Gardening // Saving water all summer


Water is life-giving. It’s consistent – in how it flows, fills the space it enters. But water is also fluid, changeable. Abundant in some places, absent in others. It is easy to be casual with water when it springs readily with the turn of the tap. The emptying reservoir lies unseen.

Water is local. The drops we thriftily save will not, then, be available to people in drought-ridden East Africa. That’s not how water works. But it doesn’t mean we should be wasteful with it. The water from our taps has already been through the energy-intensive treatment process to make it safe for us to drink. It seems a shame, after all that, to pour it all over our unfussy vegetable plots.

In the UK, we recently sweated through June’s hottest day since 1976. It’s been a thirsty time for people, but perhaps even more so for plants, unable to escape from the heat of June’s long days. Fortuitously, just in time for this wave of heat, we had just begun our new water-saving approach to garden.

We haven’t been able (yet anyway) to figure out how to collect water outside; our metal drainpipes seem impregnable. But we have found a way to sustain our whole (admittedly not huge) garden without needing clean water from the sink.



  • one 12-litre metal bucket
  • one water butt (made from recycled plastic)*


My recent return to the book How Green Are My Wellies? reminded me of the opportunity to collect water from the shower while it heats up. This waster normally just pours straight down the plughole; now we’re collecting it in the bucket and using it to water our plants.

We’re still experimenting with the best approach, but it seems you can either:

  • Put the bucket in the right place to collect the water from the shower. This approach means you catch every possible drop when you’re not under the water flow; or
  • Put the shower head directly in the bucket, then hang it up again when you’re ready to jump in.

Our shower is in a bathtub, giving space to do-si-do around the bucket and maximise the water collecting opportunities. If you just have a shower, the second method might be the only option. I’d love to hear how you get on if you try it.


The book’s author suggests tipping the water straight onto your plants but we’ve opted to store it in a water butt instead for a few reasons:

  • We want to conserve water for when we need it. If it’s been raining for a few days, we can save those buckets of water in the water butt for drier times.
  • Our garden isn’t private. Gardening is not therefore a dressing gown kind of activity.
  • We usually shower in the morning. Plants benefit from watering in the evening, especially on hot days when an earlier watering would just evaporate off.

In one shower, we each nearly fill a 12-litre bucket. Until we started this, I had no idea if the bucket would be excessive or insufficient. It turns out it’s just right. Knowing how quickly it fills is making me acutely aware of how easily we can pour water down the sink with a frivolous flick of the tap. And it makes me pleased that since we started this system, we’ve collected enough water for the garden, even during this particularly hot season (long may it continue).


* Freecycle and Gumtree are worth a look first if you’re looking to get a water butt. None were available when we were looking so we bought ours for £20 from Wick’s. It didn’t come with a stand (you need to raise it high enough to be able to get a watering can under, so we stood it on top of an old speaker.

Today’s soundtrack: Jack in Water // The Meaning of Events

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