The new drought tolerant flower bed at WEst Dean College

West Dean responds to climate change with new plantings

As the UK records its highest temperatures on record and has introduced hosepipe bans, it seems timely that West Dean Gardens (Chichester, West Sussex) has introduced a new drought tolerant experimental meadow that is covered in recycled stone mulch. As Head Gardener Tom Brown explains: “Over recent summers, we’re becoming increasingly aware of how much water we use in our gardens, and the need to explore a new range of plants that require less resources to grow and most importantly look beautiful and attract pollinators. With this in mind; we have grown a number of deep rooted and drought tolerant perennials to make up a new meadow which can be used to teach people at our College about gardening with less water”.

He continues: “Normally people think of drought tolerant plants being cactus and agave, however these flowers and plants are colourful and have benefits to wildlife, so we are planning to collect all the seeds later in the year, building their numbers and growing plants to be sold in the shop next year.”

This is not the only project that West Dean Gardens are focussing on; they are supporting the catering team in the College of Arts and Conservation by sowing seasonally reflective produce. They are planting the vegetables in quadrants and using the no dig method.

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As Tom Brown comments: “We found that the ground was cracking over the summer so we have covered the beds in homemade compost and it’s doing very well and has needed much less water and fertiliser to achieve some lovely produce”.

Among the three or four vegetables that they are planting are to be harvested each month include French beans, tomatoes and courgettes in August through to celeriac, parsnips, lettuce and Brussel sprouts that can be used in our menus in December.

Lettuce ‘Saladin, ‘Ezra’ and ‘Green Salad Bowl’

Nestled at the foot of the South Downs, West Dean Gardens is one of the greatest restored gardens open to the public today. The Gardens are open between 10.30am to 5pm each day except December 24, 25 and 31. Between March to October, entry costs £12, children under 16 are free and last entry is 30 minutes before closing time. The Gardens Restaurant and Shop are also open.

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West Dean Gardens is part of West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, which offers a wide variety of short courses – both in gardening and art and craft subjects. For those interested in learning more about how to work with climate change in their gardens, landscape designer Mark Laurence will discuss ‘Designing gardens for climate adaptation’ in a garden lecture on Sunday, September 4, 2022. He will look at what we could expect from the future climate, resilient design principles and how we can create new ecologies so our gardens can become seed banks and refuges for plants, insects, animals and ourselves (£85/ suitable for all).

Upcoming gardening short courses and talks also include:
• Saturday, August 27 – Growing and arranging dried flowers with Clare and Tom Brown (suitable for beginners/ £134)

• Saturday, September 10 – Setting up a micro-nursery with Sally Gregson
(suitable for beginners/ £128)

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• Sunday, September 11 – Summer propagation – plants for free with Sally Gregson
(suitable for beginners/ intermediate/ £153)

• Friday, September 30 – Sunday, October 2 – Wild textiles – foraging and natural dyeing with Sarah Burns (suitable for beginners/ intermediate/ £319)

• Saturday, October 29 – Working with colour in your garden with Max Crisfield and Henry Macauley (suitable for all/ £134)

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• Saturday, November 12 – Growing apples, pears, plums and cherries with Sylvia Travers
(suitable for beginners/ intermediate/ £134)

• Saturday, November 26 – What to sow, grow and do, a seasonal garden guide – garden talk with Benjamin Pope (suitable for all/ £38)

Other creative short courses rang from painting to photography and blacksmithing to millinery, including courses inspired by the award-winning gardens. For full details, please visit

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Steve Ott
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