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Keep green this summer


Water, or rather the lack of it, looks like the hot topic for this summer. And not just for the gardeners among us.

Not that I really consider myself a gardener. I'm not. I just like the challenge of keeping alive the things that I plant while simultaneously trying to control the things I did not plant and never liked.

But obviously having invested in and installed my Thames Water plastic rainwater butt last year I should be feeling pretty relaxed right now. It's full of water and ready to go just as soon as the sun comes out.

Yet I'm not relaxed. Looking out at my not-very-big-butpretty-typical-for-London garden I realise that when it comes to the water needs of my plants I simply haven't got a clue.

The Royal Horticultural Society has advised that we restock with plants that require less water in the summer. Not being a real gardener this option has its pros and cons. On the one hand it means I will have a great excuse to go down to the garden centre. On the other hand I don't have a clue what to buy nor, I suspect, the budget to do it properly.

Dave Parker, NCE technical editor, is a gardener. He advises I plant herbs like rosemary, and lilies, irises and carnation, or trees such as Rowans and eucalyptus - provided you get the right varieties, provided that my soil is right and provided that the conditions are right.

Perhaps I can seek a higher authority. Apparently the Environment Agency's chief executive Barbara Young is a real gardener and has set up her own plot with plants that specifi ally require little or no summer watering.

And after all, she is pretty much the force behind the current hosepipe restrictions. Perhaps I can get her to pop round and look after them as well.

(You can only ask I suppose! ).

The reality is that, like most of my neighbours, I will stick with what I have and watch it curl up. At least I have a water butt.

But the serious point about all this is not, of course, the potential impact on gardens.

The very real looming prospect, particularly in London and the south east, is moving from hose-pipe bans to standpipes.

Yes, we can talk about leakage and the need for water companies to continue to invest vast sums of money in infrastructure improvements.

But now we are reaching a critical point, surely we must also start to talk about consumption. Specifically, how can we realistically encourage society to control its use of this vital and increasing hard-won resource?

It is bizarre that most people in the UK still have no direct fi ancial incentive to use less water. We are charged per unit of gas and electricity used, for telephone use, petrol per litre and even have pay-per-view TV.

Yet despite water metering being known to cut consumption by 10-15% the vast majority still pay a flat charge. Only onomics or legislation will change this.

But just as is the case for energy supply, transport and waste management, the engineering profession has a clear role to play in helping to guide the UK's approach. Once again we have choices.

We can either continue to extrapolate current demand and attempt to plan and design to meet it or we can try to shift the paradigm by refocusing efforts to reduce or remove the problem, with the engineering equivalent of water-free gardening advice.

With or without green fingers, the latter seems most sensible to me.

Antony Oliver is editor of NCE

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