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Drought and heatwave damage in gardens

Saxifrage and Oxalis in an unwatered part of the garden, July 2018
Saxifrage and Oxalis in an unwatered part of the garden, July 2018

Take a philosophical view of extreme heat and dryness

After two and a half months of negligible rain and high temperatures, it’s inevitable that there would be some damage to the garden.

Where I live (Gateshead, Tyne and Wear), I’m used to it being relatively dry – in the rain shadow of the Pennines and far enough inland not to get many coastal showers or fog.

However, any brief showers have bypassed my garden, bar one drizzly patch last week that barely wet the pavement.

It’s a good time to reread Monty Don’s Buddhist approach to gardening and accept there will be losses and victories in a gardening year.

I only water with a hose when I have to (no hosepipe ban at the time of writing, once a week maximum, only where needed) and part of the garden isn’t touched at all and fends for itself. The focus is on pots and newly planted shrubs, roses and perennials – they will die if you don’t water them.

Not helping the situation was Storm Hector when I was on holiday, which shredded the raspberries and made the soil dry out even more quickly.

For more on dealing with droughts, read my earlier report.

Here’s where the damage is worst:

Big-leaved and specimen plants

Rheum (ornamental rhubarb), Rodgersia and Ligularia like semi shade, moisture and shelter from winds, so have been particularly unhappy.

Bamboo Fargesia Pingwu growing in a barrel, despite copious watering, still has tell-tale dried-up leaves.

Herbaceous perennials

Several Rudbeckia in tall zinc pots weren’t watered when I was away, so looked half dead but has recovered well with careful watering and removing withered stems.

Lysimachia and Campanula carpatica are handy space fillers or ground cover where little else will grow but both are showing severe signs of drought stress.

In the unwatered top of the garden, Oxalis, Saxifrage and Achillea are all suffering.

Perennial sunflowers (Helianthus) droop at the drop of a hat, so they’re looking awful.


The Abyssinian pink banana’s leaves were scorched – I cut off the worst affected and stood it by the open doorway in lower temperatures and some shade. It’s already made up in new leaves what I removed.


Shredded and snapped raspberries and the strawberries‘ leaves are colouring up (in a bad way).

Shrubs, roses

The rambling rose and purple Berberis have severe doses of downy mildew, only to be expected in the dryness.

Even the utterly robust Fatsia japonica is shedding leaves like there’s no tomorrow.

Start praying for a steady and prolonged spell of rain, just in time for the school summer holidays!



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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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