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Gardener’s notebook: designer Tom Massey’s guide to resilient plants that will cope in unpredictable weather

Rowan tree berries  (Alamy Stock Photo)
Rowan tree berries (Alamy Stock Photo)

Our weather is becoming increasingly unpredictable. In London, this year has already seen an exceptionally wet March, followed by a dry-ish spring and a washout of a summer.

While for us, this might mean fewer ice creams and barbecues, for the city’s plants, it is a bit more challenging. I asked Tom Massey, garden designer and author of RHS Resilient Garden, what an uncertain future means for the capital’s plants.

“There are several main climate issues we face in the UK and other temperate regions,” Massey says. “Flooding and heavy rainfall causes waterlogged soil and damages plants; it can also cause or worsen soil erosion, as can strong winds, which have the capacity to bring down mature trees, too.

But it’s not just flash weather events that pose a threat to 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.”

Our plants sometimes can’t keep up. A number of examples have been circulating on social media recently, including dead trees across the capital.

Massey however, still has a glimmer of optimism and says the challenges can create opportunities to cultivate a more diverse range of species over a longer growing season.

When thinking about your own garden, there are things you can do to ensure it can stand up to and recover from extreme weather changes.

Massey’s book includes everything you need to get started on creating your own resilient garden, including a comprehensive selection of plants suited to different situations. Here are some of his favourites:

Hesperaloe parviflora (Small-flowered hesperaloe)

A yucca-like perennial that forms clumps of arching, linear, leathery leaves. In summer, flower spikes up to 1.5m (5ft) long bear tubular to bell-shaped pink flowers. It can take extreme cold and tolerates drought.

Papaver dubium subsp. lecoqii ‘albiflorum’ (Beth’s poppy)

This small, pink, annual poppy is named after renowned plants-woman Beth Chatto. It can be allowed to self-sow in a sunny, well-drained site.

 (Alamy Stock Photo)
(Alamy Stock Photo)

Echium vulgare (Viper’s bugloss)

An erect, bristly biennial with long, hairy leaves and cylindrical spikes of bell-shaped electric blue flowers that appear in early summer a magnet for pollinators.

Sorbus aucuparia (Rowan)

An upright deciduous tree with pinnate leaves that turn yellow in autumn. It has clusters of white flowers in late spring and orangered berries in autumn. These are acidic and best used in jams.

Genista aetnensis (Mount Etna broom)

A large shrub or small tree with arching green shoots and small leaves. It bears yellow, pea-shaped flowers in summer and fruits in autumn.

RHS Resilient Garden, by Tom Massey, is published by DK, £27

Tom Massey’s RHS Resilient Garden (£27) is his first book, published by  Dorling Kindersly (DK)
Tom Massey’s RHS Resilient Garden (£27) is his first book, published by Dorling Kindersly (DK)