The Hose Pipe Ban

Glorious weather, a weekend of gardening with blossom on the cherry trees and magnolias in bloom – perfect! Well apart from when I glance at the hose reel and realise my trusted tool and fellow reviver of greenery on the sandiest of soils is about to be confined to the shed, incarcerated, and forbidden by the hosepipe ban from the 5th April. A second glance at my splendid multi jet sprinkler with its variety of sprays has me on my knees howling why, oh why, oh why… the most agitated of points of view correspondents.

After a strong coffee, some apologies to the neighbours and a brief discussion with two chaps carrying a fetching white jacket with fancy buckles I gather my thoughts…

Well the why is simple after two dry winters the reservoirs and aquifers are low in the south east forcing seven water authorities Southern Water, South East Water, Thames Water, Anglian Water, Sutton and East Surrey, Veolia Central and Veolia South East to introduce a hose pipe ban. With my fanciful garden sprinkler using around 600 litres an hour I can see the need.

But what to do! ….. In fact this need not be the complete disaster I feared; my garden is established and there are steps to take that will keep my plants alive:-

• The use of a watering can is allowed when filled directly from the tap, use it in the early morning or evening to minimise evaporation and the amount of water needed.

• Install a water butt, this is the UK it will rain so store this precious precipitation.

• If you are planning major works to or around your house consider installing a grey water system which also will help stop that water meter spinning round at an alarming rate – watch this space for a more detailed blog on this.

• Install a drip or leaky pipe irrigation system with a timer set for the night or early morning. The efficiency of these systems has been recognised by all water authorities and is now permitted during hosepipe bans – but only with a timer. I am afraid any irrigation system which puts water into the air with a sprinkler head or micro spray is not allowed even with a timer.

• Apply mulch to the borders to keep the water in the ground.

• Mow the lawn a bit higher and make sure your mower blades are sharp and if the lawn does go brown don’t panic!! As long as it is established it will survive and be green again soon! See for more information.

• Save water in the house too, the water shortage is not just a problem for gardeners!

Drought tolerant plants

It seems clear that this will not be the last hose pipe ban and by selecting plants that are adapted to survive in periods of drought the effects can be minimised. Look for plants that grow or can trace their origins to coastal regions or sunnier climes.

These plants will have leaves that are adapted to minimise the loss of water this can be with narrow leaves, leaves with fine hairs to trap moisture, grey leaves to reflect the sun or with waxy leaves to hold the water in. This of course is not just a case of buying a drought tolerant plant, popping it in and job done. A drought tolerant plant will be as likely to shrivel up and expire as any other until it is established and gets its roots down so as ever preparation is key plant well and use a good compost to retain moisture. Make sure you plant early while the soil conditions are moist and keep the watering can handy.

It is also important to remember the winter – there is little point in planting that lovely Aloe with its waxy leaves or that silver leafed olive in that cold spot in the garden. They may well resist the drought only to be frozen to death in January!

For a comprehensive list of drought tolerant plants see or Beth Chatto’s ‘The Dry Garden’ is still an essential read.

Some of my favourite drought tolerant plants are Lavendula, Cercis siliquastrum, Arbutus unendo, Rosmarinus, Quercus ilex, Pinus mugo, Vitex agnus-castus, Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii ……. I’d better stop… there are lots to choose from and I will go on and on!

Vitex, Lavenders planted by B&W in hotter climes and Euphorbia wulfenii<

New landscapes

One element of the hose pipe ban that carries uncertainty and has me back in the why oh why mode is that of exclusions. All water authorities state that the ban should not affect commercial activities and yet at this stage the professional landscaper is not universally exempt from the hose pipe ban. This is still the consultation period and the Landscape related professional bodies the SGD, BALI, APL, HTA and TGA are currently lobbying to have an exemption for the use of a hose pipe by the professional on newly planted schemes and newly laid lawns.

The landscape industry is a substantial contributor to the UK economy with for example BALI (British Association of Landscape Industries) members employing around 25’000 staff with an annual turnover of £1.5 billion and the HTA (Horticultural Trades Association) estimating growers and plant wholesale/retailers employ 300,000 staff and an annual turnover in the region of £9 billion. These are significant numbers and sums and I hardly need say that in the current economic situation they should not be put at risk.

The exemption should not be an open invitation to splash water around with abandon, indeed all professional bodies offer guidance on how to minimise water use, but a chance to keep trading!

Visit the Society of Garden Designers website and British Association of Landscape Industries website for news on the lobbying and how to get involved and watch this space for news.


The money drought – but is rain on the way?

Sources of funding are drying up - but might there be oases on the horizon?

In these straitened times, all spending decisions are understandably tightly controlled. Councils and voluntary organisations have seen their sources of funding dwindle. For landscape projects, this funding drought is actually much more serious than the literal drought we see developing week by week in the south of England. But as traditional sources of money dry up, are there new springs that we can seek out?

The UK planning system is going through a major upheaval at present. There have been a number of pieces of legislation culminating in the Localism Act (enacted in November 2011) and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which was published the Government today. This document has reduced 1200 pages of planning guidance to about 50. Some may argue (and I would be amongst them) that this is an over-simplification and that although 1200 pages is a bit much (‘growed like Topsy’) most of the guidance and policies are there for a good reason. However, let’s set that aside for the moment (or alternatively read my blog post ‘We all like to make plans’). Lurking back in the Planning Act 2008 was a section on something called ‘The Community Infrastructure Levy’ (CIL). This has only really come into force in the last year or so*. In simple terms, it is a charge that a local planning authority can set for all new developments in the Borough, to be paid by the developer to the Council.  The collected money will be put into a central pot and will be spent on improving infrastructure in the Borough. This process has been reformed and simplified in the Localism Act of 2011. “The changes would require local authorities to pass a meaningful proportion of receipts to the neighbourhoods where the development that gave rise to them took place, clarifies that receipts may be spent on the ongoing costs of providing infrastructure to support the development of the area and provides more local choice over how to implement a charge.” (from Dept for CLG; link to document here). The real points here are twofold. Firstly that the CIL must be spent on infrastructure which in simple terms means something that requires construction of some sort. The second point is that the levy (or most of it) should be used to benefit the neighborhood in which it was raised. Now what is really interesting about this is that all local authorities are required to provide proposals for a green infrastructure. Do you see where I am going with this?  One last piece in the jigsaw: Neighbourhood Plans. The point here is that under the Localism Bill, these are legally binding on Local Planning Authorities. Effectively local communities can force their local planning authorities to include aspects from the neighbourhood plans in the Local Development Framework (‘The Core Strategy’).
Parks and Community Gardens can be defined as green infrastructure under the Localism Act

So, let’s put these pieces together: a mechanism for channelling funds from developers into infrastructure that will benefit local communities; a mechanism for neighbourhoods to to demand certain facilities from their local planning authorities, and a requirement on local authorities to provide proposals for ‘green infrastructure’ (which by the way is fairly explicitly defined – for once**). This represents a significant opportunity for community and other groups to gain access to funding that is otherwise disappearing fast. The Government has already said that priority will be given to projects that would not normally receive funding under local authority spending. Under the current squeeze this is an chance that most communities should recognise and pursue vigorously.

John Wyer

*The Community Infrastructure Levy regulations 2010 made the first use of these powers and came into effect in April 2010.

** An explanantion of how CIL works (in Havant DC) can be found here, there is a good list of what is defined as ‘green infrastructure’ on page 7.

How do you solve a problem like a garden designer? Writing a brief – a guide for clients.

As the weather improves this week, the temperature climbs and we all begin to look outside again. At this time of year, I frequently go into the garden and think ‘what a tip!’ All those odds and ends, badly coiled hoses, un-pruned plants, and scrappy undergrowth – how could I have not noticed it before? It is true that without the kind veil of foliage, gardens can look particularly grim at this time of year. If all this is familiar to you, then cheer yourself up by leafing through magazines and books with their summery pictures of tranquillity that we all associate with gardens. Perhaps it is finally all too much? Maybe it is time to start again? After all if you’re not going to move house you might as well sort the garden out.

Where do I start?

But where to start? Most people really struggle when it comes to writing a coherent brief for a designer. As they are unfamiliar with the process of design, or what a designer might propose, they feel intimidated by the whole procedure. If you’re thinking of making changes in your own garden or have a new project, why not start by tagging images that you like, even if they are wildly diverse. This will help to get you thinking in order that you can write a simple brief. Start with a few simple bullet points:

  • When you are there: do you look at the garden all day or only evenings/weekends? Is it a second home, perhaps used seasonally?

    How keen a gardener are you? How much time do you think you can (or want to) devote to looking after the garden?
  • Think how you will use the garden: do you entertain? Do you have children, pets?
  • Are you a keen gardener? In all honesty, how much time are you likely to spend out there? If you haven’t shown much interest so far, then don’t lumber yourself with a high maintenance scheme with lots of herbaceous plants – leave that to the National Trust! If you are keen, perhaps you might consider an area for vegetables or fruit.
  • Instead of using clichéd phrases like ‘year-round colour’ or ‘lots of evergreens’, try instead to think in terms of how the garden will look and feel. Maybe you like things wild and romantic – scrambling roses, long grass with wild flowers, apple trees laden with fruit. Or perhaps you are more controlled – clean swept paving, topiary, clipped hedges, splashes of colour or white flowers kept to occasional containers. If there is a particular style or image that sums it up – cottage garden, Mediterranean, urban chic, or family friendly, then add to your brief.
  • Are there any particular features that you want in the garden hot tub, fire pit, water feature, swimming pool?
  • If there are any facts that the garden designer might not know at a quick visit – tell them – like: ‘It’s always sunny just here late in the morning’, or ‘I’ve never liked that house next door can we screen it’. Other than that, try not to lead your designer too much – no ‘I’ve always fancied a circular lawn’ or ‘I just thought a raised bed here would be nice’. Let them come up with the ideas – you will be pleasantly surprised!
  • Finally – BUDGET! Always a tricky one! In my experience most clients say that they don’t have a budget in mind or that they have no idea. In practice, everybody has some idea and most clients actually do have a budget in mind. It is supremely unhelpful if you don’t share your thoughts on what you want to spend with your designer. You would walk into an estate agent and say you had no idea of budget. In the end, the more detail you can give a designer on cost, the less of everybody’s time is wasted. This is especially important if you have an over-riding cost limit – you only want to spend the £40K granny left you and not a penny more. And do be clear whether you are talking VAT inclusive or excluding VAT.


Finally - that's a weight off my mind!

Presumably, if you have come as far as reading this blog, you are interested in employing a garden designer, either now or in the future. if you want to compare people, do try and start with suitably qualified and professional designers. Of course it goes without saying that B&W are the best, but if you want a comparison, go to the Society of Garden Designers website ( and look through a few designers in your area.

John Wyer

I’ve been using it increasingly, but I never touch it.

I am a great believer in starting the design process on a drawing board. For me, there is nothing like a large blunt pencil or a fat marker pen and a blank sheet of white paper. Perhaps it’s just my generation? I don’t think that’s all it is though; As Milton Glaser put it: ‘There’s not enough fuzziness in a computer solution, so you figure it out too early, and what you get is a very well executed ordinary idea.’ I like that.

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To Meet or Not To Meet?

It’s  6am and my old friend the snooze button (god bless him) can’t rescue me anymore!  I shower, change, wake the kids, dress the little zombies, stuff them with a good dose of strangely coloured cereal (fortified with vitamins so they say!), trip over school bags and run around like a Basil Fawlty for 20 minutes before finally ambling out of the door.  I can’t be late for my meeting in London I protest, I must catch that train or I am doomed! 

After dropping off the kids and racing like ‘The Stig’ to the station I find I have no parking money, and surprise, surprise the only parking spaces are miles from the station office!  After more expletives, rushing about and waiting behind the longest person in the world (I mean who buys their season ticket at 7.30am?) I finally get my ticket and place on the London Midland express!   This meeting better be worth it!

Much to my dismay the meeting turns out to be a complete time waster and not the ‘important’ one the project manager had built it up to be.  Landscape was of course the last item on the agenda with only minor queries, which could have been dealt with all to easily via email or over the telephone.  Still, at least there was coffee this time!

The problem with meetings, especially in a large design team environment is other consultants often don’t appreciate how much of our time is wasted when we are asked to attend those that don’t really concern us.  Involvement is different for architects, structural engineers and M&E consultants as they usually cover broad areas both internally and externally on projects.   As Landscape/garden designers we are generally only concerned with the exterior spaces (with some exceptions).  Whilst knowing how much duct work can be run through the ceiling voids is interesting for some, it is not usually our favourite topic of conversation nor does it benefit our work!   

This is where the art of meeting selection plays an important part of our armoury as landscape designers.  Learning to pick the right meetings to attend and those to avoid is vital if you are to maximise productivity and most importantly profit on a project.  Judging the number of meetings you will attend in fee quotes can be an extremely difficult task but a very important one none the less, especially if you hope to recoup fees for additional meetings at later date. 

Increasingly on larger projects we try to bottom out with project managers, clients and architects if they really do need us at all the meetings scheduled.  By simply asking the question you can end up saving a huge amount of time for both yourself and your clients which can only be a good thing in the long run, not to mention allowing you to get reacquainted again with the faithful Mr Snooze!

James Smith