Wayside Gardens: Are We Being Efficient Enough With the Use of Water in Our Gardens?

Water has always been an essential and defining element of our landscapes and gardens. It's a symbol of wealth and power, personified in the great European houses of le Notre's Versailles and Vaux le Vicomte and the great English parks such as Lord Carlisle's heroic Castle Howard. It's an expression of the art of garden design seen in the 20th Century modernism of Thomas Church in California and Louis Barragan in Brazil. And it's a defining feature of architecture that so often sets a building in the context of the landscape. Aesthetically water creates reflection; it often calms the spirit but can also create dramatic force and vitality. It brings stillness and movement, cooling and focus to a space. It is essential to the life of a garden, for plants and wildlife.But for much of the past 100 years we have taken the availability of a ready supply of water for granted, particularly in the western world where we have become increasingly detached from where our resources come from. This is particularly true of the supply of fresh water and food. In our gardens we have had a ready supply of water with only moderate climatic changes that cause a little discomfort. Why worry about a brown lawn when there is a ready supply of irrigated water to keep it green? Indeed we have become so complacent about water that the 'water feature' has become a derided element of the contemporary garden.In modern times our relationship with water, as individuals, communities and nations, is changing quite dramatically. We are quite rapidly moving from an emphasis on the aesthetic nature of water to a concentration on the practical power of water. Biodiversity has become a watchword in the future battle to save the planet from the destructive way in which we live our lives. Crucially it has been identified that the five major ecosystems; forest, coastal, agricultural, grassland and fresh water are all seriously threatened and leading thinkers and bodies believe that the single issue of water will increase the likelihood of global conflict between countries. Water demand in the majority of European cities is now exceeding the rate at which it can be replenished. Major cities such as Mexico City, Bangkok, Manila and Shanghai are all reported to be at potential risk of major supply challenges and it has been predicted that by 2025 two out of every three people on the planet will live in water-stressed areas.Most importantly we are starting to understand this on an individual level because we are experiencing the impacts of climate change on our own lives. In the past 10 years climate change is characterised for most of us by extreme weather. As a garden designer with offices in the UK, Mediterranean and the Caribbean I am experiencing these rapid, diverse changes in weather and water supply everywhere. In the UK we have moved from a drought in 2006 where hosepipes were banned in the south of England to one of the wettest winters on record in 2007. At the same time we are battling to establish plants and trees in Cyprus because there has been no rain for 12 months. And in the Caribbean, we are experiencing increased hurricane activity and sporadic rainfall.Regionally we are experiencing extremes of flooding and drought within very short periods of time where one year we are banned from using hosepipes and cleaning cars and the next we are experiencing the destruction of homes and property from flood waters. It is this impact on our lives that has started to change our view of water as a limitless supply that arrives at the turn of the tap.If we are going to take individual responsibility then the place to start is in our homes and gardens. Essentially this means catchment and conservation. Harnessing the water we have and then conserving and using this water in the most efficient ways.We are only just starting to recognise the need to harness water in our homes. Whilst water companies struggle to replace worn out pipes we are preserving our own supplies by storing rainwater in systems as simple as water butts supplied from downpipes and as sophisticated as large underground filter systems. Commercially the latter has been going on for many years but it only now that a combination of lower costs, awareness and planning directives are causing us to install large storage systems within residential gardens. Ten years ago a client of mine, a water company executive, installed a 1,000 cubic metre tank beneath his lawn and we could not understand his reasoning. Now we get it.Of course water catchment is only part of the story. We need to use the water and in most part that stored water has been used for gardens in periods of drought, and where metered, as an alternative to paying for supplies. However, we are increasingly seeing a wider use of that water, not just for plants and lawns but also for secondary uses, taken into the home to flush toilets etc. What this means is that we are being asked to accommodate larger underground tanks within gardens.In contrast to recent developments in water harnessing we have been aware of using water wisely since the 1970s. Efficient toilet systems are widely used throughout Europe but this alone is too little for today's challenges. In the garden our most important use of water is for plants, and of course plants are part of the solution to climate change but the use of water for plants is a primary target for the water companies and politicians. Irrigation companies have been fighting a rear guard action for many years as they are often accused of inefficient use of water. As designers we actually find that our clients do not know how to water a plant properly and irrigation systems use water much more wisely than someone with a hosepipe.The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in the UK does much to encourage efficient watering. Garden water use is estimated at less than 3% of the annual water consumption of an average household but at peak times as much as 70% of water supplied is used in gardens. Water supply records indicate that peak demand begins in the evening after two weeks without rain in summer. This surge in demand can lead to water companies being forced to deplete groundwater and streams, which can cause serious environmental harm. As the RHS says "The cost of this peak demand has to be born by water users. In the wider interests of the environment and for the use of water in the garden to be acceptable to other water users, gardeners should use mains water as sparingly as they can." The RHS urges gardeners to make economical use of water by understanding the needs of plants and taking steps to reduce the loss from plants and the soil.The politics of water within different regions varies widely. In the UK there has been an ongoing debate about hosepipe bans for two years now. Promised reforms have led to a relaxed system but no actual legal framework which leaves planners and gardeners in limbo. More encouragingly garden designers and gardeners are taking the concept of water conservation and use into their own hands and using water wisely. Garden designers in particular are counteracting the lack of water and the cost of water supply by specifying alternative measures within their designs. At a basic level this includes mulching the soil around plants to conserve water in the soil. At a creative level there has been a surge in the design of dry gardens and waterwise planting.Dry gardens use plants efficiently to reduce, or often remove, the need for artificial irrigation. They rely solely on rainfall and good examples are Mediterranean aromatic gardens. Waterwise planting is a concept that is taking on more importance in the conservation of our water and soil. If you visit a South African garden you will notice much denser planting that encourages stronger root systems and retention of moisture in the soil.Both of these planting methods are essentially for ornamental plantings. Forest gardening on the other hand has many of the same principles but is a method of planting on different levels from low growing ground cover to tall trees capable of providing a sustainable, low maintenance environment for food production. It is essentially a great source of food, a sustainable method of conserving resources including water and whilst used for centuries in countries such as Indonesia it is relatively new to the western world. In a time when we are all worried about the supply of food it is predicted that this system of gardening will become wider spread.We should not forget that there is still a place for the aesthetic use of water in our gardens and landscapes. Ponds and water fountains, swimming pools and spas will still have a role to play. And whilst we are swapping the outdoor patio heater for a sweater as a necessary contribution to halting global warming we are not prepared to give up all the pleasures of the garden in the name of climate change. We are, however, changing the way in which we design these elements. Most notably natural ponds and pools have become the latest must have for those wanting the ubiquitous trophy garden. Natural pools harness the power of plants to clean their water without chemicals. In a world where we are more aware of the toxic effect of chemicals we are seeing clients moving towards natural pools in increasing numbers and, in some cases, converting existing pools to natural systems.Water is essential to life in a garden. We cannot expect to enjoy birds and wildlife in our gardens without it. Our gardens are the largest free wildlife sanctuary we have in many countries, especially crowded countries such as the UK where we are steadily losing space and greenbelt agricultural land provides too few wildlife habitats. We are finding that demand for formal ponds is starting to fall but conversely natural wildlife-friendly ponds are in great demand accompanied by wild, often native plants and local varieties of plants that encourage insects and wildlife.One area that is still vastly unexploited however is the use of reed bed systems in conjunction with natural ponds and pools. Reed bed systems are designed for the treatment of sewage and polluting wastewater effluents to create recyclable water. A secondary advantage is that they can provide wildlife habitats and natural swimming pools and, using a combination of horizontal and vertical plantings, they look great. They do however, need larger gardens and a challenge for the future will be to see how we can all harness this natural power in our small gardens.On a global scale the supply of fresh water will define the security of nations. On a local scale the reality for our gardens wherever we are in the world is that there will likely be long-term water shortages. How we cope with these shortages as individuals will be a defining issue. Principally we need a new relationship with water and how we value it. For our gardens we need to harvest, conserve and use efficient systems. As designers we already give good advice on planting effectively to minimize our impact but we now need to take a holistic view of the issues of harvesting not only rainwater but also wastewater and build these into our schemes, creatively and realistically.Education is key. We need to understand the issues and take personal responsibility. We cannot all afford reed beds and green water systems but we can take small steps by mulching soil, planting drought resistant plants and recycling water. There is a huge opportunity for new homes builders to act on these issues but they are caught between profitability, the limited requirements of planners and the need to provide affordable homes. In many countries there is no long term planning by our politicians and so we are learning how we can help ourselves. That's where community ties, whether physically in the form of allotments, community gardens and front garden food growing schemes or through shared values where a wider audience can meet via organizations such as the RHS or over the Internet, become important.We have short memories. My UK clients have forgotten the drought of just 24 months ago because of the wet winter of 6 months ago. Many cannot see the use for the simplest water harvesting methods yet they will be crying out for them when the next dry summer arrives. Meanwhile my Mediterranean clients are worried that their boreholes will dry up.It can be depressing to feel that we can only ultimately solve this crisis by the will of politicians and global leaders, knowing that their short-term visions will not solve long-term challenges. However, I have faith in the individual, I see the influence of their beliefs everyday in how we design their gardens and support their efforts to create a better solution to future water shortages and climate change. With the support of garden professionals like us we can educate and disseminate the best solutions to make a difference and help solve the water crisis garden by garden. [EXTRACT] Water has always been an essential and defining element of our landscapes and gardens. It is a symbol of wealth and power, personified in the great European houses Le Nôtre at Versailles and Vaux le Vicomte and large parks such as the English heroic Lord Carlisle Castle Howard. It is an expression of the art of garden design is seen in the 20 century modernism of Thomas Church in California and Luis Barragan, Brazil. It is a defining characteristic of the architecture that so often puts a building in the context of the landscape. Aesthetically water creates reflection, but often calms the spirit, but can also create dramatic strength and vitality. That brings stillness and motion, cooling and space approach. It is essential to the life of a garden, plants and wildlife. However, for much of the past 100 years we have had the availability of water supply for granted, especially in the Western world which have become increasingly detached from where our resources come. This is particularly true in the drinking water and food. In our gardens have had a water supply with only moderate changes in climate that causes some discomfort. Why bother when there's a brown lawn a supply of irrigation water to keep it green? In fact, we have become so complacent with the water that the "source of water has become an mocked in modern times, contemporary garden.In our relationship with water, as individuals, communities and nations, is changing dramatically. We are rapidly moving from an emphasis on the aesthetic nature of water to a concentration on the practical power of water. Biodiversity has become a slogan in the future battle to save the planet from the destructive way we live our lives. Fundamentally it has identified five major ecosystems, forests, coasts, agriculture, grassland and fresh water are seriously threatened and leading thinkers and organizations believe that the only issue of water will increase the likelihood of global conflict between countries. Water demand in most European cities is far higher than the rate at which it can replenish. Big cities like Mexico City, Bangkok, Manila and Shanghai are reported at risk potential major supply problems and it is anticipated that by 2025 two out of three inhabitants of the planet will live in water scarce areas. Most importantly, we are beginning to understand this at the individual level, as we are experiencing the impacts of climate change on our own lives. In the past 10 years climate change is characterized by most of us by extreme weather conditions. As a landscape designer with offices in the UK, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean that I am experiencing these rapid changes, with a diversity of climate and water everywhere. In the UK it has gone from a drought in 2006, where hoses were banned in the south of England to one of the wettest winters on record in 2007. At the same time we are struggling to establish plants and trees in Cyprus because there has been no rain for 12 months. And in the Caribbean, we are experiencing increased hurricane activity and sporadic rainfall. Regionally we are experiencing extremes of floods and droughts in very short time in a year that prohibited the use of hoses and cleaning of cars and next to which we are witnessing the destruction of homes and property from flood waters. This is the impact on our lives that has begun to change our vision of water as an unlimited source that reaches around the tap.If going to take individual responsibility then the place to start is in our homes and gardens. Essentially this means capture and storage. We use water and the conservation and use of this water in the most efficient ways.We are just beginning to recognize the need to use water in our homes. While water companies struggle to replace the pipes that are the preservation of our own supply by storing rainwater in systems as simple as the butts of water supplied from downspouts and as sophisticated as the larger systems groundwater filtration. Commercially, the latter has been happening for many years but only now that a combination of lower cost, awareness and planning guidelines are causing the installation of large storage systems in residential gardens. Ten years ago, a client of mine, an executive of the water company installed a 1,000 cubic meters tank below the garden and could not understand his reasoning. Now we have clear water catchment it.Of is only part of the story. We have to use water and most of the stored water has been used for the gardens during periods of drought, and the extent to which, as an alternative to the payment of supplies. However, we are seeing more and more use of that water, not only for plants and grass, but also for secondary uses, taken in the house to clean toilets, etc. What this means is that we are required to accommodate large underground tanks in the gardens. In contrast to recent developments in the use of water have been aware of using water wisely since the 1970's. Efficient bathrooms are widely used in Europe, but this alone is not enough for today's challenges. In the garden, the largest use of water for plants, and of course the plants are part of the solution to climate change, but the use of water for the plants is a major objective for the water companies and politicians. Irrigation companies have been fighting a rearguard action for many years, as they often are accused of inefficient water use. As designers we actually find that our customers do not know how to water a suitable plant and irrigation water use by far wiser than someone with a hosepipe.The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in the UK recently to promote irrigation efficient. Garden use of water is estimated at less than 3% of annual water consumption of an average household, but at peak times up to 70% of water supplied is used in gardens. The water records indicate that the peak demand begins at night after two weeks without rain in summer. This increased demand can lead to water companies are required to deplete the groundwater and rivers, which can cause serious environmental damage. As the right side says: "The cost of this increased demand has to be born by the users of water. The best interests of the environment and water use in the garden that is acceptable to other water users, gardeners should use mains water as sparingly as possible. "The RHS encourages gardeners to make economical use of water by understanding the needs of plants and taking measures to reduce the loss of plants and soil.The water policy within the different regions is very variable. In the UK there has been an ongoing debate on the prohibition of hose two years. Promised reforms have been a relaxed, but there is no current legal framework that lets planners and gardeners in limbo. More encouraging landscapers and gardeners are taking the concept of water conservation and use in their own hands and the rational use of water. Garden designers, in particular, is to counteract the lack of water and the cost of water supply by specifying alternative measures into their designs. At a basic level this includes soil mulch around plants to conserve water in the soil. On a creative level there has been an increase in dry landscaping planting.Dry WaterWise garden plants use efficiently to reduce or often eliminate the need for irrigation. They are based solely on rainfall and good examples are aromatic Mediterranean gardens. WaterWise Plantation is a concept that is taking more importance in the conservation of our water and soil. If you visit a garden in South Africa you will find dense planting that encourages stronger root systems and moisture retention soil.Both of these methods are essentially planting of ornamental plants. Forest gardening on the other hand has many of the same principles, but is a method of planting in the different levels of ground cover on tree growth can provide a sustainable environment, low maintenance for food production. It is essentially a source of food, a sustainable method of conserving resources such as water and at the same time used for centuries in countries like Indonesia is relatively new in the Western world. At a time when we are all concerned about the food supply is expected that this system of gardening, will radiate spread.We not forget that there is still a place for the aesthetic use of water in our gardens and landscapes. Ponds and water features, swimming pools and spas will have a role to play. And although that is changing the heater outdoor patio of a sweater as a necessary contribution to global warming are not willing to stop giving up all the pleasures of the garden in the name of climate change. We are, however, change the way the design of these elements. Remarkably natural ponds and pools have become the latest must have for those who want the trophy garden everywhere. Natural pools use the power of plants to clean water without chemicals. In a world where we are more aware of the toxic effects of chemicals that we are seeing customers move towards the natural pools in growing numbers and in some cases, the conversion of existing pools to natural systems.Water is essential for life in a garden. We can not wait to enjoy birds and wildlife in our gardens without it. Our gardens are the largest wildlife sanctuary freedom we have in many countries, especially developing countries, many people, such as the United Kingdom, where it loses more and more space and green belt agricultural land provides wildlife habitat very few. We are finding that demand for formal ponds are starting to fall, but in reverse natural wildlife friendly ponds are in high demand along with wild plants, often native and local varieties of plants that encourage insects and wildlife area . One that is still heavily exploited, however, is the use of reed bed systems with ponds and natural pools. Cane systems are designed for wastewater treatment and effluent wastewater pollutants to create recyclable water. A secondary advantage is that they can provide wildlife habitat and natural pools, using a combination of horizontal and vertical plantings, are very good. They do however, need large gardens and a challenge for the future will see how we can harness this natural power in our global small gardens.On water supply defines the security of nations. Locally the reality of our gardens wherever we are in the world is likely to have long-term water shortages. How can we address these shortcomings as a people will be a key issue. Mainly, we need a new relationship with the water and how we value. For our gardens is necessary for the harvesting, conservation and use of efficient systems. As designers and give good advice on effective planting to minimize our impact, but now we have to take a holistic view of the problems of the harvest, not only rainwater but also wastewater and the construction of these schemes in our so creative and realistically.Education is the key. We need to understand the problems and take personal responsibility. Not everyone can afford reeds and green water systems, but we can take small steps sharply soil, planting drought-resistant plants and water recycling. There is a huge opportunity for new home builders to act on these issues, but are caught between profitability, limiting the requirements of the planners and the need to provide affordable housing. In many countries there is no long-term planning of our politicians and what we are learning how we can help ourselves. That's where community ties, either physically in the form of orchards, gardens and off meal plans or garden culture through shared values, where a wider audience can be enforced through organizations such as the right or the Internet, become important.We have short memories. My clients in the UK have forgotten the drought of only 24 rainy winter months due to 6 months. Many can not see the use of the simplest methods of water harvesting however, cries when drought arrives next summer. Meanwhile, my clients in the Mediterranean are concerned that their wells go dry. It can be depressing to feel that finally we can only resolve this crisis by the will of politicians and world leaders, knowing that their short-term visions will not solve long-term challenges. However, I have faith in the individual, I see the influence of their everyday beliefs in the way that the design of their gardens and support their efforts to create a better solution to water shortages in the future and climate change. With the support of professionals in the garden as we can educate and disseminate the best solutions to make a difference and help resolve the crisis in the garden water garden.
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