Notebook for gardeners: designer Tom Massey’s advice on hardy plants that can handle variable conditions.

Notebook for gardeners: designer Tom Massey’s advice on hardy plants that can handle variable conditions.

The weather here is becoming more and more erratic. March was unusually wet in London this year, followed by a dryish spring and a rainy summer.

While this may mean less ice creams and barbecues for us, it poses some unique challenges for the city’s flora. What does the future hold for the flora of the capital, I asked landscape designer and author of RHS Resilient landscape Tom Massey.

Massey argues that the United Kingdom and other temperate regions suffer “several main climate issues.” “Flooding and high rainfall causes soggy soil and destroys plants; it can also induce or accelerate soil erosion, as can strong winds, which have the power to bring down mature trees, too.
However, sudden weather changes aren’t the only thing that can kill plants.
“Warmer winters could spell an increase in diseases and pests without the cold to eliminate them,” and “unpredictable frosts may kill off plants blooming earlier in milder winters.”

Sometimes our plants just can’t keep up. Dead trees in the nation’s capital are only one of several recent examples that have been widely shared on social media.
Massey, though, sees reason for hope, saying that despite the difficulties, there may be chances to produce a wider variety of species over a longer period of time.


There are measures you can take with your personal garden to make it more resilient to weather fluctuations.
To help you get started on your own resilient garden, Massey’s book provides a wide variety of plants that can thrive in a variety of conditions. Some of his favorites are as follows.

Small-flowered hesperaloe (H. parviflora)

A perennial that looks like a yucca and grows in bunches with arching, linear, leathery leaves. In the summer, spikes up to 5 feet long are topped with pink blooms that range in shape from tubular to bell-shaped. It survives sub-zero temperatures and dryness with ease.

Poppy, or Beth’s poppy, Papaver dubium subsp. lecoqii ‘albiflorum’

Beth Chatto, a well-known botanist, inspired the name of this little pink annual poppy. In a sunny, well-drained area, it can be let to self-sow.

Picture of Alamy

The common Viper’s bugloss, or Echium.

A tall, hairy biennial that blooms in early summer with electric blue bell-shaped flowers that attract a variety of beneficial insects.

Asarum capense (Rowan)

A tall, straight-trunked deciduous tree with pinnately compound leaves that turn golden in the fall. White flower clusters appear in the late spring, and bright orange berries follow in the fall. You should use these in a tart preserve.

Mount Etna broom, or Genista aetnensis.

A tall, slender, evergreen shrub or tree with arching branches and tiny, needlelike leaves. It blooms summertime with pea-shaped, yellow flowers and bears fruit in the fall.
Tom Massey’s RHS Resilient Garden, published by DK, costs £27.

His debut book, published by Dorling Kindersley / DK, is titled RHS Resilient Garden (£27).

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