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All dried out

By garden designer Andrew Fisher Tomlin. I was going to start this month by giving some handy ways to beat the hosepipe ban and keep your trees and shrubs alive but before I got there I started thinking about the reasons for a hosepipe ban.

You won't have missed the fact that since February our gardens have been the battleground in the fight for sustainable resources. Apparently there's a water shortage because we've been watering the garden too much. OK, that's not quite true - we're going to have a widespread hosepipe ban because reservoirs and aquifers are low. But really, if you listened to the water companies you'd think it really is all about the foolish and wasteful use of water by gardeners in a time when climate change is causing havoc on our weather.

The water companies tell me that the garden takes about 4% of water demand on a seasonal basis. Banning hosepipes will have some affect but do we really think that it's enough? Lets put our senseless use of hosepipes into perspective. Thames Water, the instigators of the largest ban to 8 million households, loses 30% of water before it gets to our taps. So that's 30% of water going nowhere against 4% for gardens. I don't pretend for a moment that every use of a hosepipe is essential. We can all get by without a clean car or a green lawn but I am equally sure that watering trees and shrubs is a far more positive step towards reversing the negative affects of climate change than letting it seep out of pipes.

Consider the other household uses of water. When did water companies last give you advice on saving water in the home? Have you turned off that tap when you cleaned your teeth (5% of water use!)? Did you really need to put half a load into your washing machine? Was the water company bothered? Until this month I've never had anything from them except the feeling that my role in encouraging people to garden is a cause of all their problems. I'd feel better about a hosepipe ban if they did something proactive about the other 96% of water used and the stuff they lose, didn't fill in reservoirs to take advantage of the property boom and gave us advice for saving water so that hosepipe bans weren't necessary.

The gardeners and designers I meet are intensely aware of the impact their work has on the environment, natural resources and climate change. Hardly a conversation about our work passes without looking at the positive and negative impacts of our work. I have always worked towards designing planting schemes with low water requirement. I have no doubt that I am not alone in encouraging my customers to conserve water.

So what can you do to keep your garden growing though the ban short of a raindance?

  • Mulch, mulch, mulch
    This is as important to your garden as Mr Blair's education chant is to voters. Get a good layer of mulch around your plants, the earlier the better and it will help keep moisture in the ground not evaporating.
  • Rainfall
    It is still raining but we need to conserve every last bit of it so fit a water butt to your downpipe - you're still allowed to use a watering can.
  • The bath water
    I remember emptying the bath water into the garden in 1976. You can still do it but just make sure you've not got a whole bunch of bubble bath chemicals in it before you do. And don't use it to fill up the pond.
  • Planting
    And finally if you want to plant then think about those plants that can survive dry conditions. Think Mediterranean lavenders, shrubby germander Teucrium fruticans, lambs ears Stachys byzantina and geraniums. Herbs, olive trees and rock roses Cistus and Helianthemum and all those silvers, blues and pinks that work so well in summer gardens. It's not really the best time to plant trees anyway, so save that for the autumn.
  • Wildlife
    Make sure there's some dampish shady areas still available for frogs and toads. They don't spend their whole like if ponds and a damp patch can help save them through the drought and they'll repay you by eating the slugs.

With any luck by the time you read this we'll have had the wettest April on record. I won't have got any gardens built but we might have a sensible debate about water resources that places our gardens as part of the solution and not the cause of climate change.

By Andrew Fisher Tomlin

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