Gardens in East Anglia can start getting really thirsty at this time of year. This year’s spring has turned out to be the sunniest on record for the UK. Great for enjoying the outdoors and catching up in the garden but not so good for many plants, wild animals and crops.
Roses, peonies and cirsium: Nancy Brown
We can see that our gardens are dry so many of us are out watering in the early evenings. There are ways in which we can be more water conscious to use this precious resource wisely now and in particular if hosepipe bans come into action; we may even save on the water bill.
At the Flatford Garden, we were lucky enough to receive funding from Essex & Suffolk water to install a 7500-litre rainwater storage tank near the pond back in 2017. That keeps us going on our substantial plot but there are a few things that can be at home to preserve water.
Installing water butts is an easy and efficient way to harness water from the roof and collect it in downpipes and their very light and pretty easy to fit into place. Rain water can be collected in any large watertight vessels: old bath tubs, old tanks, dustbins, barrels etc. with a bit of guttering positioned to channel it in from sheds and outbuildings as well as parts of the house. Even just leaving out unwanted buckets or tubs could collect enough to water the whole garden, that’s if we actually get some rain!
Check drooping plants and those you know need regular water, is the water running over the soil away from them? If so, move the earth about so that it dips down towards the stem of the plant and raises up where the ground slopes to direct it into the dip. On flat ground just make a “saucer” right round the plant to hold water.
Mulching not only slows the evaporation of water from the soil but it actually keeps the plants cooler, suppresses weed growth (these also soak up precious moisture) and can look uniform and attractive. Compost, wood and bark chippings are popular but you can also use straw, leaves, grass clippings or stones and grit. A layer of garden compost or chopped up nettles or comfrey will eventually decompose to feed the plant. You could double layer with a topping of attractive bark on top for the best of both worlds. Mulching 2-4 inches thick is recommended to be the most efficient.
Some plants thrive particularly well with little moisture including many Mediterranean herbs. Flowering Chives, Wild Marjoram/ Oregano, Sage, Thyme They not only tolerate heat, but also provide lots of nectar for winged insects. A few plants for wildlife that can do particularly well in dry soil are Buddleja, Cat Mint, Sea Holly, Honeysuckle, Lavender, Salvias, Sedum, and Verbena Boriensis
Using a watering can at the base of specific plants that need it can be much more frugal and effective than dowsing the whole border... and whilst the watering can is flowing, remember to top up the dishes for birds and other wildlife in desperate need while it’s dry.
Ducks aren't one of those in desperate need as they they live on water! but I still have this regular visitor to my home garden to pick at the bird seed and have a drink along with the sparrows.
There's more helpful information from the RHS on watering, collecting and storing rainwater plus more on drought resistant gardening and there are some interesting details from the RSPB on the importance of saving water
So, for now, I suppose it's rain dance outfits on and butts at the ready!
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