The long, hot and dry summer of 2018 - how the garden coped

Head Gardener, Sheffield Park and Garden

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Andy Jesson - Head Gardener

The weather this summer has certainly been record-breaking and many gardeners have been faced with long spells of high temperatures and no rainfall. Andy Jesson, Head Gardener at Sheffield Park and Garden, explains how the garden is coping and what they do to encourage the trees and shrubs to be resilient to drought.

Sheffield Park summer lakes

This year was the joint hottest summer on record for the UK as a whole, and the hottest ever for England, according to the Met Office. Whilst we are all aware of reports stating that global warming is impacting our climate, it's perhaps only when we experience it first hand we can see the effects on our own gardens as well as public spaces like Sheffield Park and Garden.  If you visited this summer, you may have noticed that the garden coped quite well and part of this was due to our plans to combat changing climates and hot dry periods by maximising the strength and resilience of our plant collection. The rest was down to forward planning and careful consideration of all our daily actions.

The effects of the hot, dry summer of 2018 at Sheffield Park and Garden
Sheffield Park garden summer 2018 general view
The effects of the hot, dry summer of 2018 at Sheffield Park and Garden

Right plant, right place, right time

By planting the right tree or shrub in the right place at the correct time, (we plant here mid-October through November and into very early December), we give ourselves a good head start. We select young healthy plants, infact the younger the better as these establish and adapt to their environment much more readily and more quickly than older plants. We try and plant bare rooted as these have not been restricted in their growth as containerised plants would be. By being fertiliser-free we do not promote weak, sappy growth that would be susceptible to pest and disease, also the root systems then grow at a rate appropriate to the plant. By being irrigation free too, the trees and shrubs have to root deeply to find water. This affords them better anchorage which results in a stable feeding root system. Weak anchorage results in too much movement of the tree or shrub, which in turn tears and damages developing feeding roots. 

Summer in the garden at Sheffield Park and Garden
Sheffield park summer tree
Summer in the garden at Sheffield Park and Garden

Mulch, mulch, mulch...

We heavily mulch to retain moisture, we also maintain the area around the drip line (outer edge of the canopy) free from weeds or competitive plants. We also try to reduce the compaction of the soil under the canopy to encourage healthy soil that has good air movement and therefore healthy roots.Careful selection of our equipment and machinery helps to avoid soil compaction and we use leaf litter blown underneath the trees and shrubs to discourage visitors to walk directly underneath them too. We say what goes on underground is far more important than what goes on above. Roots are our priority.

Using the fallen leaves to feed the roots of the trees over autumn
Sheffield Park autumn tree
Using the fallen leaves to feed the roots of the trees over autumn

Also we do not prune unless essential as all pruning interventions result in stress for the plant as well as a requirement to use energy to heal and repair.

Finally by being pesticide-free we have reached the optimum point of predator to pest. ie the life cycle is balanced and not in the favour of one or the other. 

Looking after grass

As for grass we always cut on a high cut which reduces browning off. We also use mulching decks and do not cut and collect which naturally feeds the grass. Compaction is kept at a minimum, no fertilisers or pesticides are used and definitely no watering! Like everyone says, grass will bounce back.

The long, dry summer of 2018 at Sheffield Park and Garden
The long, dry summer of 2018 at Sheffield Park and Garden
The long, dry summer of 2018 at Sheffield Park and Garden

In terms of looking after your lawn at home during a hot, dry spell, reducing the frequency of cuts helps and a healthy worm population is important for your lawn's appearance, so leave some leaf litter and do not clean up your grass areas too much. Planning in advance definitely helps! If all else fails, you can always switch to alternatives but not artificial grass or a non-porous surface. There are drought resistant grass seed mixes you can buy, or why not try a herb lawn?