Water-less Garden: Resilient PLants For Dry Weather

Jul 4, 2024

By Veronica


If you had told me a few years back that I will be writing about drought tolerant plants, I would have laughed! But here we are, and every year we seem to get a few weeks without any rain. Ireland being the Emerald Isle, it is hard to believe that we have to find new ways to keep it green without putting too much pressure on our water reserves.

You can collect rainwater if you have room for a water butt, install a porous hose or a dripper system, or even ditch the hose altogether and water with your watering can. However, it might start with choosing plants that can withstand periods of drought to save you the extra work of going around with your full watering can, especially if you have a medium to large garden.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that you need to give up on all your exuberant hydrangeas, exquisite roses or charming peonies because they need regular watering. You will simply find in this guide other varieties of plants that will bring vibrancy and colour to the garden and will require less maintenance.


Coastal gardens

Gardens by the sea can be difficult to maintain. They are exposed to strong, salty winds that dry the soil and consequently the plants. On the good side, they don’t get hit by the frost as badly, allowing you to try out plants that may be tender in other parts of the country.

Lamb's ear leaf, Rudbeckia flowers. Photo by Fred Sprinkle on Unsplash

If you are only a few meters away from the sea, enjoying the view and the sea spray, you will prefer plants with ‘hairy’ leaves. The down on the foliage protects the plants from the salt. The Senecio maritima, for example, will make a good addition to your border and your window boxes. This evergreen shrub has soft silver foliage and bears yellow flowers in clusters when mature. With soft foliage again but with pink flowers, the lamb’s ears (Stachys Byzantina) will make an ideal ground cover. They do look great amongst aromatic herbs like thyme or rosemary. The Cistus will provide profuse flowering over the summer months. Its tissue paper-like flowers last each for a day before falling off, saving you the regular deadheading during the season.

Thick, leathery leaves are equally good hence the success of Hebes and Phormiums in the area. The first is an evergreen shrub flowering in Summer. It is available in a wide range of sizes to suit any garden or balcony. The flowers are very attractive to pollinators, another interesting feature. The Phormium, on another hand will require more space although it looks fantastic in large containers. It is ideal for gardens with a contemporary look or an exotic feel.

Hebe 'Sanuka', photo by Veronica for Windyridge Garden Centre


Other plants suitable:


  • Erigeron: The Mexican flea bane is free-flowering and virtually maintenance free. It can grow in poor soils and even in crevasses.
Erigeron. Photo by GUY GRANDJEAN on Unsplash
  • Armeria: The sea thrift looks a bit like chives. It flowers profusely on medium to short stems above the short, grass-like foliage.
  • Salvia Nemorosa: The thick and rough foliage of the ornamental sage protects it from salty winds. In the main, you will find mainly purple-flowering varieties, however, they are also available in white or pink. Another fantastic choice to attract pollinators.
  • Eryngium: The sea holly is not only a valuable food source for pollinators, but the long-lasting flowers are also praised by florists for arrangement. Most varieties have prickly leaves, however.
Sea Holly. Photo by Deirdre Boys on Unsplash



  • Convolvulus: The silverbush is an evergreen low-growing shrub boasting a very attractive silver foliage and a long flowering season. The white flowers appear in Spring and early summer mainly.
  • Abelia: Another small, evergreen shrub with abundant flowers, offering a feast to bees.
  • Ozothamnus: The sea rosemary is larger than the two above. It flowers in clusters (pink or white, depending on the variety). This silver shrub is pest and disease free so very easy to grow.
  • Tamarix: This unusual large shrub or small tree bears feathery foliage and flowers in Summer. It thrives in neutral to acidic soil, it is, therefore, perfect in the area.



  • Eleagnus: this will certainly be the best variety to plant to provide privacy or a wind break in gardens very close to the sea. It is the most tolerant of salty winds.
  • Griselinia: one of the fastest growing hedges and also a very good variety for coastal gardens.
  • Berberis: The hedging for privacy and protection. Mind, however, that the berberis is rather thorny (some varieties are worse than others) so it is not the best choice for a family garden. It is also the most interesting when it comes to leaf colour, with varieties producing green, purple or even marbled-pink leaves. NB: not all the Japanese barberries are evergreen.
Berberis 'Rose Glow'. Photo by Veronica for Windyridge Garden Centre



  • Star jasmine: this evergreen climbing plant is just as scented as the Jasminum officinale but better suited for drier conditions. It will prefer a sheltered location, however.


  • Pines: all kinds of pine are suitable. From dwarf shrubs to the majestic Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine), there are many types to choose from. The cones provide food to wildlife and the foliage is ideal for winter flowering arrangements.
  • Sorbus: The rowan is one of the most resilient trees. The flowers provide valuable nutrition to pollinators in Spring while the berries feed the birds in Autumn.
Sorbus berries. Photo by Alicja Trepka on Unsplash


Dry Shade

This is certainly one of the most difficult settings. Shade is most often very moist as the sun doesn’t dry the soil. But where large tree roots or thirsty hedges take up all the moisture, other plants may need to adapt to flourish.

In general, thick, shiny leaves are better than the juicy and fresh ones. So exit the hostas and welcome the epimedium and the helleborus. The first is rather underrated and yet it is a charming, easy to grow plant. The spring flowers may not be its most striking feature (although it depends on the variety) but the heart-shaped foliage is well worth a spot. Flowering in Winter or Spring, the helleborus has become a corner stone in garden design. Not only does it add colour when flowers are scarce, it is tolerant of a wide range of conditions. Let’s continue on with Brunneras, it has cheerful forget-me-not like flowers and showstopping foliage, and hit the height of the Summer with the magnificent foxgloves. The tall varieties of sedums will close the ball in late summer and autumn with deep red/purple flat heads later turning brown and remaining highly decorative when dry.

Helleborus 'Cinderella'. Photo by Veronica for Windyridge Garden Centre


More plants for dry shade:


  • Heucheras: Ideal in dappled shade, they come in an array of colours. These are mainly grown for their foliage, from lime green to dark purple. They can create a magical display in difficult areas. They bloom in Summer, small flowers in white or shades of pink appear on tall stems, above the foliage.
  • Euphorbias: The wood spurge is incredibly easy to grow and creates impact instantly. In sun or shade, they are versatile and drought tolerant. In shade, the ‘purpurea’ variety is probably the best. The lime-green flowers contrast beautifully with the deep purple foliage.
  • Liriope: The lily turf displays blue-purple spikes above a dark green grass looking foliage. It is an excellent choice for ground cover in shady areas.

Liriope. Photo by Sunnyday Pictures on Unsplash


  • Snowdrops: the winter flowering bulb is one of the first flower to bloom in the year. This modest yet elegant short plant is perfect for underplanting trees or shrubs.

Snowdrops. Photo by Csaba Talaber on Unsplash

  • Cyclamen: ‘Coum’ and ‘Hederifolium’ are two varieties for naturalising. Like the snowdrops, they are great for underplanting although they can also be used in containers where you will showcase their dainty flowers from late winter to early spring.
  • Begonia: in Summer, the exuberant begonia will make the show with its bright and vibrant flowers. No deadheading needed for this long flowering tuber (from June/july until the first frost) so it is a great choice for low maintenance hanging baskets or window boxes.


  • Euonymus: the Japanese spindle is a versatile shrub. Most varieties are evergreen. Upright or spreading, it offers vivid coloured foliage which is often variegated.

Euonymus Alata is a deciduous variety displaying stunning colours in Autumn. Photo by Yoksel 🌿 Zok on Unsplash

  • Pittosporum: The tawhiwhi boats a good resistant to dryness. Most varieties will prefer full sun to partial shade but ‘Tom Thumb’ will grow in shadier locations.
Pittosporum 'Tom Thumb', Photo by Veronica for Windyridge Garden Centre
  • Skimmia: from ground cover to shrubs, this evergreen is particularly praised for its attractive buds (all winter) opening to scented flowers (spring). The female varieties produce red berries (these are poisonous so the birds will not eat them) when pollinated. There are also a few self-fertile varieties, ideal for smaller spaces.



  • Pyracantha: The firethorn will be your best option here. Extremely free-flowering, this wall shrub is very attractive in spring, when in full bloom. In Autumn, it bears berries (yellow, orange or red) praised by birds. As its name suggests, it is thorny.

Pyracantha. Photo by Nima Mohammadi on Unsplash



Sunny and Dry

A south-facing, sheltered garden sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t like to have his own little sun trap outside the door to stock up on vitamin D? Plants love it too and it allows you to try out more exotic or unusual plants. So let’s create a Mediterranean heaven with aromatic plants and other sun-loving species.

In general, the plants that do best in this sort of settings are plants with small, tough leaves. The bigger the leaves are, the more they perspire and loose their moisture. The colour of the foliage is also a good indicator. Blue and silver leaves do best in full sun. They do require a good number of hours of direct light to keep their colour. That is the reason why lavender is always one of the first plants that comes to mind for this kind of garden. It simply ticks all the boxes: evergreen, silver foliage, highly scented flowers on a low maintenance shrub. Combine it with the mat-forming Cerastium (snow-in-summer) for flowers from late spring to late summer.


Lavender field. Photo by Michael on Unsplash

Heat tolerant plants:


  • Verbena: The vervein has become very popular in the last few year. Its small clusters of purple flowers look great with grasses or other herbaceous. They are also very attractive to pollinators.
Verbena Rigida. Photo by Veronica for Windyridge Garden Centre


  • Nepeta: The catmint is a trouble-free plant with aromatic foliage. If you have a feline friend, this one might like to roll himself on it. From the compact ‘Purrsian Blue’ to the loose ‘Six Hills Giant’, for pots or the borders alike.
  • Agapanthus: The African lily bears attractive heads of blue, purple or white flowers in Summer. The evergreen varieties are a bit more tender than the deciduous ones. Beautiful with ornamental grasses, they also make good cut flowers.
  • Erysimum: The evergreen wallflower ‘Bowles Mauve’ is particularly interesting thanks to its long flowering season. It starts very early in the season (February) right up until July. It is also valuable for pollinators. 


  • Artemisia: There are so many varieties of Artemisias but the most valuable and attractive ones are the evergreen shrubs with their aromatic silver foliage such as ‘Powis Castle’. Some of the herbaceous types are worth a try too like ‘Valerie Finnis’. They are a great complement to plants with dark foliage or flowers.
  • Polygala: This evergreen shrub is becoming a firm favourite, for good reasons, it flowers from Spring into autumn!
  • Halimium: enough of whites and purples, this yellow flowering shrub is bright and cheerful. Flowers in April and May
  • Genista: Yellow again, the Spanish gorse flowers in late spring and early summer.

Gorse flowers. Photo by Sugar Bee on Unsplash



  • Thyme: All kinds of thyme will make a perfect ground cover to limit evaporation from the soil. This flowers generally in pink in the summer.

Thyme in flowers. Photo by Melanie Hauke on Unsplash

  • Rosemary: Choose the trailing type for containers or as a ground cover. If you need a bit of height, the Officinalis will be better. Both bear light purple flowers in Summer and can equally be used for cooking.
  • Oregano: Another ground cover with pinkish flowers. Great for sauces or sprinkled dry on pizzas.



  • Olive: Olive trees add so much character to the garden. It can be pruned quite severely so it is perfect for small gardens where it can be kept small.
  • Bay tree: The standard form (lollipop shape) of the Laurus nobilis is very popular. It is fully evergreen, it can tolerate full sun or partial shade, although the growth will be stunted in shadier locations.


Olive trees. Photo by Stacey Franco on Unsplash


In general, if you have a very dry soil, digging in manure or soil conditioner would be a good start. In the worst cases, vermiculite will help to hold the moisture down. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Avoid the evaporation by creating another layer (2 inches thick at least) using preferably bark chippings. It will also keep the weeds down.

Although these plants are tolerant to drought, they will need to get established first. Water them a little, regularly, the first year or two, until the roots have found their way deep enough in the soil. Thereafter, they will be strong enough and more resilient to the temporary lack of water.



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