Drought Prompts Dry Gardening in England

A drought in England is causing water restrictions and brown grass in formerly verdant areas. Paul Stone is a garden designer hired by London Mayor Ken Livingstone to design dry gardens throughout the city. Scott Simon speaks with Stone about dry gardens, and how they will change the landscape of that country known for its gardens.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

A rose is a rose, all right, but who wants one that's been shriveling in the sun? The Wall Street Journal reports this week that drought has prompted the English to rethink their legendary gardens. At Buckingham Palace they've even ripped out traditional beds and are planting what are called dry gardens.

That's not a garden with just a smidgen of vermouth, but one that requires even less water. London's Mayor, Ken Livingstone, wants dry gardens to catch on with all city residents, so he's hired garden designer Paul Stone to make them look lush and lovely.

Mr. Stone joins us from his home in Cornwall. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. PAUL STONE (Garden Designer): Okay.

SCOTT: So what's in a dry garden? Cactus and rocks?

Mr. STONE: Well, it can be. (Unintelligible) but no, it doesn't have to be as simple as that. I mean there's a whole wide range of really good attractive plants that thrive in dry conditions where they can get their roots down really deep in cool soil.

SCOTT: Like what?

Mr. STONE: Well, escallonia. How about that? That's a good plant for a dry situation.

SCOTT: Yeah. That's fine.

Mr. STONE: Vines. Ivy is good. Pines are quite good, pine trees.

SCOTT: Yeah.

Mr. STONE: Apples are not bad, apple trees.

SCOTT: Oh.

Mr. STONE: Junipers, fig trees.

SCOTT: Oh.

Mr. STONE: Rosemary.

SCOTT: Rosemary?

Mr. STONE: Yeah. Rosemary, like Simon and Garfunkel, costly rosemary and thyme.

SCOTT: Ah. That I know.

Mr. STONE: Yeah.

SCOTT: If the plant's mentioned in a song, I know it. So what we think of is these lush gardens and open spaces that can be so famous, and even inspirational, recognizable to us, as characters in literature, is it my understanding that outside of London, like in your part of the country, those gardens are still accessible and possible, but in London and other sections southeast of the country it's not?

Mr. STONE: There are still very, very fine gardens all over the southeast of England as well. Like, for example, Sissinghurst, Sheffield Park.

SCOTT: Sissinghurst is Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson's garden.

Mr. STONE: Yeah. Have you seen it?

SCOTT: You know, I haven't seen it but I've read about it in Sir Harold's diaries. And the thought occurs to me. I mean I remember what Vita Sackville-West went through to keep it going during World War II. And now this drought, you know, might do what the war couldn't.

Mr. STONE: Yes indeed. But when the ordinary man in the street, you know, can't have his car washed or used a hosepipe on his own plants in his garden, it's a difficult thing for any business to be openly watering their plants in the public domain.

SCOTT: Mr. Stone, very nice talking to you, sir.

Mr. STONE: Yeah. Lovely to hear from you too.

SCOTT: English garden designer Paul Stone speaking from Cornwall, where the rainfall is still pretty good. And this is NPR News.

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