels Wings originate from the Patagonia region of Chile in South America, close to the coast, meaning if you’ve got a coastal garden it’s a great choice thanks to its tolerance of salt winds. It’s a beauty but can be short-lived if we do get some really wet weather, so perhaps grow in a pot and move to a protected area for winter if you can.
Torbay Palm – Cordyline australis (heat tolerance rating 8/10)
Cordylines are very architectural, tough, and hardy. They’ll form an attractive plant with sword-shaped long leaves from the top to the bottom of a central stem, making for a most unusual-looking specimen plant, over the years forming a trunk.
Architectural in appearance, this extraordinary plant is ideally suited for patio containers or a balcony.
It is hardy and likes to grow in a bright sunny position on well-drained soil. The best bit is you can get them in fresh green, variegated, pink flushed and crimson-burgundy colour.
All will form a trunk over time, so you can achieve a fully mature palm on your balcony or patio, thriving in the heat, winter temperatures here are -7 for the Pink ones and lower for the greens and reds. Ideal specimens for a jungle or tropical-themed garden.