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…..like 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 www.turfgrass.co.uk 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 http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/Profile.aspx?pid=397 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!
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 http://www.sgd.org.uk/Article/Detail.aspx?ArticleUid=CCA6588A-16BC-44E0-B592-5AADCB70B417 and British Association of Landscape Industries website www.bali.co.uk for news on the lobbying and how to get involved and watch this space for news.