Low Water Gardening

How to Save Water in Italian Gardens

tapeworm  microsopic worms

There are many ways of saving water in the garden and many companies are now offering advanced silicon treatments and other technologically advanced treatments, but one of the simplest and most effective, organic methods by far is known to most of us but still rarely used today in our gardens...


How many of us have seen this classic scene - but how many of us actually know what its for?


Deciduous trees shed their leaves annually and cover the area at the base of the plant and, as with everything in nature, there is a good and logical reason why.

autumn  worms

Leaves, manure and most organic matter is essential in maintaining the health of the soil as it provides food for the earthworms, nematodes and all the other billions of organisms present in a healthy soil. If we consider that in just one teaspoon of healthy soil there can be 1 billion organisms it's easy to understand that these organisms need to eat at some stage. For some of us the thought of our gardens being full of slimy earthworms and creepy-crawlies can disturb and some may even find the notion somewhat disgusting.

worms   bugs

However, Aristotle's quote regarding earthworms really says it all...

aristotle: "Earthworms are the intestines of the Earth"

In fact earthworms pass their lives dragging rotting leaves and organic debris down into the earth where they then begin digesting it and mixing it with the soil to make...humus - that magic garden word...


Humus is the scientific name given to a dark brown, gel-like substance found in healthy soils that aids water-retention and also retains nutrients within the soil and is therefore essential for healthy plant-growth!

By simply adding what is known as a 'Mulch' (a layer of organic material) on the surface of the soil we will address many problems- from the improvement of soil-structure, the reduction of water evaporation, reduced weed-growth - to providing a neat and attractive covering all year round. Covering the soil surface with an organic matter will even drastically reduce CO2 emissions from bare soil!


Many materials can be used for organic mulching, from rotted leaves, chipped bark, lawn/garden waste and even straw, which is fantastic when used in the vegetable garden, as slugs and snails hate crossing the stuff and it deters the emergence of several soil pests from their larval stage (i.e. flea beetles, etc)...


So, given that we have now established the vital role of these creatures have in maintaining the soil healthy and the importance of mulching - how do we go about it and when? Well, the ideal time to mulch is in the autumn, which is when soil organisms are most active but it can be applied in the spring, or indeed at any time - at a depth of around 4 to5 inches (a good thick layer!) but avoiding applying too much against the stem of any plant as this will kill it! This simple application will reduce your water consumption dramatically - which is of fundamental importance in Italy where there is very little water left for garden use ...!

water scarce

By far the best mulch for Mediterranean plants is gravel- as most Med plants need their roots to be kept moist- but not saturated. This is my back garden in Italy and, as you can see, I spend far more time looking at it and enjoying it than I do actually working in it- thanks to the wonders of mulch...

garden in tuscany

Drop me an e-mail if you need any gardening tips and Happy Gardening!

by Jonathan Radford, garden designer



Friday, September 16TH, 2011 by Guest

what is the best way of protect our garden from these insects?
roses pictures

Friday, March 09TH, 2012 by Guest

Absolutely enjoyed your pictures and commentary.  It is early March in Custer, Washington. USA  I wore gloves today but most times I like to work the soil with my bare hands.  Pulling weeds in the chilly sunshine, preparing the beds for the coming weeks.  Your last picture of Tuscany is beautiful.  I have planted grapes but it will be another year or so before they are ready.  I make fruit wine from Rhubarb, wild salmonberries, blackberries, and plum.  My husband and I have 5 acres with a large pond.  There is always so much to do with the maintaining - my husband said I could stop working outside the property and just transform the rolling topography into a paradise.  Lots of vegetables, lavendar, twig furniture and SO, I found your designs engaging.  Thank you Jonathan.  We are 7.5 miles south of the Canadian border, very close to the salt water of Birch Bay. Is that you working with the steaming compost?  Someday I would love to achieve the look you have garnered in that last picture.  Keep up the posts.  Marianne and Philip      Aristotle was right, the earthworm is the intestine of the earth.