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18 February 20

RHS Wisley backs #WhyNotWater campaign and calls for better plant labelling to help environment

RHS Wisley, the historic home of the Royal Horticultural Society and one of its five famous gardens, has given the thumbs up to Affinity Water’s four #WhyNotWater Asks and agreed that better plant labelling is needed to help save water and to show how plants can serve the local environment.

In a new #WhyNotWater documentary podcast Dr Mark Gush, Head of Environmental Horticulture at RHS Wisley, takes a tour of three of its gardens, which include the ponds and rockeries, the Oakwood garden and the hedge display. During the tour, Dr Gush points out what gardeners can plant and do to make water use in their gardens more “effective and efficient” and to “toughen up” their gardens particularly lawn areas, which don’t need as much watering as is often supposed.

He strongly supports the call by Affinity Water and the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex, famous for its drought garden, to implement a new plant labelling scheme for water use. However, he says it should not just be for drought conditions but also more widely for water logged soils too. He said that the labels should then state how the plants can “serve the environment” by reducing pollution or noise in an area for example.

Dr Gush, whose family were in Cape Town in 2018 when it implemented its famous ”Day Zero” water reduction campaign, that has led to significant changes in the personal water use of the population, says it’s “critical” that the UK comes to terms with the need to reduce personal water use as South Africa has done. He agrees with Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, who last year warned that the UK was looking into the “jaws of death” due to the anticipated convergence of water demand exceeding supply, increasing the risk of water shortages. “Demand for water is increasing faster than supply, and time is of the essence, we need to act now,” he said.

Dr Gush continued: “We do absolutely support the drought labelling of plants and labels for water logged soils too, but there are many other eco-system services that can be labelled aswell. You can label trees and hedges to say if they can help to reduce pollution, or alleviate flooding by taking water out of the soil or act as noise barriers, or to promote biodiversity and remediate soils and take pollutants out. Labels can tell the public of these purposes and services. Plants help to promote health and well-being. As we say at the RHS, you need to have the right plant, for the right place and for the right purpose.”

Jake Rigg, the Director of Corporate Affairs and Communities for Affinity Water said public education was now at the forefront of how water companies in the UK would be countering the challenges that global warming and climate change would present and that gardeners had an important role to play.

“The call to action by the Beth Chatto Gardens and now RHS Wisley to label plants better is another step into getting the changes we need to protect our water resources.

“We thank the RHS Wisley and Dr Mark Gush for their support of our #WhyNotWater campaign and also for the water labelling of plants. Our #WhyNotWater campaign is about tackling the long-term challenges we face to reduce demand and ensure a sustainable future. The issues that climate change and global warming present throughout the world are now so pressing we must all rise to this challenge and be eco water warriors. Cutting water use in gardens is just as important as adapting our household appliances.”

In his podcast, Dr Gush goes on to explain that plants prefer rain to tap water. He says mulching soil and using a water butt to capture rain will cut down the amount of tap water needed for the garden.

Lawns he says are in fact quite “hardy” and will grow back after a drought and if left to grow naturally can turn into meadowland, which wild flowers will populate. “Plants prefer rain water, and that falls free from the sky, so it’s important to store it,” he said.

Dr Gush said the one tip he would give gardeners as they begin a new season would be to “toughen up their gardens.” He says: “What I mean by that is increase the resilience of plants in your garden. That can be applied particularly to lawns. Lawns respond to being allowed to grow up into meadows and with less frequent mowing they will produce their own wildflowers. As a consequence, their roots will grow deeper into the soil and that means they have access to deeper ground water reserves and they are more resilient as a result of that.

“Don’t be overly generous with water on your plants, allow them to adjust to dryer soil conditions and essentially to be more comfortable under those conditions”.

“People can affect the hydrology of their own back garden by choosing what they plant and how they manager their water resources.”

He praised Affinity Water for its #WhyNotWater campaign and four Asks and calls to action. “The RHS has taken water management so seriously that we have employed a water management specialist, Janet Manning, and she is on a three-year knowledge transfer project. It is very encouraging to see Affinity Water come out with these four #WhyNotWater Asks and we do support them. I would like to see it extended to cover a gardeners water footprint. There are many things gardeners can do to use water more effectively and efficiently.”

He said that meteorological surveys showed that climate change was having an impact on the seasons and rainfall, with longer hotter summers. “You have peak demand for water at the driest time of the year and there have also been significant population increases. Part of the problem is that, with urbanisation and increased impervious areas, the hydrological cycle has sped up and we need to ‘slow the flow’. We need to allow the water time to infiltrate into the soil to recharge our aquifers and to remain in the soil.”

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