Conserving water in a community kitchen garden in West London

Discover how the extreme heat of 2022 inspired a London charity to explore alternative solutions to conserving water in its community garden

Sally Tillson in the community kitchen garden in Hounslow

As resilient as possible

After a summer of extreme heat in 2022, Sally Tillson, Education Officer at Cultivate London (a charity and social enterprise), and volunteers at The Salopian Garden, Cultivate’s community kitchen garden in Hounslow, are adopting drought-tolerant methods via six monthly workshops on the theme of water conservation.

“We want to provide people with practical measures to help make their gardens as drought tolerant and resilient as possible,” explained Sally

View of The Salopian Garden with young and resilient plants

Tough decisions

During the extreme heat, the group had to make some difficult decisions by choosing between plants to water and those to leave without, resulting in reduced yields. Vulnerable or young plants took priority over more mature or resilient species, such as figs and grapes, most of which survived. Some plants, such as raspberries and apples, shut down in the extreme heat but thrived later when the rain eventually came.

“If you cast your mind back… from May, for three and a half months, there was not a single drop of water in the garden, and stored water ran out very early in the growing season,” said Sally

Water butts within the garden enable increased water storage

Applying for funding

With this experience in mind, at the end of 2022, Cultivate London applied for an RHS Sustainable Futures Grant, which aimed to help groups and schools tackle these types of climate-related challenges. Increasing stored water and providing training around gardening in drought are a priority for Cultivate London.

Funding has enabled water storage capacity at The Salopian Garden to double from 500 to 1,000 litres through six on-site water butts. A 500-litre water tank and improved guttering from buildings will also further increase the quantity of water stored and decrease the amount of mains water used.

Using buckets as a water storage solution for the garden

Demonstrating best practice

Sally explained: “We want to educate our volunteers and the wider community with these workshops.” In the first sessions, she has spoken about the benefits of leaf mould in improving the soil’s capacity to hold water, advocated the use of water butts for storage, and focused on which plants to choose when thinking about water conservation. Future workshops will look at the density of planting to protect soil and watering techniques.

“By demonstrating best practice, the hope is that visitors will learn how to address issues around climate change and how to take practical steps to ensure their green spaces are more tolerant,” added Sally

To find out more about RHS Community Grants sign up to the communities newsletter or email [email protected].

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.