Growbag Blog

Here’s to the survivors!

three sisters sitting together

There have been some extremes of weather in many necks of many woods this summer, have there not!  Two of the3Growbags have been dealing with weeks of drought and heat. 

Caroline has contended with something altogether WETTER in her Highland realm but given the steep topography of her garden we still let her contribute to this post on how plants are faring without water…


I’ve refrained from watering any part of my flower garden this year – if we’re going to get more very dry summers like this in the future, there is little point in giving the strugglers false hope.  (I hasten to add that I have also refrained from planting anything new in them. Any new purchases have remained, nurtured, in their pots, until the autumn-planting season.) So it’s plain to see which plants are shrugging off the drought with a carefree waft of flowers, and which are as thirsty and gaunt as desert-travellers.

Hibiscus appears to be content with the situation.  While abutilons and callicarpas are puffing and gasping like old ladies on Senior Service ciggies, all the hibiscus bushes are looking fresh, green and full of flower. I have a few in different colours including one glorying in the name of ‘Purple Ruffles Sanchoyo’.

Hibiscus ‘Purple Ruffles Sanchoyo’ – cheerfully shrugging off the dry heat

Hyelotelephium is my next choice – even though I still find myself endlessly referring to it as sedum. Their succulent foliage seems to love a good baking, and be as full of flowers and buds as ever. Utterly fabulous for the butterflies and pollinators of course, and I adore the darker-leaved kinds like ‘ Karfunkelstein’ and the rich flower-shades of ‘Red Cauli’.

Hyelotelphium ‘Karfunkelstein’ great name, great in the heat!

Agapanthus is my third pick – if EVER there was a plant who always wants the summer to be a scorcher, it is this one. Its pedigree as a heat-loving South African means that it can happily flaunt its lovely starburst flowers in arid sunny conditions (I have found, though, that if you are able to give them some water sometimes, they flower even more eagerly.)

Agapanthus – a South African happy in the heat of the day

So, there you are, three plants that would be good choices if, as seems frighteningly possible, we are going to get more and more summers like this one. Laura will probably point you in the direction of a few more that bask in the heat, and then we’ll hear from Caroline, who has a very different sort of summer……..


Agreed Elaine, my garden is now the horticultural equivalent of the ‘survivors breakfast’ after a particularly raucous May Ball (or maybe a Lioness celebration bash…) with only the very hard core element still standing.

Herbaceous borders, which seemed so full of promise in the spring, now resemble desolate battlefields of withered rodgersias, phlox and eupatoriums that I am too embarrassed to look at let alone put up a photo of.

Scorched border
I pressed the upload button from behind the sofa, my so-called herbaceous border (Caroline will be loving this)

Erigeron – But there are a few beacons of light amongst scorched debris, the little Mexican fleabane, Erigeron karvinksianus, is the gardening equivalent of a cockroach and would probably survive a nuclear attack, but I have only just discovered it’s much taller sister Erigeron annuus, an equally doughty self seeder which has looked fresh and gay throughout the heatwave.

Erigeron annuus
Erigeron annuus waving gaily amongst the tree poppies even when the temp hit 39 degrees

Oleander – The award for the pluckiest pot plant goes to the oleander, which has flowered beautifully over a long period in a tiny pot with only the occasional slurp of grey water. I have noticed large oleanders being planted outdoors now in the posher new urban housing developments down here in the south, so more evidence of climate change as a plant we only used to see on Spanish holidays is going mainstream in the overheated UK.

Nerium oleander
Nerium oleander raised from seed given to me from Louise from a plant in her mother’s garden – its cultivar name lost down the mists of time…

Billardiera longiflora – My third choice is a little left of centre and will no doubt cement my sisters’ opinion that I am not quite normal, but a couple of years ago I planted this obscure climber Billardiera longiflora (a native of Tasmanian rain forests) in a tiny planting pocket at the foot of a creosoted telegraph pole in a hoggin driveway in a rain shadow of the overhanging ledge of our woodshed, and it is absolutely thriving …..

Balliardiera longiflora
Balliardiera longiflora has unobtrusive milky white flowers which turn into these stunning purple berries by mid summer earning its common name of purple apple berry.

There are other shrubs, bulbs and climbers that have earned their spurs in the heatwave so Elaine and I, in a rare act of sisterly unity, have compiled a list of those that have been tried and tested in our gardens and come out with the Growbags’ drought tolerant kite mark – the link to our Climate Change Rescue Package is at the end of the blog.


Well, well, the horticultural hares have come a cropper while this north-based tortoise has her day in the sun or rather rain. We’ve had a downpour at least every 24 hours since the snow melted. I’ve so enjoyed irritating my sisters with daily videos of my gurgling drainpipes and patio puddles but to be fair my sodden roses and yet-to-flower cosmos are proof that every weather pattern has its challenges.

I do have though some insight into drought-loving plants, because at its summit my vertiginous garden is as dry as the Serengeti Desert despite the rainfall. So here are my recommendations:

Lavender – gifted to me by Laura it’s thriving at the very top of my steps. It has the place to itself because being very poor soil and as dry as a cork, nothing else (not even my endemic ground elder!) is very keen to grow there. 

Quite happy with the least favourite location in my garden, three cheers for lavender.

Nepeta – or cat mint to me. I have two and this is by far the best, over-achieving in nothing more than dry powder. It requires so little moisture or care it seems almost epiphytic (are you impressed? Basically it means it can grow on nothing but air). It’s a motivational TED talk in its own right.

Nepeta gives us all a lesson on overcoming adversity . Mine can’t get enough of it!

Potentilla – slightly dull the rest of the year, this one is currently flowering its socks off for the second month in succession with zero attention. Yes, these little shrubs with their plethora of tiny leaves are perfectly equipped for a dry future (I’m not by the way). 

Potentilla – perfect if you’re planning for an arid future. I’m not on any sort of level.

I can’t resist leaving you with a picture of my eupatorium. It’s nearly seven foot tall now – drinking up the rain. I shall have to send a little division to Laura in the spring to replace her shrivelled up Eupatorium corpse. Sad face.

I don’t want to compound Laura’s misery but just look at my wonderfully ginormous Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed).

If you would like to see the list we’ve put together of plants we have found to do well in hot, dry conditions, click this link to our Climate Change Rescue Package.

The link to Elaine’s video of a short walk through her garden to see how her plants are faring in the drought is here.

Meanwhile Louise’s collection of clematis have had varying fortunes in the hot, dry summer but she has picked out one of her best performers as her plant of the moment. Click on the box below to find out what it is.

More NB If you’re not already a subscriber and you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

4 replies on “Here’s to the survivors!”

Great article we are South of England too and look like nothing on earth. I think the saving grace for some plants, shrubs, trees is the cool nights that we are having and the trees in our arboretum definitely have caught the dew. My shrub that has given me most pleasure and still romping on is Sambucus Black Lace. I have several dotted round the place and they continue to hold their own amid the very droopy perennials like phlox and others. Well done we love your articles! By the way the tree in our arboretum which is not good is a copper beech, obviously shallow rooted. Catalpa aurea stand out success!

Hi Cleone, thank you for writing in. You’re absolutely right – I have several Sambucus ‘Black Lace’ too, and they are looking very, very happy – I should have put them on our list, and will do so right now! I also have Physocarpus ‘Lady in Red’, doing much the same job as the Sambucus of providing vibrant foliage among the perennials – that shrub is weathering the drought pretty well too. We are really glad you like our articles – keep passing on the message – we are always keen to grow our gang! Best wishes, Elaine

I also have the Physocarpus ‘Ladfy in Red” and nearly mentioned it too so I’m so glad you did! Keep it up just read this weeks full of ideas as always a satureday high with breakfast! Many thanks

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