Sunday, 3 February 2008

Water Bored

Water, water everywhere…

We have discussed most of the elements of the soil but now we fall upon the most controversial of recent years. The water content. Clearly, too much or too little are both deadly to the plants we try to grow. Whereas some plants, aquatics, can grow, in fact need to grow, in a depth of water , none survive without any water. Air plants, epiphytes that cling to tree branches, rocks and even telegraph wires, seemingly living on just the air that surrounds them, actually take moisture from the air itself, rather than taking none at all.
Water is essential, we all know that, but why?
What purpose does it serve and how?
Plants do not have huge gaping jaws with which to take in food and nutrients. They have tiny pipe systems called roots which take up any food in a liquid form, heavily diluted.
In order to make the soil borne nutrients available, water is required to make a solution capable of being drawn into the plants system by capillary action. Without water, plants would die, starved to death surrounded by a banquet. Water also binds the other elements together making a firm holding base for the roots to take hold of and secure the plant.
Water fills out the cell structure of the plant because, as with humans, a greater percentage of the plant is just water, held in suspension in its millions of cells.
Take a close look at Celery, Cucumbers or Cacti and the other succulents.
In order to avoid simply burning up in the heat of the day, plants transpire moisture through their leaves, through tiny vent like holes called Stoma.
Water features so heavily in the structure of the plant, I will leave the fuller explanation for a later blog dedicated to water and it’s effect on the garden and the gardener.

Water plants.

While we are on the water, so to speak, let’s just take a moment to reflect on the other aspect of water in the garden as a whole. Water features have many roles in the general layout of any type of garden, productive or aesthetic . Wildlife gardens need water as a vital part, supplying water for animals as well as shelter and a source of food for the larger animals. Plants that grow in the water or it’s boggy edge provide cover for smaller animals and invertebrates. Insects breed on or above and near the water too.
For ornamental gardens, water features add a focal centre, a cooling atmosphere and a place for calm reflection. Alternatively, a fast moving waterfall or stream can add movement and life to a display.
For the productive gardener, water is essential to keep crops swelling and to provide a moist atmosphere around germinating seeds and rooting cuttings. Although some more adventurous plot holders may try using water to grow some crops directly into, most of us will have a trough or barrel just to hold water for the plants in the soil.


A little diversion if you like, but watercress is one of my favourite salad crops. Unlike true watercress, which is one of the plants you do need to grow directly in moving water, I grow American Land Cress because it is so much easier.
Land cress has the look and similar peppery taste of watercress but needs just a suitably damp soil, boggy even, to grow away happily. I have a clay based soil on my plot so it hold water well (more on that in the water blog) and, with the recent flood conditions, has flourished for me. It is much hardier than its other salad counterparts, standing right through the last winter with no protection on my expose land. Slugs seemed to be its only pest and I had what looked like 150% germination from seeds sown shallowly on dry soil mid summer. My thick line of glossy green, lobed leaved florets were trimmed in a cut and come again style of harvest for almost six months continually. There are still the remains of my last thorough harvest now after I chopped back, crew cut fashion, all my rows of cress so my wife could try a recipe for watercress soup for me.
As wonderful a cook as she undoubtedly is, I will be sticking to salads as the best way of eating mine!
The soup was described by my family as Shrek’s supper! A bowl of steaming watery green slime, it tasted peppery and spicy but chewing wet cud didn’t make for a pleasing meal.
Trial and error. It sometimes gives the wrong result but that’s part of the fun.
Next time:
Seeds are coming up!

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