In the Garden: Rain barrels make great gift ideas

Gardeners who are mourning dead trees and shrubs and dehydrated plants might love any Christmas gift that could help them through a similar dry spell next year.

Few people say “Oh how beautiful!” about presents that make watering easier – but these gifts can be met with gratitude for years to come.

The heritage-type wooden rain-barrels are nice-looking and last a while if treated with respect. But they tend to leak when liquid runs low. Sometimes wooden half-barrels can be found with plastic liners, but these are better at creating container ponds than for storing water.

More workable choices are sturdy plastic barrels which are crafted to look like heritage ones. These have useful variations like flat backs (to fit against a wall), links for adding extra barrels, screening and water taps and spigots for attaching hoses.

Stands are available for them. These give water barrels enough elevation for filling watering cans.

Not everyone wants to give up beautiful wall-side plantings for rows of barrels. But it is possible to buy connectors so that downspout water is carried to wherever the barrels have been placed.

From these, hoses can be attached. People who have been struggling with vinyl hoses that kink and resist being straightened after being coiled for winter storage, might be glad of a chance to try a rubber hose instead. These are heavier, but much more co-operative.

Those of us who still have sore backs after a summer spent lugging buckets of grey water to thirsty plants might be quick to see the value of a small submersible pump.

Like the other watering gifts, it’s a utilitarian present. But these pumps are so valuable because they can be plunged into a water-filled bath or washing machine and connected to a hose. This works best with a sprinkler head which can be stopped briefly and started again as one moves from one dry area to another.

It’s possible to find bird-baths which are large, ornamental pottery saucers. Some are one colour (often blue) while others have plant motifs painted on them. These are wonderfully mobile because they can be hung on a branch. Others come with a lightweight stand.

Another interesting gift might be a self-watering planter in which plants are grown in a top container, the floor of which is porous to water. A second container below is for water – refillable by hose or watering can. Plants grow well providing the bottom space is kept well filled up.

For container gardeners the ceramic plant minder watering bulbs may be useful if the soil is not a kind that dries out very fast. These are plain globes which fit onto into a porous terra cotta cone which should be soaked in water before use then filled with water.

Next the globe should be filled. Once attached, the water oozes very slowly out of the globe and into the terra cotta cone which weeps water into the surrounding soil.

There are large or small versions of ‘Plant Nanny’ terra cotta spikes, in which the water-holder can be a wine bottle or any large plastic pop bottle.

Anne Marrison is happy to answer gardening questions. Send them to It helps me if you mention your region or city.


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