Generally speaking, container growing is a water-extravagant form of gardening as most plants grown in containers dry out much faster than if they were planted direct into the garden soil. On the other hand, ornamental tubs and the like can be a very attractive feature of a garden. If for one reason or another containers are essential, use as large ones as possible, fill with soil-based compost, and incorporate water-retaining polymer granules into the compost before planting.
‘Hard’ landscaping features
In a really difficult situation, where it is impossible to grow attractive plants without regular watering, it is sometimes advisable to fall back on features other than living plants. Suitable items would be a well placed and well designed piece of statuary, an attractive seat or even a piece of ornamental low walling. Such features can be used to complement other pieces of hard landscaping, such as paving, walling or fencing.
Because most plants are now available from the nursery or garden centre in containers of one sort or another, it has become physically possible to replant them in their permanent positions at almost any time of the year. In the days before containerization, it was virtually impossible to dig up and replant at any other time than when the plant was dormant – that is, in most parts of the United Kingdom, during the period between the end of October and the beginning of April. As far as water conservation is concerned, however, there is a lot to commend continuing to plant only during this time, as this is when the soil is generally at its most moist and when plant roots are in active growth, re-establishing quickly in their new surroundings. It is obvious, therefore, that the amount of artificial watering needed during the period following the move is likely to be much less than if replanting takes place during warmer, drier periods of the year.
Automatic watering and timing devices
As yet these are not approved of by most water companies, as their attitude is that any automated watering device encourages the consumer to use more water. My personal feelings are that a contrivance which enables one to deliver water accurately and for a set period has to be less profligate than wantonly pouring a watering can over a container, when most of it runs off the surface and is wasted, or splashing a hose about indiscriminately.
Automatic watering really comes into its own for container gardening which, if the plants are to receive enough water, is a tiring and time-consuming occupation and can, as I have already said, be extremely wasteful of water. It consists of a framework of 1/2 in. (15 mm) plastic pipe to which are connected microbore pipe spurs leading to the various items to receive regular watering. Water is delivered accurately to the surface of the soil or compost by means of drip or spray ends. To be fully automated, a battery-operated timing device and pressure-reducing valve should be connected to the tap before the main pipework; the most sophisticated of these timers can now be programmed to deliver water for a desired length of time for one or several periods during the day, every day or on specified days of the week only. Once one has used one of these gadgets for a little while, it becomes possible to judge fairly accurately when and for how long to water, setting the controls to do it all automatically.
Various other appliances are available to run off the main pipework system, such as pop-up lawn sprinklers or a porous hose which is buried in the ground and seeps along its length for the time water is running through it, the theory being that it provides water where it is most needed – at the roots. But whilst it could be argued that to deposit water exactly where it is required rather than distributing it all over the garden regardless of which plants need it and which do not is in itself a saving, my sentiments are that if the garden is properly designed and stocked to take account of the need for a reduction in artificial watering, this kind of apparatus should not be necessary.