Preparing for drought in the garden

Posted: Monday 20 February 2012
by Adam Pasco

It's only February, but already we're being warned of severe drought in many regions.

water butt tap being turned

It's only February, but already we're being warned of severe drought in many regions. For some of us this could mean water restrictions and hosepipe bans soon, and a challenging summer ahead for gardeners.

The problem is we haven't had the winter rain we'd normally expect, so reservoirs and groundwater are well below the usual levels for this time of year. In East Anglia, for instance, I'm told it's been the driest winter on record, with below average rainfall for the past 18 months.

I appreciate that we're not all in the same boat (if you'll pardon the pun). But for millions of gardeners in the driest parts of the UK, this will be the third year running of extreme drought. South-east England, the east Midlands and East Anglia are badly affected following the driest spell for many areas in 90 years.

A summit being held today by Defra with Caroline Spelman, Environment Secretary, will bring together water companies, farmers and environmental groups to discuss the problem. Are there ways, for instance, that regions of heavy rain can supply water to their drier neighbours? It’s a big cause of frustration in a country without a national water grid, that some areas have plenty of rainfall and reservoirs to store it, while others are running desperately short.

During 2011, although farmers in the driest regions had water restrictions imposed on them, the water companies did not have to enforce hosepipe bans on the public.

Now, midway through February, and following another desperately dry winter, many regions are in drought. Unless they receive significant rainfall soon, restrictions will be imposed on everyone, including domestic customers.

Today's summit hopes to raise awareness of the problem, so that consumers can start making lifestyle changes in the way they use water, saving it wherever they can in their day-to-day lives. And in my experience this is where the most significant quantities of water can be saved.

Why simply make a very public display of banning gardeners from using hoses, while letting the millions of non-gardeners continue using (or wasting) all the water they want in their homes.

In my experience most gardeners use water very wisely, and if their supply is metered, like mine, they know it's costing them money, every time they turn on the tap.

Whether you're trying to grow your own fruit and veg, or flowers and plants to attract wildlife, feed birds, and generally improve the local environment, one of the things your plants need to survive, is water.

I do everything I can to save water - collecting rainwater in butts, making compost to dig into my soil and improve the amount of water it can retain, and mulching everything to help reduce water loss by evaporation. However, my garden has suffered significantly over the last two dry years. I always leave my lawn to turn brown, and although it looks dreadful, it does recover. But many plants, including established shrubs, have died. I grow food for my family in my garden, and it's been a struggle.

My water company, Anglian Water, is already warning that unless we get significant rainfall soon, then a hosepipe ban is likely.

Yes, gardeners in dry areas will have to adapt, but I just hope they don't become the scapegoat while other water consumers are allowed to carry on regardless behind closed doors.

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Talkback: Preparing for drought in the garden
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happymarion 20/02/2012 at 17:14

Driest we've been in Bristol since 1976 so I am going to be careful about which plants I grow. Mediterranean type plants like lavender and rosemary and the grey-leaved ones are fine. I will have a good look at the Botanic Garden. Their South African plants like osteospermums seem to fare well in drought conditions. My five rainwater butts are all full after the winter but will be needed for my vegetables and flowers for cutting in my new raised bed potager. Murphy's Law decreed that we should have a drought when I had it built!

donutsmrs 20/02/2012 at 18:13

Luckily here in Bournemouth we have never had a hosepipe ban not even in 1976, but I have always been careful with water, I've got four water butts, two of which are plastic dustbins with their lids turned upside down with holes in, and I try to grow plants that don't need a lot of water. I don't use the hosepipe too often and I never waste water watering the lawn to try and keep it green because how ever brown it gets it always comes back green in the end.

sarahbroome 20/02/2012 at 18:51

I really like donutmrs idea for waterbutts definitely one I shall be pinching!!

oldchippy 20/02/2012 at 19:52

We could always blame the weather man like we do in the summer when they get it wrong.

Adam Pasco 20/02/2012 at 23:37

From tonights TV news it does look as if there will be a hosepipe ban in my area. So, when it comes to summer bedding I think sun loving pelargoniums (zonal geraniums) will be featuring highly in my selection.
I'm also following happymarion's idea and growing those beautiful daisy-flowered osteospermums.
What else? Succulents like aeoniums. Mediterranean herbs. More suggestions please.

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