The Joy Of Watering By Hand

It is a gardener’s lot to spend half the year fretting about too much rain and the other half fretting about the lack of it.

Hand-watering can’t be hurried. There’s nothing to be done but to stand still, to feel the water fall through your fingers, to hear

the splats and splashing sounds it makes on leaves large and small, to see it funnel down stems and spiral down stalky staircases to

rehydrate the soil. I’m sure it refreshes me as much as the plants whose thirst I’m satiating.

Ten years ago, we converted the equestrian arena below our house into a formal productive garden, with 36 square beds. To build the arena, my husband had

carted in and compacted truckloads of ‘run of pit’, the raw, soft rock scraped off the surface of a quarry, and it must have pained him to dig big holes to fill with topsoil, though he didn’t complain (too much). He even volunteered, in his professional capacity as a registered drainlayer, to install a network of irrigation pipes and spikes, an offer I politely declined.


Honestly, I’ve never seen the point of irrigation systems. Granted, when they function efficiently they reduce your time spent watering, but often they create as

many problems as they solve. Plants in close proximity to the spray nozzles get an unfair advantage, growing taller and more lush and ultimately casting a rain shadow over their peers. Plus, watering systems encourage surface rooting and irrigation dependency at the expense of resilience. Trees whose roots are deprived of an easy flow of water are forced to dig deeper for a drink and, in doing so, their roots find summer refuge in the subsoil.


But two summers after our arena garden was built, Hunua experienced the worst drought in decades, with barely a drop of rain between December and March. As I’d agreed to open our garden for the Heroic Garden Festival in late summer, I couldn’t simply pile on the mulch and pray for precipitation. I’ve never watered the fruit trees in my orchard and I’ve never lost a tree to drought, but this moral superiority doesn’t hold sway in my flower borders. Without water, plants stop blooming and start seeding to save themselves.

So, every day I spent up to three hours on the end of the hose, going from bed to bed, reviving the wilting and the withered and wishing I’d had the foresight to install soaker hoses. Then I got over myself and learned to love this enforced spell of quiet contemplation.

Although sprinklers and irrigation systems do save time, in a garden there’s no better use of time than to waste it.


Credit: Extracted from The Joy of Gardening by Lynda Hallinan, published by Allen & Unwin NZ, RRP: $45.00.

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