With the shelter belt sprouting nicely, it was time to focus on another vital aspect of our forest garden: how to water it. You will remember from Chapter 4: Not catching raindrops and Chapter 8: In praise of the Landrover that we had already been thinking about how to ensure our garden doesn’t turn into a mini dustbowl when we’re not there.
One of the main concepts of a forest garden is that it should be self-sustaining, with the different layers creating a microclimate and protecting the soil from evaporation. We are several years away from that and, despite furious mulching, our beds need help to get established. With summer temperatures passing 40 degrees and rain coming in very short, sharp thunderstorms, we need to find a way to harness every drop that falls.
Having lugged two 350 litre water butts down on the top of the Landy at great expense, we trotted along to our local hypermarket only to find the place rammed full of water butts. Fortunately, we were able to walk along the lines of them judging them “horrible, horrible, ugly, my God that looks like a mutated vegetable!” Johnny and I would easily win the Justification Dance on Strictly…
Then we caught sight of a tall, slim version which actually didn’t look too bad and decided that two of them would fit perfectly on the end of the house, leaving our 350 litre behemoths hidden around the corner.
Every so often, life presents me with yet another reason why it was a good idea to marry Johnny. He learned how to do loads of random things on an engineer’s course in the Army which come in handy every so often. This time it was the ability to make concrete. He set about making stands for the water butts, using the slats from a futon base that a neighbour had thrown away. I provided cups of tea.
The tricky bit was going to be cutting into the downpipes to fit the diverter, particularly since the guttering is made of zinc. I was just having visions of rain spurting out from ill-fitting joints when I heard the rattle of Monsieur Pioche coming down the lane. The man has an uncanny/fortunate knack of turning up just at the right moment.
He studied the instructions for fitting the diverter and announced that he and his team would do it for us to avoid any “pépins” – hiccups. John got a bit sniffy because he’d been looking forward to another opportunity to get his toolbox out, but we were dispatched with a shopping list to the French equivalent of Wickes.
The following day, Monsieur P turned up with his “team”, his trusty side-kick Pierre, a talented joiner/mason/plumber/water butt installer. Monsieur P thinks it’s hilarious that you know him as Monsieur Pioche (pioche in French means pick, as in pick and shovel) and he suggested that Pierre should be known as Monsieur Patate (Mr Spud). Pierre looked decidedly unimpressed by this and, since I’d quite like the remaining doors and windows put in straight, I’m sticking with Pierre…
I left the two of them puzzling over the diverter and various bits of plastic pipe, hearing things like, “So where does this bit go?” and “No, no, not like that.” Then the sound of a saw cutting into metal. I only returned to offer them a drink, which they always refuse. I’m not sure whether this is because they have developed camel-like qualities or that my coffee is not up to French standards.
A couple of hours later, Monsieur P announced the work to be finished – the water butts were installed and we now just needed some rain to test them. I looked up at azure sky and brilliant sunshine. How typical! Still, I’ve been keeping a keen eye on the weather over there since we returned to London and I’m confident that the butts will be filling up nicely.
Now we have to work out how to get the water out of the butts and onto the plants when we’re not there. I wonder if the engineers have a bright idea for that.