Tips for drought-tolerant plants

Here at the Eden Project we have an exhibit outside called Plants for a changing climate where we experiment with plants from Mediterranean climates such as parts of Australia, South Africa and South America. For obvious reasons these plants perform extremely well in drought conditions and the ones we have been trialling in the outdoor gardens have survived all sorts of conditions from extreme cold down to -10°C to prolonged wet and dry. In short, they are super tough! Specialist horticulturist Flo Mansbridge, looks after this exhibit; here are her top 10 hardy drought-tolerant plants. 

10 best drought-tolerant plants for your garden

1. Mescal agave, Agave parryi

This agave from Mexico is a brilliant architectural plant that will look good all year round. It looks fantastic with gravel mulch around it and maybe a few rocks. Just make sure the plant has good drainage and watch out for the spikes! 


2. Striped-stemmed aloe, Aloe striatula

You have probably heard of Aloe vera, but did you know there are hardy Aloes you can grow outside? We grow Aloe striatula outside and it has coped with down to -10°C. It flowers in early summer and the leaves have the same medicinal properties as Aloe vera.


3. Palms

Two of my favourite hardy palms are Chamaerops humilis, the dwarf fan palm, and Jubea chilensis, the Chilean wine palm. Once established these palms can withstand periods of drought and will look good all year round. Just make sure you give them sufficient drainage.


4. Rock rose, Cistus

The flowers on Cistus are truly beautiful and some, such as those on Cistus populifolius, are eye catching even when they are in bud. If you grow a few different types you can get a succession of colour from late spring through to mid-summer. A few of my favourites are C. argentus ‘Silver Pink’, C. monspeliensis, C. x purpureus and C. x pulverulentus ‘Sunset’.


5. Angel’s fishing rods, Dierama

As the name implies they have beautiful arching flowering stems that are so graceful. As with the Cistus, if you grow a few different types you can get a succession of flowers. At the moment I am growing Dierama galpinii, D. igneum and D. pulcherrimum but I am looking at increasing the collection as they are so lovely.


6. Watsonias

This is a beautiful plant from South Africa. It is usually planted as a corm and many are frost hardy. They tend to flower in mid-summer. At the Eden Project we grow Watsonia ‘Tresco Hybrid’ and Watsonia pillansii.

7. Sea holly, Eryngium

These plants have intriguing leaves and then they send out amazing flower spikes in the summer. A few of my favourites are Eryngium agavifolium, E. bourgatii and E. ‘Pen Blue’. I have noticed that bees go absolutely crazy for the flowers of E. agavifolium.

8. Mediterranean spurge, Euphorbia characias

What I particularly like about this Euphorbia is that it flowers in February when the garden always benefits from a splash of colour. It looks great even when it’s not in flower as it has silvery blue foliage. Just watch out for the milky sap when you remove the old flower stems. 

9. Cape daisy, Osteospermum jucundum var. compactum

This plant is a real good doer and can flower from February right through to the autumn provided it is dead headed now and again. It’s a handy ground cover and the flowers are beautiful. Butterflies in particular seem to enjoy the nectar from the flowers.

10. Jerusalem sage, Phlomis

Some Phlomis (for example P. russeliana) can flower from late spring right through to early autumn with whorls of hooded, soft yellow flowers that appear on tall erect stems with heart-shaped leaves. A few of my other favourites are P. fruticosa, P. samia and P. tuberosa.


'10 best drought-tolerant plants for your garden' written by Florence Mansbridge, Horticulturist at the Eden Project