So far it’s been a dry year. This week’s rain has only slightly redressed the balance, but it has made me think about water in the garden – and the benefits to the environment as a whole, not just to our own gardens.
Conventional wisdom and resulting trends in garden design have, over the last 20 years, moved towards a reduction in the use of water in gardens. Eye-catching statistics like ‘London is dryer than Istanbul’ and ‘The South East of England has less water available per person than the Sudan and Syria’ make us focus on conserving water.
In the UK we use, on average, 150 litres of water a day per person. A hosepipe running on standard water pressure uses approximately 500 litres in 30 minutes. A mains-fed garden irrigation system would typically use 300 – 500 litres every other day in its first year from April-September and the same twice weekly each year after that (based on GreenArt gardens of an average size of 350-400 m2).
Are we therefore being rather profligate with our water use? Should we be designing gardens that need so much water?
GreenArt clients who have a mains-fed irrigation system installed will typically send £2 – £4 per week on water when their system is turned on and generally see this as a worthwhile maintenance cost when they’ve invested several thousands of pounds in a new garden. You’d certainly spend more on cleaning a new car!
When it comes to the ethics of water use, take a moment to look at Thames Water – the water supplier to most of our customers in Oxfordshire. An operating post tax profit of £266 million alongside a loss of 644 million litres of water a day due to leaks alone, makes watering our gardens look like literally a drop in the ocean.
From an environmental perspective, watering your garden is often a grey area. We are told by organisations such as waterwise to reduce our water usage to ‘leave more for wildlife and the environment’. But gardens are a vital wildlife resource for food, habitat and shelter. Garden ponds, trees and lawns are invaluable to many species.
In my view, water loss and water storage in this country is being poorly managed and is, quite frankly, pathetic. Meanwhile water companies are highly profitable and the industrial use of water dwarfs that of domestic users. In dry summers when hosepipe bans are introduced, gardens and their wildlife suffer. This year we’ve already seen a dry spring, so a dry summer looks inevitable. Those who ‘flout’ the ban are made to feel like pariahs and/or are fined. In actual fact it’s the garden owners that are generally the sensible ones, watering only when and where its needed and the overall effect on the country’s water consumption is minimal.
Here’s a final fact for you to think about – if all of Thames Water’s customers who own a hosepipe had it on for an hour every day, the water used would only represent 0.023% of the amount of water that Thames Water loses in leaks every day. Isn’t it time to fight back?