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Terry Underhill               ©

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PAGE 3 -  Waterwise trends

NB - An example of my writings

Waterwise - Trends                                          

 (Western Morning News Jan 2000) 

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Gardening Which Waterwise Gardens 

I would love to know what it is that triggers the widespread popularity of a gardening personality, a particular plant or group of plants, a style of gardening design or feature, or a particular method of gardening. In the 1950's, Chrysanthemums were all the rage with most gardens having small and large flowered plants in their borders, and often pots of late-blooming exhibition types in a glasshouse. In the 1960's, almost every gardener, blessed with an acid soil, grew Rhododendrons, especially blood-red species and cultivars, and to be ‘with it’ you talked about Rhododendrons at every gathering of garden -minded people. At about the same time large displays of Dahlias at flower shows drew visitors, but the craze was short-lived and they were soon displaced by Fuchsias.

In the early 1820's it was fashionable to grow Cape Heaths, of which nearly 400 species had been introduced from South Africa, the majority of which needed skilled glasshouse cultivation. After World War II, hardy heaths were fashionable for a short period, returning again in the popularity stakes in the 1960's and 70's, as gardeners became more aware of ground-cover plants and labour saving features . Perhaps they were over-planted, along with rigid conifers, which flooded the market, as they are losing popularity again.

There are signs that the hype over Japanese style gardens, and painting garden sheds and fences blue, are losing popularity. Likewise the horticultural press is reporting a growing criticism of ‘make-over’ instant gardening, and a desire for more practical advice and instruction.

For many years I have promoted ‘Waterwise’ gardening, being very concerned about water, not just in this country but abroad, where rivers are dammed to provide wide scale irrigation, sometimes reducing the flow so significantly that rivers start silting up, or reducing the amount of water available for use by another country down stream. Man cannot survive many days without water to drink, and I can see serious antagonism arising between countries over water supplies.

In Britain, some streams are a mere trickle as natural water levels are reduced. Clare Short, Minister for Overseas Development and Aid, is passionate about helping the Third World to be able to look after itself, by giving a helping hand now, and the supply of clean water is high on her list and on those of many International Charities.

We in Britain are very spoilt when it comes to water, having some of the world’s cleanest water and a widespread network of availability. It grieves me to see the waste of this valuable commodity, which could, if it was available in many countries overseas provide much better and healthier lives for millions of people. Instead we often moan about the cost of this incredibly pure liquid which comes out of all our taps, and then wash the car with it, hose down the paths, spray it all over the garden, sometimes using an automatic sprinkler, without realising that an average sprinkler uses overnight as much water as an average family of four in this country use in a fortnight, or, in parts of countries like Ethiopia, probably a year’s supply.

I recently was asked to visit a couple who reckon that their water bill is around £50 a year, to see how they manage it yet still have a much admired garden. The front garden of their bungalow was above average size with the lawn replaced by a ground cover sheet covered with large gravel. Raised beds, and mulched borders provided interest and colour. A small area for dwarf fruit trees and a few vegetables was mulched with a groundcover sheet covered with bark, wherever possible. There was a pleasant , paved sitting-out area complete with a picnic table, placed where it caught the sun and was private, and also a little glasshouse. There was a fair number of large pots, looking like terra-cotta yet made of plastic. All the plants in these were growing through slits made in a circular cover made from a ground-cover sheet, and hidden by the small-sized grit favoured by alpine growers. The sheet conserved moisture and the grit deterred Vine weevil. These containers were kept sheltered from winds which cause rapid evaporation and drying out.

Wherever possible, all the soil in beds and borders and containers was rich in moisture holding organic matter. They had also rejected all soft-leaved water-guzzling plants, selecting instead, whenever possible, small, thick-leaved, white or grey-leaved, or compact plants.

Only one barrel-shaped water butt was visible at the front of the Bungalow, but a further six were tucked away at the back, behind the garage and by the glasshouse. The water stored in these butts was not only used for watering plants in the garden, but also for washing the car and windows of the bungalow. Various water conservation practices and equipment were operated within the home.

The message, ‘Be Waterwise’, had obviously been put most effectively into operation. As part of this ongoing policy of encouraging people to be ‘Waterwise’, South West Water are touring the region, starting in early April, with their Water Conservation Caravan, giving advice and offering various water butts, stands, diverters to collect rain water from standard square or round downpipes, and kits to join two butts together, at exceptionally low prices. All details, including venues for the day sales and permanent sale sites in Cornwall and Devon, are in their current issue of ’WaterLevel’, being delivered to every household in the region.

Here’s hoping that being ‘Waterwise’ becomes the trendy theme for everyone, including the regions gardeners, for a long time, especially as the changes in the region’s weather pattern are likely to be wetter, windier Winters and warmer, drier Summers.


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