Clemmie Hambro’s gardening week: May 11
Monday, 30 November -0001

Clemmie Hambro’s gardening week: May 11

As far as I can tell, the problem with the weather at the moment is not that it hasn’t stopped raining for the last three weeks. No, the problem is that despite the continuous and torrential downpours, subsequent flooding and miserable cold greyness, we are told that we are in the middle of a drought.

I mean, call me old-fashioned, but the last time I was in a drought it was actually quite hot. So, here we are in a flood/ drought with no nice warm weather to compensate for the difficulties in dealing with both or either eventuality. I think we are all feeling a little off-message with this drought theory, despite actually ‘knowing’ it is true.

What has become clear, however, is that regardless of flood/drought conditions, one must conserve rainwater. This is important for several reasons. Flooding is a direct result of water having nowhere to go; it also happens when the ground is very dry, as it has been. Flooding creates most damage in built-up areas where runoff water becomes a catastrophic problem after days of torrential rain.

Now, I am not suggesting the problems of the people of Tewkesbury could be solved by a few downpipes and water butts, but in general we should be paying close attention to what happens to rainwater. It should not be entering our sewage systems in the way that it is. If we were living totally ‘au naturelle’ (heaven forbid) then about 50 per cent of rainwater would be absorbed naturally into the ground, 40 per cent would be evaporated and drunk by plants, with a tiny 10 per cent running off the surface. In our towns and cities, these figures are somewhat inverted and the majority of that becomes run-off and absorption shrinks to about a third.

Secondly, run-off is not a good byproduct in any way, shape or form. Run-off ploughs directly into our sewage systems full of petrol, pet waste, oil, fertilisers, salt, pesticides, and lots of other lovely things that it collects on its journey. This basically poisons our freshwater systems. And when you think that only three per cent of the world’s water is actually fresh, with two per cent of that being a bunch of icebergs – then we should really be nurturing the one per cent that needs to be shared between the gazillions of us lolling around on the planet.

What needs to happen is that you must survey your garden surfaces to see where you can carry out small changes to make them more ‘infiltration-friendly’. Anywhere you see a hard surface, think about how the rainwater that runs off it can be collected and re-used or absorbed.

Wherever you have a downpipe you can have a water butt. If you are thinking about laying decking or paving, have a rethink and perhaps put down gravel, instead. I have recently put a sedum roof on my bin house, and that has stopped masses of water pouring into the stairwell and down the drain.

Sedum mats can be put on any flat surface (shed roofs might need to be reenforced) and look lovely as well as being absorbent. You see, it is all about making a few tiny changes where you can.

For inspiration, head to the London Wetland Centre to see the beautiful rain garden donated by the Royal Bank of Canada and created by Prof Nigel Dunnett (he of Pictorial Meadows seed mixes) to see innovative water conservation in action.

Meanwhile, your first weapon in drought defense still seems to be the umbrella.

London Wetland Centre: 020-8409 4400,

For the flat roof of my bin house I used EnviroMat sedum matting: 0333-456 4536,


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