At a small private garden in the foothills of the Alpes-Maritime overlooking the coast at Villefranche-sur-Mer near Nice, designer James Basson has been honing, since 2009, a planting system that is suited to the climate, and which needs no irrigation. He is realistic about its limitations: “In the end you just can’t have flowers if you’re not going to water.” Instead, he has formulated a look inspired by the botanical drought tolerant discoveries of his mentor, Olivier Filippi, the French nurseryman based near Montpellier. “Olivier taught me how to plant a landscape,” James says. “My technical approach is based on the model of his nursery. It means that gardens in this climate can exist for more than just three months of the year.” This is a philosophy of gardening that embraces the idea that the garden will ‘dry out’ in summer.
In their remarkable, experimental, Mediterranean garden Olivier and Clara Filippi have developed a drought-resilient planting style that is increasingly relevant to many gardeners. It is the plants that have led the design of their garden, in an approach akin to the concept of Gilles Clément’s Le Jardin en Mouvement. Below are drought tolerant plants from both James Basson and Olivier and Clara Filippi’s gardens.
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Key drought tolerant plants
Phlomis purpurea ‘Torcal de Antequera’
A phlomis that James finds really reliable with pale-pink flowers as opposed to the typically darker pink flowers of this species. The drought tolerant phlomis is happy in full or partial sun and chalk, sand or loam. 1.2m.
Helichrysum italicum subsp. microphyllum ‘Lefka Ori’
This small-leaved curry plant creates a reliable cascading groundcover. In James’ drought tolerant garden it is doing well in the bright shade of an olive tree. 15cm.
An upright spurge with bright-yellow flowers in early summer, although it is a very successful self-seeder with the danger of escape to the wild. It needs full sun, as with many drought tolerant plants. 60cm. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 7a-10b.
This reliable, evergreen shrub with pale-blue flowers is long-lived, long-flowering and adds a silver tone to the garden – and is one that James finds hard not to use. However, this drought tolerant plant can quickly develop a shaggy look, so demands regular attention. 1m. RHS H3, USDA 9a-10b.
“Our absolute favourite of 2019,” says James. A low-growing, drought tolerant shrub with long-lasting dried flowerheads and a gentle approach to its neighbours. 10cm. AGM. RHS H3, USDA 4a-8b.
A slow but remarkable groundcover cushion. “I love a flower that floats,” says James. This perennial cornflower is happy in full sun or partial shade and drought tolerant. 25cm.
Here a short-lived annual, but not a bully, so a welcome invader of empty space. 50cm.
A drought tolerant phlomis with leaves that are darker than most. Its large flowers almost form yellow pompoms. 90cm. RHS H6, USDA 5a-9b.
Although this evergreen, drought tolerant shrub has become a familiar plant, it is in James’s opinion too often overlooked for its mature cloud-form shape and exquisite peppery jasmine scent. 4.5m. AGM. RHS H3, USDA 9a-10b.
A shrubby evergreen perennial from southern Africa that adds a splash of highly original colour to the garden, and seems quite at home in the Provençal, drought-prone landscape. 1.5m.