A green-fingered father who has spent more than 25 years turning his garden into a tropical jungle claims to have stored thousands of litres of rainwater to protect his exotic plants from England’s looming drought – while millions of Britons face a hosepipe ban.
Mike Clifford’s 65ft-long plot behind his suburban bungalow in Poole, Dorset is packed with extraordinary species native to South and Central America, Africa, and China.
Though many of the 61-year-old’s plants have bloomed months earlier than expected due to the record-breaking heat, others, which are used to warm and moist climates, are at risk of dying due to the shortage of rain.
Mr Clifford said broad-leafed species such as the Tree Daisy indigenous to the cloud forest of Mexico are ‘withering’ in front of his eyes.
The plants drink up a constant flow of water for half an hour each day – but soon he may have to turn off the taps as hosepipe bans come into force across southern England.
However, he has a system of water butts buried beneath ground containing over 2,000 litres of rainwater collected in winter, which he hopes will be enough to save his garden.
The avid gardener uses submersible pumps connected to the butts as well as two hosepipes to soak the plants. If his water reserves last until September, then he will be able to salvage the garden for next summer. He will then dig up and pack most of his micro-jungle away in a back-breaking effort to protect it from the winter cold.
The father-of-one said: ‘The hot weather has affected each species differently – many of the plants like the gingers have had an early blossom.
‘We would normally expect to them to flower in September just a few weeks before they need to be packed away for winter, so its nice to enjoy them a little earlier. But the big leafed plants don’t like the heat. They are wilting terribly. If you go out there at midday, you can see it happening. I water them quite a lot but I’m trying to cut it back. I’ve got water butts buried 4ft beneath the ground.
‘A potential hosepipe ban is a bit of a worry but we’re getting to the end of the season so as long as it makes it to September I’ll be happy’.
It comes as millions of Britons could be facing a hosepipe ban after a leaked document revealed three more water companies are planning restrictions.
Mr Clifford’s jungle garden at the back of his home in Poole, Dorset
Mike Clifford in his jungle garden at his home in Poole, Dorset
The small garden is only 65ft long and 35ft wide, yet it is packed with extraordinary species
Mr Clifford tends to his plants in the evenings and on weekends alongside his full-time job designing mobile homes
Mr Clifford has stored thousands of litres of rainwater to protect his 25-year old exotic garden from the looming drought
The small garden is only 65ft long and 35ft wide, yet it is packed with extraordinary species native to South and Central America, Africa, and China
Planned hosepipe bans could see the water supplies of some 33 million people affected
As temperatures continue to rise across the UK, one Twitter user, James, shared an image showing the aftermath of a fire that had started in his village. He wrote: ‘Luckily it had already been harvested but the stubble went up quick. Fire service were there blooming quickly. Building in the background is a care home. Lucky escape’
Essex Fire Service posted an image on Tuesday evening after a field fire near the M25 junction 26-25 at Waltham Abbey had started, leaving behind a scorched trail
People sit in the sun, surrounded by parched grass during a period of hot and dry weather, in London, on August 9
A bridge crosses the dried bed of the River Thames near the river’s source at Thames Head, a group of springs that arise from the limestone aquifers of the Cotswolds, on August 8
Q&A: Where are hosepipe bans and what could happen if I break one?
Where have hosepipe bans been introduced?
- Manx Water: Isle of Man, from last Friday
- Southern Water: Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, from yesterday
- South East Water: Kent and Sussex, from next Friday
- Welsh Water: Pembrokeshire and small part of Carmarthenshire, from August 19
- Thames Water: Greater London, the Thames Valley, Surrey, Gloucestershire, north Wiltshire and parts of west Kent, in the ‘coming weeks’.
What are the rules?
Once the ban is in force you will not be allowed to use a hosepipe or sprinkler to water your garden, clean your car or boat, fill up a swimming or paddling pool or an ornamental pond. Pressure washing a patio is also banned. But the use of watering cans is allowed.
Who is exempt?
Those with disabilities – who have a blue badge – are exempt for watering their garden. So are those watering an area for a national or international sports event.
People watering newly laid turf and newly bought plants may apply for exemptions.
Commercial car washes and professional window cleaners are not affected by the ban.
What happens if I break the ban?
You could be prosecuted and subject to a fine of up to £1,000 in the courts if found guilty.
Mr Clifford replants the species in the spring and the extraordinary flora grows up to 12ft in height in the summer months.
This year he has seen several new additions come to fruition – including the incredibly rare St Helena Ebony, or Trochetiopsis ebenus, which is critically endangered in the wild.
The 4ft high plant with broad white flowers was once believed to be extinct until scientists found two small plants attached to a rock in Mexico.
They took cuttings from the plants which were then sent to Kew Gardens, London, to grow more of its kind.
Mr Clifford began tropical gardening when he was inspired by a TV documentary on the subject in the 1990s.
He and his wife Tina regularly open up their garden under National Garden Scheme and have raised thousands of pounds for charity over the years.
The couple moved into the bungalow 10 years ago and dug up most of the plants from their old address.
Their garden is home to giant dandelions from the Canary Islands and Pararistolochia goldieana, a plant from central Africa which has only flowered once in Europe.
There is also the Angel’s Trumpet, whose hallucinogenic properties were traditionally used by shamans in South and Central America to conjure visions.
Mr Clifford tends to his plants in the evenings and on weekends alongside his full-time job designing mobile homes. His son, Harry, 26, helps with the heavy lifting.
Mr Clifford stores his plants in three greenhouses and a summer house over winter. Those that have to be left out and wrapped in a fleece. It can often take two to three weekends to complete the work.
Yesterday Britain’s biggest water company, Thames Water, which supplies some 15million people, said it would announce a ban in the coming weeks.
Restrictions covering nearly three million people have already been announced by Southern Water, South East Water and Welsh Water.
And an internal Environment Agency document seen by the Daily Mail reveals that the water companies discussing whether to bring in a ban are Yorkshire, with five million customers, Severn Trent with eight million and South West with up to two million. If enacted, it would bring the number of people under a hosepipe ban to around 33million.
Meanwhile, Tory leadership frontrunner Liz Truss has weighed on hosepipe bans after two water companies announced others warned they may need to follow suit, following the driest eight months from November to June since 1976 as well as the driest July on record for parts of southern and eastern England.
The 61-year-old has spent decades turning the plot behind his suburban bungalow into a tropical jungle full of rare plants
The garden is home to giant dandelions from the Canary Islands and Pararistolochia goldieana, a plant from central Africa which has only flowered once in Europe
The Burrator Reservoir in Devon, which as of August 6 (pictured) was 44 per cent full. It comes amid fears of a drought in England
Dry earth on the banks of Grafham Water near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, where water is receding during the drought
Ms Truss said: ‘My view is that we should be tougher on the water companies and that there hasn’t been enough action to deal with these leaky pipes which have been there for years.
‘I have a lot of issues with my water company in Norfolk, which is a particularly dry area of the country, and those companies need to be held to account.’
She told the Daily Express hosepipe bans ‘should be a last resort’, adding: ‘What I’m worried about is it seems to be a first resort rather than the water companies dealing with the leaks.’
Scientists warn that the likelihood of droughts occurring is becoming higher due to climate change, driven by greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and other human activities.
Climate change is also making heatwaves more intense, frequent and likely – with last month’s record temperatures made at least 10 times more likely because of global warming, and ‘virtually impossible’ without it, research shows.
Government minister Paul Scully said it is ‘always sensible’ for people to conserve water, when asked about the possibility of a hosepipe ban for London.
He added: ‘But we’ll look carefully because the whole point about London and the South East is that the more development you have and the less rainfall there is, then obviously there’s less to go around and we’ve got to be careful.’
It came as tinderbox Britain is facing ‘lethally hot’ temperatures today with the mercury set to reach 93F today in southern parts of England.
How to keep your garden blooming through a heatwave: DO use dish water to feed the flowerbeds, and DON’T fret about the lawn going brown. With hosepipe bans looming, the Mail’s green-fingered guru is here to help
By NIGEL COLBORN for the DAILY MAIL
What William Blake would make of my garden if he were alive to see it, I dread to think. The Romantic poet, who memorably described England as ‘a green and pleasant land’, would be appalled at the way my lawn has been reduced to an expanse of parched, brown, dehydrated stalks.
This is not an easy time for gardeners. After years of planting, seed-sowing, nurturing and even grooming, our lawns have all succumbed to drought.
We’ve had heatwaves and dry spells before, not to mention floods, June frosts and ruinous gales. But this year’s blend of unusual conditions has really walloped us.
For once, it’s OK to blame the weather. Last winter was abnormally mild. Even in chilly Lincolnshire, we were almost frost-free. As a result, our first snowdrops flowered at Christmas instead of late January.
‘The good news is that, in the hands of a canny gardener, plants will recover and lawns will green up again because, by following a few simple rules, we can make our gardens bloom whatever the weather’
Dahlia Teesbrooke Audrey
A parched lawn in a home owner’s garden
Later, abnormally mild weather was combined with heavy rainfall. So everything grew like Topsy until May, which was unseasonably cold. Since then, my garden has had no appreciable rain. And in July, it roasted at 40c (104f).
Despite everything, however, I’m not distressed. Record high temperatures may mean that we will have to adapt the traditional British garden to cope with harsher extremes of weather — but the good news is that, in the hands of a canny gardener, plants will recover and lawns will green up again because, by following a few simple rules, we can make our gardens bloom whatever the weather.
PREPARE FOR THE FUTURE
Everything we have looked at so far is a sort of first aid. But, with extreme weather events likely to become more frequent in the decades to come, we will have to change our ways.
However much we love plants that need frequent watering, we will have to cut down the number of them we have in our gardens or abandon them.
This prospect isn’t as depressing as it might sound. Britain has more than 80,000 different ornamental plant varieties in cultivation, so we have plenty of species to choose from.
We may have to say goodbye to delphiniums, border phloxes, candelabra primulas, Himalayan blue poppies and many much-loved perennials. But other plants, once too tender to live outside in this country, could flourish. I have even a Fascicularia — a bromeliad related to pineapples — which has lived and flowered in my garden for a decade.
Plants like that, which resist drought and withstand violent storms or excessive rain, will soon be part of our new garden flora.
I grow several pelargonium species now as ordinary garden perennials. I will be trying more with the same treatment this winter and bet they too will come through unscathed.
Among shrubs, oleanders, Australian hibiscus and Abutilon have grown as readily outside as Michaelmas daisies or border lupins. Dahlias, which had to be lifted for winter, sprout every spring.
That said, there is no reason why we shouldn’t make every effort to ensure we have as much water as possible to hand in case of a (non-)rainy day.
It’s a good idea to fill a tub or, perhaps, a children’s paddling pool in advance of any hosepipe ban.
Though far too late to do much good, I recently installed three new water butts in my garden. What surprised me was the amount of water they collected from even the briefest shower. I now wish I had installed six.
Deep frosts and cold spells will still come. But they are scarcer now and tend to be short-lived. A tough winter could kill my exotics and turn my collection of succulent plants into a stinking mush.
But my instinct tells me they will thrive for years yet. It may even be likely that the rising sea engulfs my fenland garden before Jack Frost bumps off the African aloes.
Road signs in our region bear the letters E.R. and nothing else. Those mark designated Evacuation Routes, in case of a major tidal surge. Makes you think a b it, doesn’t it?
And here’s how…
Way to water
Sod’s Law dictates that just when water becomes the gardener’s most vital commodity, hosepipe use is forbidden.
One water company has already announced a ban and more are due to introduce one soon.
If you are unfortunate enough to live in one of the areas where restrictions are in place, you may well find yourself lugging hefty watering cans around or working out ways to recycle so-called ‘grey water’ from baths, showers or the kitchen.
Dishwater, even if it contains detergents, is usually harmless to plants. Water from a bath or shower, if you have the means of saving it, will also be fine.
The truth is plants don’t seem to mind dirty water. It’s impossible to water everything in a garden — even a small one — so we have to prioritise.
As we have seen, lawns are so resilient you can put their hydrating needs towards the bottom of your list.
Water for newly planted shrubs or trees and young, herbaceous, perennial plants should take precedence because it takes at least one growing season for them to become established.
Generous soakings are essential. In the normal course of events they are sustained by rainfall but, in a year’s like this, a thorough watering — even just once — can save the life of a valuable shrub.
In much of Britain, dahlias, penstemons, tall daisies and most other perennials also need regular watering.
For those of us who are not subject to a hosepipe ban, life is slightly easier.
I’ve been treating the most needy among my plants with a handheld hose. When watering that way, the key is to have the tap only halfway open, so that the gentle flow penetrates the soil more thoroughly, reaching the plants’ roots where it is most needed.
The timing of your watering is also important. Early morning or late evening is best, giving each individual plant a good, steady soak. Water sprinkled over the leaves evaporates rapidly and most is wasted.
The Scots have a saying — ‘Mony a mickle maks a muckle’ — which basically means many little things make a big thing. But when it comes to plant-watering this rule doesn’t apply.
A thorough drenching once a week is more effective than a series of modest daily waterings.
Even in hot weather, thoroughly watered plants will look perky for several days longer.
Sprinklers are fine in cool weather. But they can be wasteful, needing the tap to run for a long time before the soil is thoroughly watered.
Trickle irrigation kits are better for food crops grown in rows, or for container plants which won’t be moved during summer.
That said, moving containers to more sheltered or shady places may help.
If a hosepipe ban is imposed in my area, many of the plants in my summer containers will have to die. I will save only those plants which I know will be difficult to replace, or which have special or sentimental value.
Those will become stock plants for next year. I propagate all my summer container displays from cuttings taken from the stock plants that spend their winter in my heated greenhouse. Those are rooted from October, for planting outside the next May. Finally, if a hosepipe ban is coming your way and you have a garden pond, make sure that it’s topped up before the ban is imposed.
Taking care of your borders
One good point about the drought is being relieved of tedious summer chores.
My soil is so hard in places that I can barely pierce it with a garden fork.
All I’m doing, currently, is pulling out thistles, dandelions and other invasive weeds wherever I see them. Weeds compete with cultivated plants for moisture, light and nutrients and so be ruthless with the blighters.
One boon of a drought is that most weeds are as vulnerable to water shortages as the plants which you want to prosper. Only pernicious weeds such as bindweed and couch grass have deep, almost indestructible roots.
Normal summer pruning of fruit trees, wisterias and shrubs can continue as usual. I’ve given our roses a light prune, too, removing faded or roasted blooms, always cutting just above an outward-facing bud.
Another benefit of the drought is that we forget nagging obligations and can relax a bit more. The evenings, after all, are rather delightful — especially after a sweltering day
My lawn looks brown and dead — and yours probably does, too. But fear not, the grass roots are almost certainly still alive. Of all plant families, grasses are by far the most resilient.
In some regions of Africa and Australia, rain falls for only a small part of the year. Even so, grass which is dust-dry and looks dead is transformed to a verdant green after the first shower.
So leave your lawn to recover. Avoid wear and tear by keeping off the grass as much as possible. Don’t apply feeds or fertilisers — they won’t help at all and would be a waste of money. I never fertilise my lawns — never have and never will. They’re normally green enough for me without feed.
‘Living grass lawns help to sustain soil health and retain moisture. For wildlife, especially song birds, butterflies, hedgehogs, and more, grass is essential’
When the grass has begun to recover, mow with the blades set a little higher than usual for the first two cuts.
If you planned to lay turf or seed a new lawn this summer, leave that until significant rains have fallen.
I was appalled to read the other day that one in ten respondents to a survey by the insurance company Aviva had replaced their natural lawn with fake ‘grass’ made out of plastic. Not only that, but some manufacturers of this vile scourge have estimated that around eight million square metres of artificial grass are sold in the UK each year — the equivalent of about 2,000 football pitches.
Your dead-looking lawn may tempt you to have an artificial turf carpet laid but this is a really bad idea.
Living grass lawns help to sustain soil health and retain moisture. For wildlife, especially song birds, butterflies, hedgehogs, and more, grass is essential.
Lawns and the soil beneath them are rich with valuable invertebrates, too. These sustain other wildlife.
If I had my way, fake lawns would be outlawed!