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I like big butts and I cannot lie (or how to save water)

Updated: May 26, 2020

How the simple act of collecting water can provide a huge range of benefits

When I was young, there was a lovely couple who lived next door to us, Bill and his wife Reenie. We would occasionally visit them. I still remember clearly that wonderful smell of lavender as we walked past the large plant that was just inside their front front gate.

The back garden was immaculate, with a narrow paved patio, very neat area of grass and an abundance of glorious roses. In the summer months, I always remember seeing Bill in his string vest (it was the 70s!) tending to the plants.

The garden housed a shed that he used as a workshop. On rare occasions, I would catch a glimpse of the inside of it. As a young child, it was like seeing inside a mysterious room. To the side of the shed was a water butt. While my parents garden was beautiful it was quite different, not only containing flowers, roses and shrubs, but my dad also grew cauliflower, cabbage, grapes, beans and fruit trees. Nevertheless, we never owned a water butt and I strangely always found myself transfixed by it.

40 years on, I see my old neighbours garden looks very different to how it did then. The front garden, like so many in London, is paved for a car space and the shed, amazingly is still in the garden and the water butt sits next to it but is no longer connected to the down-pipe and the top part is exposed completely so is not fit for purpose.

Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit my parents green fingers, but 3 years ago I started to take an interest in gardening and started my own garden transformation into a much more welcoming space. I feel that our parent’s generation were naturally more resourceful. They thought about what they could produce themselves and shops generally provided things that were in season.

Luckily, due to my childhood, my attitude towards gardening was not just aesthetic reasons, but also for the benefit of nature and the environment. Early on I knew I would be an organic gardener and try to be as resourceful as I could (but I still have a long way to go). I am pleased to say that the wonder I had in Bill and Reenie's garden meant that a water butt was always going to be a necessary addition.

In a time when we are faced with how reliant we are on things that others supply to us, collecting rain water is a great way for protecting the valuable and limited fresh water resource.

Water butts come in a range of sizes which can accommodate different size gardens and can also be installed on downpipes of sheds and garages. The water butt above is 100.

Benefits of Installing a Water Butt:

· Lowers the demands on mains water supplies: If we collected rainwater from all UK roofs, we could save 30,000 million litres of fresh water every summer.

· Reduces rainwater runoff flowing into our drains: This is a big issue when dealing with flood reduction.

· Access to water during drought / hose-pipe bans: Allows easy access to water to keep plants alive and reduces the need to use fresh water from reservoirs.

· Rainwater is good for plants: Rain water contains natural minerals so is more beneficial to plants than fresh water. It is free from the salts, minerals and chemicals found in treated tap water, natural ground water and surface water. It is more gentle on plants. Rainwater is slightly acidic which the majority of plants prefer.

· Collecting rainwater can reduce your monthly bills: If you are on a water meter you can reduce water use during peak summer season.

Connect to a shed down pipe: Whilst it won’t harvest as much water, as from a house roof, if space is an issue, this will still provide additional water.

· Simple to install: Where there is a down pipe you can installing a water butt and it is not difficult.

· They reduce material going to landfill: Yes they are plastic, but many are made from recycled materials.

- Many councils subsidise: go to your councils website to find subsidised water butts.

Other ways to save water

Water Pots in the Afternoon: research has found plants watered after 12.00 pm and during the afternoon, “significantly outperformed plants grown with early morning watering.

Save water from cooking: rice, potatoes, pasta - they all contain nutrients to provide added nutrients to your plants.

Use a wormery: worm castings and compost enable soil to retain more moisture and retain nutrients

Use non-porous pots: Try to avoid terracotta and metal planters.

Use mulch, bark and stone coverings: this can significantly prevent water evaporation.. You can also add water-retaining granules or gel to compost.

Water when you need to: Don't overwater plants and do it when you need to.

Select plants that don't require a lot of water: Try this link to the RHS for tips

Keep your garden low on weeds: Remember that weeds also use up water so weeding will reduce the water demand.

Divert grey water: Water from baths and showers can be safely diverted with the help of a plumber.

All photos are stock or not mine.

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