Water Smart Gardens

In Scotland, shortage of water is not too often a topic of concern but the reality is that things are changing and long periods of low water tables will mean hosepipe bans right when we need to water our garden most of all. 

We need to be more mindful about the water we use in our gardens and solutions have to suit our short seasons with wet and cold periods, followed by possible long periods of drought. 

Limit Water Run-off
Water usually runs to certain areas of your garden. Firstly, downhill, and secondly, to areas with free draining soil before venturing into more compacted soil. You can use these principles to channel water and retain it in certain places. 

The easiest example is when your garden is on a slope. You can then plant swales perpendicular to the water run off, or have little ponds to hold water until it overflows. Swales are shallow, vegetated channels designed to store or convey water runoff. Swales retain the water and slowly release it again, very much like a sponge which is perfect for heavy rainfall alternated with periods of drought to help to reduce runoff and risk of soil erosion and water pollution.

For a flat garden, channelling water is a bit more challenging. Digging sloping trenches and filling with free draining substrate such as gravel, or installing drainage to move water to a reservoir, is all possible. It does have to be worth the effort however, so observe your garden well. If water runs off at a certain spot, planting upstream from that spot in the unchanged soil might be enough to slow down water run off enough.

Harvest Water
Water harvesting can be done easily in a lot of gardens by installing a water butt connected to any drainpipe, or one that is simply filled up by rain. They come in different styles and with a range of price tags. Alternatively, whisky barrels, empty bins and more can be recycled into elegant and sustainable water-collecting features in your garden.

When attaching a hose to a water butt, do think about legionnaires’ disease. A hosepipe can cause aerosols, fine spray that we do not see but which we can inhale. Inhaling legionnaires’ disease bacteria can cause life threatening illness. Switching the hose off at the tap and letting the last water run out out, then storing the hose in a cool, shaded place all help to prevent this. 

A better option is to use a watering can instead which can be dunked straight into the water butt so something with a wide opening is ideal. That saves time standing around filling the watercan from the hose and greatly reduces the risk for harmful bacteria to spread.

Tap Water
If you are unable to harvest rainwater and have to use tap water, irrigation is a lot more efficient when using a drip pipe system. This is basically a slightly leaky hose that releases water right at the root of the plant, reducing evaporation. It also saves a lot of time. Mulching will make it even more effective as it keeps the moisture locked in and ensures that you cannot see the hosepipe.

Lawns as Water Reservoirs
Tightly clipped lawns start looking dull quickly if not watered regularly so try to limit the amount of lawn cuts unless you do not mind brown patches in summer. Alternatives for lawns are meadows, cut once or twice a year, that support biodiversity in many ways and also act as a water reservoir as the rainwater clings to the foliage and slowly drips down into the soil. Or look at no mow lawns, species of grass that grow relatively short and thrive in dry conditions.

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