I thought I’d write a blog about the actions you can undertake in order to reduce water usage in your garden, whilst maintaining healthy plants. In regions with water scarcity, water-wise gardening is imperative, the Australians are particularly good at utilising these techniques.

You might think this blog is a bit of a waste of time especially after the weather we’ve just had. However, in most years the UK has a rain deficient in summer, so in any dry year we can reach water scarcity quickly. After all it’s only two years ago since large parts of England had a hosepipe ban.

Also worth noting, we don’t plant a garden for one year but for decades and as the overall prediction is for hotter summers in the UK, it makes sense to plan for these extremes to reduce disease and even death in our planting. So, I have tried to cover some of the key principles and strategies used for water conservation in your garden.

At Design Heights we always discuss rain harvesting and watering regimes with our clients at the briefing stage. This can be as simple as adding a water butt or creating a complete dry-planting scheme.

Create Sustainable Planting Schemes

I don’t know what came first, Beth Chatto coining the phrase ‘Right Plant, Right Place’ or the development of her gravel garden. Starting back in the 1991, in Essex, the driest county in the UK, she converted a natural gravel pit area of her large garden, into a Dry Garden. By adding some organic matter and plants well known for their tolerance of dry conditions, watering in the early weeks to help establish roots and then never watering it again, EVER! The images below were taken about 5 years ago, just before her passing and show the beautiful planting that was achieved.

The philosophy is simple, access your garden’s conditions, thinking about; the aspect, south-west facing will be hotter. How it’s affected by winds which can be very drying to plants. Any tree canopies and walls that may cause dry patches where rain doesn’t reach, and poor or extreme drainage and slopes that will create dry and damp areas. Following this method means that the plant selection works with the microclimate, so you are not wasting water in drier months on thirsty plants, by starting with plants that can cope in the first place.

Establish healthy plants, by soaking them well before planting, say for an hour or two in a bucket of water. As well as making sure the soil has sufficient organic matter in it, if not add peat-free compost. Then mulch generously, covering the soil around plants. Mulch helps retain moisture, suppresses weeds, and improves soil health. Winner, Winner! You can use compost, bark chip or gravel as mulch, depending on what level of nutrients your planting requires.

Install an Irrigation System

Automated irrigation systems can reduce the volume of water used. If using a simple dripline system, often their use is permitted in times of drought. Irrigation systems should be set up and tweaked to wean the plants off water gradually over a period, once plants are established. This varies with the plant, soil type, aspect etc.

At Design Heights we are installing more and more simple irrigation systems into our projects. When discussing this with clients, it’s often perceived as being an expensive luxury item. However, a simple drip line solution for beds will cost about £500- £600 for an average medium-sized garden.

It’s very flexible, so you can turn it off when the weather is really wet or increase the time it’s on if it gets hot and sunny and reduce the frequency in winter when plants aren’t growing as much. Zoning of the system can also help with rain shade. I’ve noticed that even my most diligent clients, who are all over the watering in hot weather, forget about rain shade in wet weather, where overhanging trees or walls can stop the underplanting from getting enough water.

Irrigation combined with well mulched flower beds, I personally believe is a more sustainable use of water than watering by hose every couple of days in dry weather and hoping for the best when it rains. Plus, you get to enjoy your garden with a G&T rather than standing at the end of a hose.

Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting presents a viable sustainable solution to conserve freshwater resources. Especially in the UK where we get plenty of rain at certain times of year. We should all strive to collect as much rainwater as possible when and where we are able to, even a rainwater butt, from the guttering of your shed or garage is better than nothing.

However, it does need a lot of water to keep a garden well-watered for a couple of weeks in a drought, thousands of litres in fact, so unless you have the resources to install and bury large water holding tanks, this solution is only going to supply water for your veggie patch and/or pots. I only know one person who has done this on a large scale and she’s Australian, I refer you to paragraph 2.

I saw this system of connected water tanks in a side-return, photographed below, which is absolute genius. Hats off to this person’s ingenuity and commitment!

Greywater Recycling

Greywater recycling is the process of reusing household wastewater from sources like sinks, baths, showers, and washing machines for non-potable purposes such as toilet flushing, irrigation and laundry. The Ozzie’s are great at this, and it’s built into their construction regulations for residential, commercial and public scheme. This practice is gaining momentum in the UK due to its potential to conserve water and reduce the strain on sewage systems. However, these practices need to be planned mostly at the point of build so DO consider this if you are planning a new build or extension, but it’s not practical for all of us.

A few years ago we undertook a dry planting project in Beckenham. The plot was in a particularly exposed, sunny site, so I recommended we create a planting scheme that could survive without water. You can read the full case study here.

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If you would like a garden design that incorporates eco-friendly solutions, including water conservation in your garden and dry planting techniques, to create a beautiful and sustainable garden get in touch using the contact form here.