There’s no reason your garden has to end up looking like a sea of straggly, wilted plants while you’re on holiday, even if you don’t have neighbours or friends who’ll water it while you are away.
The secret is to have water-saving plans in place, along with tactics which will lead to the least water loss possible.
Hanging baskets, among the thirstiest of customers, can be dunked in a bucket of water, or an old washing-up bowl filled with water, and given a complete soaking before you go. Then, if you have room, dig a shallow hole in a shady bed which will house the basket while you’re away. Place a water globe, or a plastic bottle with the end cut off, spout-side down into the basket and fill it with water so that the plants receive a gradual top-up.
Place your patio pots together in a shady spot, to slow down evaporation, then give them a thorough soaking and place them on a large tray housing soaked capillary matting, which should feed the roots with enough moisture until your return. Cut a strip of matting, submerging one end in a nearby bucket of water, and the other running down to the matting in the tray, which should act as a conduit to keep it moist.
There are also many automatic irrigation systems available, varying in simplicity. Most work on a timer system attached to your outside tap, supplying water via drip feeders or soaker hoses to release water slowly to the areas it’s needed in the beds and borders, or to your patio plants. More sophisticated types have sensors which detect rain and adjust the watering requirements accordingly, while others start and stop the irrigation process according to moisture levels in the soil.
For those with plants such as tomatoes, there are troughs available on to which you can place a growbag. Underneath the trough is a reservoir which will keep plants watered for up to 14 days through capillary watering spikes which pierce the growbag and supply the roots with the water they need.
Of course, canny gardeners will have thought about the problems of watering and will have gone for plants which don’t require much help. Geraniums, for instance, love Mediterranean climates and will survive for some time without water. Cosmos, escholzia (Californian poppy), gazania, morning glory and helichrysum are all pretty drought tolerant, as are diascia, nicotiana, osteospermum and zinnia.
Don’t worry if your grass dries out. If you mow it before you go, leave the clippings on the lawn which will act as a mulch and conserve moisture. Otherwise, feel free to leave it long and then you should be able to give it a good cut on your return, while the long grass will have protected the strong roots underneath. Grass invariably grows back healthily with the autumn rains.
If you have a vegetable garden, give it a thorough soaking so the water goes deep down into the ground to the roots, as late as you can before you leave. If you have neighbours, get them to harvest any ripening produce (either for you or for themselves).
If you’re away for more than a few days, remove young beans, immature peas and baby courgettes as if these mature on the vine, the plant will stop fruiting. If you’ve grown sweet peas with your climbing beans, to help with pollination, pick off all the sweet pea flowers (not just the ones in bloom) because otherwise the plants will stop flowering.
You may inevitably lose some plants while you’re on holiday — but with a little TLC and a good deadhead or trim on your return, they may bounce back to give you pleasure for the rest of the summer.