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Rainfall is becoming less predictable in our changing climate and so an important part of sustainable garden design planning relates to the management of rainwater. 

Hosepipe bans are now common in the UK and can last for over six months in times of drought - whilst flash floods continue to terrorise the nation. 

When it rains, water from most urban buildings and hard surfaces is directed through downpipes, drains and gullies into the drainage system. Some downpipes from the roofs of domestic properties are directed into a soak-away and so return to the water table naturally but in urban areas, or from large buildings the water is whisked away into drainage systems. 

This water management system not only makes our bills more expensive (with constant repairs and new drainage systems needing to be built to cope with peak rainfall) but groundwater levels drop as the water doesn’t return to the water table and so we suffer from water shortages.

The average house roof in the UK sheds some 45,000 litres of water per year which means that nearly 25% of the water we currently use could be harvested from our roofs.


The simplest way to capture rainwater is to use diverters on your downpipes and feed this into water butts or rain barrels – but on a large scale this can look unsightly.


A better, but more expensive solution, is the storage of grey water and rainwater in an underground tank. This is a far more practical solution as the water can be pumped directly from the tank and used to flush toilets, feed the washing machine and irrigate the garden. Surprisingly, only 5% of the water we use needs to be drinking water so it really is a useful solution. 

There is no real financial incentive to implement grey water recycling systems at the moment. A part of the problem may be that this technology is quite new and so manufacturers tend to over specify in order to cover themselves – which pushes up costs. However, as the current water supply system becomes more unreliable with the changing climate, water harvesting will become more of a necessity and less of a luxury.


With the increasing regularity of flash flooding and excessive rainfall in the UK, flood tolerant plants are becoming an important part of the garden designers planting palette. Some suggestions of flood tolerant plants are listed below:

Flood tolerant ornamental grasses

flood tolerant grass Arundo donax
Deschampsia cespitosa
Miscanthus sinensis
Panicum virgatum

Flood tolerant perennial plants

flood tolerant perennial plants Aster novae-angliae
Iris pseudacorus
Lythrum salicaria
Viola pedata

Flood tolerant garden shrubs

flood tolerant shrub Cornus sanguinea
Ilex verticillata
Ribes nigrum
Salix caprea

Flood tolerant garden trees

flood tolerant trees Alnus rubra
Betula nigra
Liquidambar styraciflua
Taxodium distichums


With careful planning, gardens can be designed to include sustainable solutions for managing rainwater and drought. Flood tolerant plants can be a useful tool in contemporary planting and garden designs.

Reclaimed and Recycled Materials used in garden design

Sustainable Garden Design Materials




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