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.


5 responses on “The Hose Pipe Ban

  1. Charlie Patin

    Hi John, This post brought back bittersweet memories that have nothing to do with water rationing, drought or water harvesting (as we refer to it here in Texas). My memories were tweaked by your use of the term, “hose pipe”. Growing up in south Louisiana my father, hence my family, used this same term to refer to the flexible hose that we used to get water from a faucet(tap) to wherever we needed it.
    One Christmas my sister and her fiancee wanted to get my father a hose reel. As they discussed the gift my sister used the word “hose pipe”. Her fiancee was amused as he, from north Louisiana, thought the “correct” term was “water hose”.
    They went on the give my father the reel but my very talented now brother-in-law wrote a wonderful poem using the terms, “hose pipe” and “water hose”.
    That was many, many years ago. My father passed away years ago and the poem is history, but the term “hose pipe” will always bring back memories.
    As an aside, you might be aware that here in Texas we had our own terrible drought last year. As of now, we have received more rainfall this year than we did all of 2011 and are now officially out of a drought. Wishing you more rain and a great summer of gardening in south east England.

    1. John Wyer Post author

      Hi Charlie. That is a fascinating insight, thanks. I think am going to start using the term ‘water hose’ myself from now on; it has a slightly genteel Edwardian feel to it. I was aware of the drought in Texas. I spoke there at a conference at A&M a few years ago. I also have relatives nearby in College Station. Texas is a fascinating State and one that I feel defies its stereotypes (apart from perhaps the ‘Texas Cadillacs’ – i.e. trucks!). I am also fairly familiar with those sort of unpredictable climates – we did a garden last year in Washington State in the dry areas inland (near Spokane) where all the planting had to be Xeriscape. the details are on our website (although they need updating).

  2. MikeTheGardener

    Wow. Drought in England. That is almost unbelievable. It has rained every time we were there…
    I am in California, and we have had droughts (and occasional water rationing) for the last 40 years. Some El Nino seasons have helped restore the reservoir levels, but it will take a decade of heavy rainfall to restore our ground water. We have sea water intruding into our aquifers threatening our coastal farming and domestic water supplies.
    Drip systems, mulching and use of native plants reduces water usage by 90%. It also helps reestablish native wildlife habitats and ecosystems.
    The global weather turmoil may be a short term thing, or may be not. The sooner we start conserving water (and all our other resources) the better off we will all be.
    Good luck to you guys…

    1. John Wyer Post author

      Hi Mike. I know, unbelivable isn’t it. Actually it does get quite dry here. The east of the country only gets 500-600mm (20″-24″) of rain in an average year and much of this is during the winter. If we get a dry winter (as we had in both 2010-2011 and 2011-2012) then the summer rainfall doesn’t really make up for it. The long term trend for the UK is predicted to be warmer wetter winters and hotter drier summers. However there is a great deal of instability and changes in the North Atlantic Drift pattern could upset all that. You are quite right about mulching and drip (or no irrigation). Use of native plants will be an uphill struggle with UK gardeners, but is already well established as a principal with public landscape schemes, particulalry with regards to tree choice. Ironically it has done nothing but rain here for the last two weeks since the hosepipe ban was introduced – my own rainwater storage tanks (only about 1000 gallons/4500L) are now completely full!

      1. Melissa

        So John, what are your thoughts about this summer in the UK? We are indeed having strange seasons….. this summer has certainly neither been hot or dry. I don’t think the unusual jet stream patterns this year were predicted at all. And flowering and some edible plants have not fared as well. Who knows what the next year holds for us!

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