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All this talk of the likely drought this summer has left me feeling rather smug. I garden in the driest region of Britain: in fact, I garden in the driest part of the driest region in Britain. Beth Chatto’s famous “dry” garden (planted into gravel over a former car park and never, ever, watered) is only 10 miles away. Here in the east we are tooled up and ready to deal with drought – we have to be.
Last week Monty Don tweeted that a drought in Herefordshire was always welcome simply because they never have one there. The division between the prevailing climate in the west, and that in the east, effects our regional culture and traditions. It is not a coincidence that livestock fare the best where the grass grows greenest (it is well watered in the west country) and that the dry east, known in the old days as “corn country”, is favourable for arable or fruit.
Beth Chatto’s garden was a fruit farm before she converted it into a garden. Fruit trees are deep rooted, and unlike cattle have no need of lush, green, fast-growing grass. In fact, fruit trees view grass as a competitor. That is why we clear the area immediately adjacent to the base of their trunks, or let smaller livestock scratch around among them. What fruit trees need is sun. Rearing livestock is converting grass into food; here in the east we tend to farm light and air.