London – If you can’t remember where you left your watering can and haven’t seen your secateurs for years, you are not alone.
More than half of us are intermittent gardeners who, rather than carefully water our borders, are more likely to hope it rains.
A study of horticultural habits has identified six categories of gardener – with 18 percent falling into a “hands-off” group who rely on the weather to take care of their plants.
They are likely to tidy up their gardens every spring, but rarely take any other action to look after their green space.
The findings were part of a wide-ranging study into water usage in south-east England.
The team of researchers from the universities of Manchester, Edinburgh, Southampton and Lancaster investigated the daily habits of 1 800 households, with the aim of developing better water usage policy.
Some 56 percent of those surveyed fell into the two categories who never watered their gardens.
A vast majority – 91 percent of those they surveyed – had some kind of outdoor space at their home, 87 percent including a back garden.
But 38 percent said they had “nothing to water” – in many cases because they had paved over their lawn or simply had abandoned their plants.
Another 18 percent said they relied on rain to keep their gardens irrigated.
Dr Alison Browne, of the University of Manchester, said there were six “broad variants” of gardener – with no obvious link to their socioeconomic class or professional standing.
She said: “The overriding impression is that they’re not as green fingered as Monty Don fans might imagine – that’s assuming they have any plants at all, or feel that those they do have need to be watered.” Another 18 percent of people were classified as “casual gardeners”, the kind of people who have a few token shrubs or potted flowers.
They use a jug or watering can to tend to their plants, filling it up from the kitchen sink or an outdoor tap.
Some 16 percent are “hi-tech gardeners”, keen horticulturists who use a hosepipe, sprinkler or automated irrigation system to keep the lawn green and flowers in good health.
The researchers grouped five percent into a “green fingered” category. These gardeners are committed environmentalists, using recycled water such as rain in outdoor butts, or even carefully collected waste bath or kitchen water.
Green fingered folk were likely to grow fruit, vegetables and native flowers, the academics said, and often fed and nurtured the wildlife in their gardens.
A final category is made up of “amateur enthusiasts”, those with small gardens, usually in city centres, but who are serious about horticulture.
They are likely to grow their own fruit and vegetables, often in pots or tubs, and use a watering can to keep everything healthy.
The research team said the findings had implications for the effectiveness of water policy.
The paper, published in the Journal of Water Supply, said: “(The results) serve to illustrate that how individuals water the garden varies, often with little relationship to their sociodemographic characteristics.
“Fully 56 percent of respondents reported that their gardening practice involved no watering, with clear water use implications.
“It is notable how many households do not water their gardens, and also how many only use jugs or watering cans.”
The authors also suggested that even those who did use lots of water might be improving the environment in other ways.
The paper said: “Garden watering overlaps with other substantial environmental issues, such as the potential beneficial effects of planting native species or having wild areas for biodiversity, or growing food at home, potentially reducing food miles.
“Trade-offs between agendas may then exist: encouraging reduced water use per se might not be the best goal.” Browne said the findings show that hosepipe bans in times of drought might only affect a small proportion of people.
“Our findings provide food for thought for those implementing hosepipe bans and non-essential use bans,” she said.
“Although these bans do raise awareness of the importance of using less water, we think it would be good to think about different approaches to tackling behaviour leading up to drought.
“We also urge the water industry to think differently how they might intervene to improve efficiency.
“The garden is one of the few areas of watering practices over which policymakers can provide external control through non-essential use bans. So these results may provide useful insight in terms of identifying trigger points for action and communication in periods of drought.”
Green fingers to hands-off – the six types
Nothing to water … you have no garden, you have paved it over or use it as a dumping ground/car park – 37.6 percent.
Hands-off gardener … You have some plants but you never water the garden. Instead you hope for rain – 18.3 percent.
Casual Gardener … You have a few token flowers and plants and use a jug or watering can to water – 17.9 percent.
Hi-tech gardener … A keen gardener, you use a sprinkler or automated irrigation system to keep everything in good order – 15.9 percent.
Green-fingered gardener … You use the garden for fruit and veggies, flowers and wildlife, using a water butt to tend your plants – 5.6 percent.
Amateur enthusiast … You have a small garden but you are serious about it and are likely to grow fruit and vegetables in pots and tubs. You use a watering can – 4.6 percent. – Daily Mail