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Close up of various herbs in a black pot - courtesy of Aleksandra Warchol http://www.awarchol.com Close up of various herbs in a black pot - courtesy of Aleksandra Warchol http://www.awarchol.com

Water……….

By Sara Venn

It seems madness that we are going to talk about water capture and fear of drought when all around us there is dreadful flooding happening across the UK but one of the things that can be really useful to do over winter is setting up water capture.

Ensuring, where we can, that we collect as much water as is possible  so that we can be self sufficient in water and therefore able to water plants that need water throughout any hot periods in the following spring and summer, even if hosepipe bans begin to take effect, is very important. We are all being encouraged to plant more trees, we are encouraging edible landscaping and people to grow their own fruit and veg both at home and in communities, but all these crops need regular watering, especially newly planted trees and annual vegetables.

This is an obvious solution to drought and yet it can be difficult to carry out and capture enough for the entire growing season. Water butts tend to be difficult to place in public spaces, although not impossible with collaboration, and larger containers such as IBC’s, whilst ideal, aren’t really appropriate for those working in the public realm. So how do we support the call for more edible landscaping if water access is so challenging? Here are some ideas.

Lobby your local authority and ask for two things. Firstly all councils have water points across our towns and cities so that they can get water to areas that they need it, so a simple request to access that is always worth a try. However, the second request is more extreme. As we have wetter winters and drier springs and summers water capture in towns and cities needs consideration and careful thought. Sustainability wise, using captured rainwater to water newly planted trees, and areas of planting that need establishment needs to be how all of us behave and so why not ask your local authority to collect water and make it available to all who are working in the public realm. Whether that looks like all local authority buildings collecting rainwater, digging underground water tanks in parks and public spaces, or encouraging business to capture water from their buildings, or a mix of all of these, capturing rain water is something that all towns and cities will need to address so it’s an ideal thing for groups to campaign for.

Planting new trees is also something that needs serious contemplation when it comes to water. Whilst we know we need to plant more trees, maintaining them and ensuring they reach old age is reliant on the establishment period. Using a root grow product and ensuring the tree is well watered prior to planting, whether that means soaking the root ball, the bare root or the container with the tree in, and watering well after planting is absolutely vital to begin establishment, as well as mulching well to keep that moisture in, but for at least the first year a tree needs additional water in dry periods as it’s roots bury down and find moisture in the soil. Creating watering systems with old pop bottles filled with water and sunk upside down with a few holes in the top so water can drip in helps, and you can use as many of these as are necessary around the trees roots.

Ensuring planting happens at the right time, seasonally is also important. Shrubs and herbaceous plants that are planted in the cool, wet autumn or early spring, when the weather is forecast to be wet, always establish far better than anything planted in summer. This will allow precious captured water to be saved for annual crops to be watered, and the shrubs and perennials to cope for longer without watering. Of course when it’s very hot, all plants will appreciate a good water, but when well established and kept well mulched, permanent plantings will definitely survive where annuals will wilt and die.

And that of course leads on to more thought about what we plant. As climate change continues the extremes of weather are bound to become more and more extreme, meaning that what we plant will need to change with the times. The Forestry Commission has already published a list of trees that might be more appropriate to plant as the temperature rises, but we also need to think carefully about water accessibility as well when we think about appropriate planting. Perennial crops, agroforestry and forest gardening models will all support this, as will using permaculture principles when planting to ensure the right crops ar in the right places.

Another “design” type that is useful when thinking about water is the rain garden concept, which slows down the flow of water when flooding begins, making sure drains aren’t overloaded and flash flooding doesn’t happen. Ensuring these spaces are available across our towns and cities means a change to the current way we design our public spaces, but a line of these that are connected, through areas that are at risk of flash flooding is proven to work as well as create beautiful spaces that can be edible, wildlife gardens that are good for pollinators, or just plain beautiful. Wouldn’t that make for Incredible places?