Drought tolerant plants

Dark purple agapanthus in container

Drought tolerant plants not only just look good, they’re low maintenance
Image: Agapanthus ‘Black Jack’ (RHS 2023 Chelsea Winner) from Thompson & Morgan

There are lots of good reasons to grow drought tolerant plants. During hot summers the need for frequent watering is time consuming. Not to mention costly to the environment and your pocket too, should rainfall in your area fail to keep up with demand.

We asked The Sunday Gardener, Carol Bartlett, her advice on drought tolerant plants. Here are some of her all time favourites, some of which positively thrive on neglect…


Tough plants for tough places

Sedum 'Herbstfreude' in a garden

Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’ is ideal for poor soil and dry conditions
Image: Peter Turner Photography

Many people have a tough spot in their garden – too dry, too shady, or just too exposed to be able to easily grow plants that will thrive. Others have damp, boggy areas or frost pockets that present challenges to plant life. 

We asked The Sunday Gardener, Carol Bartlett, to share her expert advice on tough plants for tough locations. Here are some of her top suggestions for plants with the stamina and staying power to fill your tricky spots.

Shrubs for exposed areas

Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’ from Thompson & Morgan

The silvery variegated foliage of euonymus brings all year round interest to tricky corners
Image: Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’ from Thompson & Morgan

A blustery corner of the garden could be the ideal spot for a tough shrub such as cotoneaster. There are lots of different varieties in this group of shrubs, and an ideal sized variety that grows to around 2.5m is C. Amoenus. It’s tolerant of all soil types and copes well with partial shade and blustery conditions. An evergreen shrub, its lovely white flowers in the late spring and early summer are attractive to bees.

These are followed in the autumn and winter with masses of red berries – a feast for wild birds, and especially loved by blackbirds. It’s a tough shrub and will grow wherever you plant it, except in wet conditions.

Another tough shrub which is very hardy and tolerant of most conditions is elaeagnus. Most attractive are those with variegated leaves such as ‘Limelight’ and ‘Gilt Edge’ which has the RHS award of garden merit. Equally tough, with bright variegation is Euonymus fortunei. ‘Emerald and Green’ which has golden green leaves, and ‘Emerald Gaiety’ with white and green variations are good varieties to grow.

If you’re looking for a tough shrub with flowers, Viburnum tinus is an ideal choice. It has pretty, white-tinged, pale pink flowers in the spring and it tolerates most soil conditions, sun and shade.

Buddleja davidii is another hardy and easy to grow shrub that’s tolerant of all conditions, except wet and boggy soils. Buddleja is often called the ‘butterfly bush’ as its aromatic flowers attract a wide variety of butterflies into the garden.

Grasses for exposed areas

Carpet of pink achillea

A carpet of achillea is the perfect partner for grasses
Image: The Sunday Gardener

As an alternative to shrubs, you might like to try some of the hardier plants and grasses, but bear in mind that windy positions will cause tall grasses like Cortaderia selloana (Pampas grass) and Miscanthus to shed their lovely plumes.

Stipa tenuissima (Mexican feather grass) is an attractive, compact grass that grows to around 35cm. Ideal in harsher conditions, and with masses of soft fluffy plumes, it combines beautifully with achillea in a dry spot. Achillea’s large, flat, long-lasting flower heads continue to look good as the flowers fade.

Another plant that combines well with shrubs or grasses is nepeta. Tougher than lavender, and tolerant of different conditions including semi-shade and damp, it brings clouds of blue to your borders, from pale mauve through to deep indigo.

For excellent ground cover and as an edging for paths, Alchemilla mollis tolerates full sun, full shade and everything in between. Extremely hardy (to -20 degrees C) and tolerant of all soil types, it’s an ideal plant for tough areas. However, you’ll need to keep it in check as it’s vigorous, almost to the point of being invasive.

Plants for dry soils and rockeries

In dry poor soils, or for the small spaces between paving slabs and in rockeries, Erigeron karvinskianus is an excellent choice with its lovely pale pink and white daisy-like flowers. It will grow in many awkward areas and, once established, re-appears reliably each year.

Equally tolerant of dry conditions, if provided with a sunny spot, is sedum. This group of plants contains many different varieties including larger, upright specimens such as Herbstfreude with its familiar red and rosy pink flowers so loved by pollinators, to tiny ground-hugging plants with small but attractive flowers.

Plants for dry shade

English ivy in a garden

English ivy is a native plant loved by wildlife
Image: The Sunday Gardener

One of the trickiest conditions to successfully garden, and requiring a very tough plant, is dry shade. I recommend trying vinca, commonly known as periwinkle, which has lovely blue flowers to brighten up the gloomy areas.

Equally happy in these conditions is the English ivy Hedera helix. When mature this plant produces late autumn flowers that provide high quality nectar for bees and pollinators just when they need it, before winter hibernation. The flowers are then followed by purple berries loved by blackbirds, thrushes, blackcaps and wood pigeons. It’s a native plant with great wildlife value, as is Hawthorn, which will also tolerate difficult conditions.

With stunning lime green foliage, euphorbia is another ideal plant for dry shade. Varieties such as Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae retains its lovely fresh, lime green leaves and combines well with the blue flowers of Vinca to provide bright colour in a dry shady area.

Plants for damp shade

Hosta in a garden

Slug-resistant varieties of hosta thrive in damp shade
Image: The Sunday Gardener

A tough condition that’s slightly easier to accommodate is damp shade. One of my favourite stand out plants for a darker damp corner is Astilbe. The strong white plumes of Astilbe ‘Professor van der Wielen’ are particularly good.

Astilbe combines well with ferns and hostas which thrive in damp shade. Try planting some of the more slug-resistant hostas such as Big Daddy, Gold Regal, Liberty, Halcyon, and Silvery Slugproof to keep the pests away.

Conservatory flowers

Geranium ‘Moulin Rouge’ F1 Hybrid

Smothered in scarlet blooms, this was the most outstanding pelargonium in T&M’s trials
Image: Geranium ‘Moulin Rouge’ F1 Hybrid

Finally, are you fed up of composting dead and diseased conservatory plants? If the toughest place to grow successfully in your garden is your conservatory, take a look at pelargoniums. These non-hardy geraniums not only withstand the extreme heat of your conservatory – they positively bask in it. They’ll also survive the winter in an unheated conservatory. Tolerant and forgiving, just give them a regular water and occasional feed (tomato food is fine) and geraniums will flower away from March to November. I have to make myself cut them back in November when they’re often still in flower, knowing that this will improve the plant for next year.

Geraniums have many different flower types, some with amazing scented leaves, that will happily live in your conservatory for several years. When they get leggy, simply take a cutting and start again with a fresh plant.

Geraniums really brighten up a conservatory and are one of the few flowering plants which will take the very hot temperatures unscathed.

We hope this has given you plenty of food for thought and lots of ideas for those tricky areas in your gardens. For more inspiration, visit our plants for a purpose resource page. Let us know how you get on over on Facebook or Twitter. We love to hear from you!


Good companions in the veg plot

late summer vegetable garden with full rows and flowers in bloom

Plant vegetables, herbs and flowers together for optimum results
Image source: Irina Fischer

Companion planting is the art of growing different plants together to achieve certain benefits, such as helping with pest control, encouraging pollination or increasing crop yields. With a little thought, companion planting can also create a feast for the eyes, turning a functional veg plot to a glorious thing of colour and beauty.

We asked The Sunday Gardener, Carol Bartlett, for her advice on companion planting. Here are some of her top tips…

What is companion planting?

RHS Kitchen Garden at Harlow Carr

RHS Kitchen Garden at Harlow Carr
Image credit: Lee Beel

Companion planting has long historical roots, harking back to a time when there were no chemicals to control pests or to feed plants, and gardeners relied purely on nature. In the 1970s, when organic gardening became popular once again, companion planting enjoyed a renaissance which continues to this day.

But there’s another aspect to companion planting which is equally popular: using contrasting plants and vegetables to create an aesthetically appealing kitchen garden. This style of planting is illustrated above, in this RHS garden at Harlow Carr where the veg plot looks immaculate and is full of colour. In and amongst the vegetables are sweet peas, nasturtiums, tagetes and lavender, creating a veg plot that’s both beautiful and productive.

It’s fair to say that recent studies have been less than conclusive about the direct benefits of companion planting. I view it as a way to deter pests while also making my vegetable plot more attractive. In this wider context, which includes the aesthetic look of the veg plot, perhaps it’s less important to measure the direct benefits scientifically.

How companion planting works: repel and sacrifice

Closeup of orange nasturtiums and yellow chard

The combination of orange nasturtiums and yellow chard is both beautiful and strategic
Image source: Peter Turner Photography

There are two types of companion plants: some are grown because their smell repels unwanted insects, and others are grown as a sacrifice to keep the main crop insect-free.

One of the best known combinations recently receiving tentative scientific approval is planting tomatoes together with French Marigold (Tagetes patula) to reduce whitefly. Marigolds contain a substance called limonene, and scientific data confirms that tomatoes grown alongside limonene suffer less from whitefly. It’s also true that tomatoes and tagetes make a colourful planting combination!

Another good companion for tomato plants is basil. They look and taste good together, and this scented herb is said to repel pests.

Plagued by aphids? Nasturtiums make good aphid traps. The flowers secrete mustard oil which lures the insects away from brassicas and other crops. In a similar vein, some people use French marigolds as slug bait – meaning they’re used as sacrifice plants to keep your lettuce free from slugs.

Strong smelling plants, such as lavender, mint and sage are reputed to confuse and repel aphids and other unwanted insects away from many vegetables, including carrots. The combination of alliums and carrots is often recommended, but given the tenacity of the carrot fly, I personally always use a physical barrier as well. I’m happy to plant alliums and chives around my carrots, but put my faith in a sturdy barrier!

Companion planting to attract pollinators

Closeup of purple borage from the RHS

Borage is a beautiful, pollinator-friendly herb
Image source: RHS

We’re becoming ever more aware of the vital role of pollinators and bees to our food culture. Carefully chosen companion plants definitely help to attract pollinators to your vegetable plot, and the more pollination, the better the yield.

The English pot marigold, Calendula, is so easy to cultivate that it almost grows itself. Unlike the French marigold it’s of no interest to slugs, who ignore it, but pollinators like hoverflies, lacewings and ladybirds are incredibly attracted to its lovely zingy yellows and oranges. What’s more, Calendula will seed itself from year to year with no gardening attention whatsoever.

Want to increase your tomato yields? Encourage more bumble bees. In fact, bees are so essential to tomatoes that boxes of them are often imported into commercial greenhouses to work their pollinating magic. In your own greenhouse, chives are one of the best ways to attract bees and are ideal planted with tomatoes. A few pots of chives near the entrance and around your plants will welcome them in!

Another herb that’s a great friend of pollinators is borage, with its lovely delicate flowers that attract bees, butterflies, and hoverflies. But if I could grow just one plant to attract pollinators it would be oregano, beloved of all pollinating insects.

For more information about companion planting combinations, see the chart in our Companion Planting Guide. Looking for advice on how to attract pollinators to your garden? Visit our hub page to learn more about plants for pollinators, including tips on attracting bees, butterflies and other beneficial mini-beasts.


Starting a culinary herb garden

closeup of hands taking cuttings of basil from a white windowsill box

Grow herbs to add to your garden and kitchen.
Image: DarwelShots

Anyone can start a herb garden, no matter how little space they have available. Some people create bespoke culinary herb gardens, while others tuck these flavour-packed plants into any empty space they can find. See all the ways you can grow delicious herbs at our herb hub page now.

We asked The Sunday Gardener, Carol Bartlett, for her top tips on growing herbs at home. Here’s her sage advice…

What is a herb?

collection of harvested herbs on a brown cutting board

Grow hardy herbs in shady spots.
Image: Shutterstock

‘Herb’ is a generic term. It covers a wide group of plants that don’t necessarily share the same preferences for growing conditions. It’s true to say that, as a group, herbs mostly prefer sun – especially those of Mediterranean origin. But for those of us who don’t have sunny, south-facing gardens, there are enough herbs that tolerate semi-shade to keep a keen cook happy.

Should you grow herbs from seeds or plants?

Pots of Rosemary, Thyme, Mint and Coriander on a windowsill

Start with plug plants for faster results.
Image: Christine Bird

Many herbs germinate readily from seed – an easy and inexpensive way to get started. Early in the year (before May), it’s best to sow on a windowsill or under glass. Simply place several seeds in a small plant pot, and cover with a light sprinkling of soil. Keep the soil warm and ensure you keep it moist.

From May onwards you can sow herb seeds directly outdoors into containers or your veg plot. It’s best to sow crops like parsley and coriander fortnightly, to ensure a regular supply. If you want to grow from seed, I suggest parsley, coriander, chives and basil – you’ll need a regular succession of these plants to keep your kitchen in business.

If you don’t have time to grow from seed, there’s a wide variety of herbs available to buy as plants for an instant, ready-made herb garden. It makes more sense to buy herb plants if you only need a few of each. I suggest buying mint, oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme and lemon balm this way to get started.

Where to plant Mediterranean herbs

Sage (Salvia officinalis) from Thompson & Morgan

Fully-hardy sage thrives outside
Image: Sage from Thompson & Morgan

Sun-loving Mediterranean herbs include thyme, rosemary, oregano and sage. They need to be planted in dry, well-drained soil and get plenty of sun to grow well. Some of them, like thyme and oregano are particularly attractive to bees and pollinators – ideal if you’re trying to attract more wildlife into your garden.


Different varieties of thyme are available with small, pretty flowers in white, mauve and pink. These plants look attractive in containers, and they also like to grow in small crevices in walls and paving. Because of its compact size, thyme is ideal for growing on a windowsill. It’s easy to grow and requires little maintenance except for a light trim after flowering. For culinary use, I consider Thymus Vulgaris (common Thyme) best. It has a lovely aromatic sweet flavour and easy to pick leaves.


Rosemary is a larger plant that grows to somewhere between 60 cms and 1m, but it’s relatively slow growing. It’s reasonably hardy, but less so in poorly drained soils and it dislikes cold, chilling winds. If conditions aren’t ideal, there’s a tendency for the needles to brown.

The other common variety of rosemary, from the prostrate group, is not fully hardy and requires winter protection. As the name suggests, this is a trailing plant which is best grown in a container so that you can move it under glass for winter protection.


Sage is fully hardy and happily grows outside all year round. It can look a bit battered at the beginning of the growing season but quickly picks up. Both sage and oregano do get quite large as they mature, up to around 60cms tall with an equal spread.


Oregano is a fully hardy perennial that benefits from being cut back in the spring.

One oregano shrub usually provides enough pickings for a family, but I always grow more to feed the wildlife. Origanum vulgare is an attractive shrub which has pretty mauve flowers that bees and butterflies just love. Mine are covered all summer with busy pollinators. Many herbs are attractive to bees and butterflies, but oregano is one of the best.

Which herbs grow in semi-shade?

Basil 'Siam Queen' from Thompson & Morgan

Grow basil on window sills if you have limited outdoor space.
Image: Basil ‘Siam Queen’ from Thompson & Morgan

Don’t have a south-facing garden? A number of culinary herbs tolerate semi-shadeparticularly chives, parsley, mint, lemon balm and coriander. As long as they’re in the sun for at least half a day (preferably morning), these herbs don’t mind living without full sun.


Chives are very hardy – they die back over winter and regrow in the spring. They’re also another bee magnet if you want to attract wildlife into your garden.


This herb can be slow to germinate, but once it gets going it’s pretty tough. Planted outside, parsley produces good pickings well into the winter and tolerates frosts, and although biennial, it should be treated as an annual.

Of the various herbs discussed here, parsley is the only one which can be difficult to germinate from seed. Patience and more than one sowing may be necessary, but once established, it’s robust and hardy.


There’s a gardening ‘health warning’ attached to mint because it’s so invasive. If you want to plant mint in a border, it must be contained to prevent it from taking over, (and the same is true of tansy should you have an urge to plant it.) It’s much better to grow mint in a container to restrict its spread. A perennial plant, it’s often treated as an annual because the leaves become coarse with age.


Coriander grows as an annual in our climate. Because it resents transplanting, sow the seeds where you want them to grow and take care that the plants don’t dry out. Fortnightly sowing is best to provide a regular supply for your favourite recipes – and it’s best to pick the leaves before flowering.


One of the more tricky herbs to grow in our climate is basil, despite the fact that it always looks so tempting in supermarket pots! Basil is easy to grow from seed and germinates quickly. The drawback is that it’s very temperature sensitive. It should never be placed outside until the summer is in full swing and then only in a warm sheltered spot. If it’s too cool, the plant leaves tend to yellow, and develop unappealing beige patches. Conversely, basil is ideal to grow indoors and perfect for your windowsills.

Even more tempting, and requiring the same growing conditions, Thai basil is a fantastic addition to authentic curries. Thai basil germinates easily from seed when placed in a warm spot with good drainage. It will do well all summer, but later in the year both Thai and Italian basil should be brought indoors to extend the growing season.

Growing your own herbs makes an aromatic garden display, attracts lots of bees and butterflies to your garden and gives you a wonderful fresh supply of herbs for the kitchen all the year round. What’s more, you can pick them at their best and freeze any excess if you find you have too much. Plant up the shaded areas of garden with ornamental plants too, head over to our plants for shade hub page to see our recommendations. Happy growing!


How to store home grown vegetables

Make the most of your home grown veg by storing it correctly
Image source: Shutterstock

There is plenty to harvest from the vegetable plot, and if you have a glut it might not be possible to eat them all at once. To enjoy vegetables throughout autumn and winter it’s vital to store them correctly. Here’s our simple guide to storing your home grown vegetables.

Keep vegetables fresher for longer

Separate bad veg to enjoy the ‘fresh from the garden’ taste for longer
Image source: Zaretskaya Svetlana

It’s important that no damaged or rotting vegetables are put into storage. Over time, damaged fruit or veg will infect any vegetables nearby, causing them to rot. This bears out the old adage ‘a bad apple spoils the bunch.’ There’s no need to waste damaged produce – if you have vegetables which are less than perfect, simply set them aside to use first.

Only place completely dry vegetables in storage. It’s best not to wash vegetables with water before they are stored. Instead, any excess dirt should be gently brushed off. Cut off any top growth from root vegetables before storage.

These general rules apply to all veg, but different vegetables dictate different methods of storage. For example, two of our favourite crops, onions and potatoes, are as different as chalk and cheese when it comes to the best methods of storing them.

How to store potatoes

Potatoes must be kept away from light
Image source: Shutterstock

It is crucial that potatoes are stored in a dark, and ideally cool place. Light causes potatoes to produce chlorophyll, which produces solanine, a natural toxin present in green potatoes which causes an upset stomach. You mustn’t eat green potatoes.

Once the potatoes have been lifted, they should be cleaned of soil and only put into storage once dry. A good storage area for potatoes – and a number of other vegetables – is in a garage because it’s a cool, frost-free space.

Potatoes store well in hessian sacks, or if these are not to hand, a box or potato sacks can be used with layers of newspaper to exclude all light and to ensure that the tubers remain dry. An ideal storage combination would be hessian or potato sacks inside a container that excludes light, left slightly open to allow air circulation.

Like many root crops, potatoes need to be kept cool. Greenhouses and conservatories are not recommended, as they tend to be too light.

Storing alliums: leeks, onions and garlic

Plaiting garlic and onions is a practical and attractive storage method
Image source: Mattis Kaminer

Onions and garlic need to be kept dry and stored in the light. Traditionally, onions are lifted and left resting on the soil for a few days to dry, which is all very well if your harvest coincides with a dry spell. Since our weather is often capricious, it’s best to lay out onions and garlic to dry indoors or under glass. This usually takes up to a week.

Onions and garlic can be strung together or woven into decorative plaits and stored. Once the top growth has dried out it will plait easily. Start with the large onions or garlic bulbs and plait in descending size ending with the smallest. If there is not enough top growth, weave in raffia to make more to plait with.

Although onion plaits and strings look decorative in the kitchen, it’s not an ideal storage area as it can be humid. Onions and garlic are best stored in a cool, dry environment such as a porch, conservatory, or greenhouse. Onions and garlic can also be stored in string bags or nets.

Leeks, although members of the Allium family, are different again. Leeks are best left in the ground over winter and dug up as and when required. Traditional varieties such as ‘Musselburgh’ will withstand winter and can be harvested from December to March.

Parsnips are another crop which can be left in the ground until needed, and their flavour is reputed to be better after hard frost.

Not so for carrot and beetroots, which need to be lifted in autumn before the weather turns wet and cold. There are traditional methods for storing root crops in sand and compost, but it is easier to put them in hessian sacks or string nets, and store in a cool dark place.

Turnips and Swede can be left in the ground but if your plot is wet, (and also bearing in mind the difficulties of lifting vegetables from frozen ground), both crops can be lifted and stored in the same way.

Storing peas and beans

Enjoy your petit pois for longer by freezing a glut
Image source: Thompson & Morgan

In the centuries up to our modern times, large estate houses had areas of cellars and rooms dedicated for storage to feed the family and estate workers through the winter. Today, we have freezers. Freezing is the only way to store French, runner, and broad beans, and peas including varieties such as mange tout.

These vegetables need to be prepared and blanched in boiling water for two minutes. After two minutes, drain and plunge them into ice cold water to stop them from cooking any further, and bag up into the freezer. This way you can enjoy your home-grown peas or beans with Sunday lunch for weeks to come.

How to ripen green tomatoes

Ripen green tomatoes indoors if it’s getting too cold
Image source: Thompson & Morgan

Tomatoes, especially when in the greenhouse, will keep ripening until late in the season depending on the autumn weather. If you have a glut of green tomatoes at the end of the growing season, there is no need to resort to green chutney. Tomatoes will ripen indoors and be perfectly edible.

Cut good sized tomatoes on the vine as soon as the temperature begins to cool and bring indoors into the warm. Make sure the fruits you put out to ripen are all without blemish and in good condition. Lay out the vines on newspaper, ideally in a conservatory or on a warm south facing windowsill. The majority will continue to ripen over October and early November.

Whatever type of crop you are storing over winter, it is a good idea to check on them from time to time. Remove any damaged vegetables to ensure they continue to store well.

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