A garden developed for this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show by Cranfield University and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is encouraging the UK’s 30 million gardeners to save water.

The ‘Water the way nature intended: switch from Mains2Rains’ garden in the Discovery Zone of the show has been designed in collaboration with RHS Wisley-trained garden designer Dave Green and demonstrates how small actions to make better use of rainwater can lead to reduced dependence on mains water in gardens and allotments.

The garden design includes water-saving features such as different varieties of lawn turf, planting for damp and dry borders, sustainable drainage systems, organic matter added to soil and self-watering containers or pot saucers to collect rain and drainage.

Janet Manning, KTP Associate and RHS Water Management specialist, who was appointed the UK’s first garden water scientist by Cranfield and the RHS in 2018, said: “This garden exemplifies actions we can all take to make gardens resilient to the changing climate. Dave Green has shown gardeners that by selecting the right plants, and by learning how to stop the rain from escaping, a water-saving garden doesn’t have to look like a dry, Mediterranean hillside.

“We can still enjoy a traditional-looking garden in the UK by reducing the amount of water needed, saving and using rainwater efficiently, and having the benefit of shade and evaporative cooling in hot, dry spells.”  

Visitors to Chelsea are also being asked to pledge to adopt measures to reduce pressure on water resources by understanding how to manage rainwater better in their gardens via the Mains to Rains website.

Since the launch of the Mains to Rains site in June, pledges by gardeners to switch their source of water show the potential for saving over 8 million litres of mains water a year, the equivalent of almost 40,000 water butts or 100,000 baths.

Ian Holman, Professor of Integrated Land and Water Management, Cranfield Water Science Institute, who led the development of the water pledging website, said: “Pledging to switch from mains to rains doesn’t mean poorer quality gardens. By pledging, gardeners will be part of the solution to the climate and biodiversity emergency, helping to store carbon in soils, reducing abstraction pressures on rivers and wetlands, reducing flooding and helping biodiversity.”

The website – which has been funded by the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) – is in support of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between Cranfield and the RHS to promote improved water management practices in gardening. The three-year project informed the RHS Sustainability Strategy, in which the charity commits to being water neutral by 2030, working alongside its supply chain. For more information visit: https://www.rhs.org.uk/about-the-rhs/sustainability