Dry gardens or gravel gardens are wonderful things – a living example of ‘right plant, right place’. Instead of forcing plants to live in alien situations and then having to spend ages watering and cosseting them, it comes as a huge relief to accept that your soil is sandy and free-draining and to start to grow the wide range of species and varieties which actually flourish in such conditions. Beth Chatto’s gravel garden in Essex is a perfect example of identifying the plants that will be happy in such conditions, and then allowing them to flourish with minimal interference. Her collections of bulbs, plants, grasses and shrubs, many with Mediterranean and South African origins, are set out in drifts through a former car park, carefully planted, well mulched and watered at the outset and then allowed to grow and flower at their own pace. This wise approach results in plants which are not over-watered and fed and thus remain compact and upright rather than sprawling and flabby. Seeds are allowed to set and germinate with the excess removed from the gravel. Care has clearly been taken to associate leaf and flower shape, and to step back and assess where height is needed or not – most of the beds have a large shrub or two or a well-pruned tree. All provide interest, particularly in the winter when the herbaceous material has collapsed and been removed. In spring and summer the beds are a mass of waving flowers and grasses, full of bees and butterflies, and not a watering can in sight. If you have a south-facing garden and struggle to find plants which appreciate such a setting, Cornus Garden Design can work with you to prepare the ground and provide a suitable selection of shrubs, perennials and bulbs which will thrive and provide you with colour and interest throughout the year.