It seems we are heading towards a real water shortage in Portugal, and there are suggestions, quite rightly, of restrictions on the use of water to ensure there is enough to go around. The last thing we want is our domestic water being cut off or restricted to certain times of the day, or worse, certain days only.

Before you give up and ‘throw in your trowel’ with regards to keeping your garden watered, there are some plants that will give colour over and over again, and that can tolerate dry conditions quite happily.

Lantana is one – yes I know it is supposed to be an invasive species, but it is like the Duracell bunny, it just keeps going and going, and as long as you control it with a good cutting back once in a while, it will reward you with a riot of small yellow, pink and orange flowers year after year, and can handle our dry hot summers with very little watering. It attracts lots of pollinators too - bees and butterflies would thank you if they could!

Zinnias are another - Eager to sprout and sturdy once established, zinnias are common plants with some uncommon characteristics. Zinnias love the heat of summer. Whatever the colour or size, zinnias add zing to containers or beds and make excellent, long-lasting cut flowers. Most are bred to handle powdery mildew, which can pose a problem late in the season. Zinnias don’t have any serious problems with pests; they seem exempt even to aphids. They require less water than a lot of other annuals. Initially, give plants daily water, but once established, zinnias can survive with watering as needed. With such minimal irrigation, zinnias might wilt during the heat of the day, but cooler nights perk them up again by morning. Zinnias work year after year, and it’s easy to save zinnia seeds. Simply let the flowers dry fully on the stem, then collect the seed heads and lightly crush them in your hand to release next year's seed crop.

Lavender (lavendula) are popular, aromatic, drought-tolerant garden plants. They are easy to grow and associate well with other shrubs, perennial plants and roses. Long-lived and hardy border plants. Other lavenders, including French lavender (Lavandula stoechas), are slightly less hardy and can be short-lived so need replacing every few years. All lavenders are popular with bees, butterflies and other pollinators. They are happy in a sunny border with well-drained, chalky or sandy soil and will thrive in containers, herb and gravel gardens and sunny balconies, and are even popular for coastal planting.

Rockrose (Cistus) is a genus of flowering evergreen shrubs that is characterised by dense green foliage; delicate, papery flowers and aromatic leaves. Among the most ornamental of all Mediterranean flowers, rockrose are hardy shrubs that are drought-tolerant and can withstand extreme heat. They grow well in poor quality soils and often survive in locations where other plants can’t. They make great additions to rock gardens, exposed garden beds, coastal areas, and dry banks alike.

These are just a few drought resistant flowers that will brighten a dry garden - do your research and you will find more, and for variety, you can intersperse them with clumps of succulents. Succulents' leaves and stems are built to store water from infrequent bursts of rainfall that quickly trickle through dry soil. On top of that, their leaves have a thick, often waxy surface with the ability to close its pores rather than lose water through respiration. With beautiful colours and shapes, they bring variety and contrast to your garden.

At the risk of sounding like an eco-warrior, you can still keep your garden watered by using ‘greywater’ - this is water that has been gently used from your bathroom sinks, showers, bathtubs, and washing machines. It is not water that has come into contact with faeces, either from the toilet or from washing diapers. It may take a little effort to collect and distribute, but you will get great satisfaction from not wasting any of our precious resources, the reward being a bright and beautiful garden throughout dry conditions.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan