Scotch and Water

by Norman Todd – April 2001


There are certain necessities in life that seem to need to be controlled and rationed by those who reach positions of power.  The ego of our political masters overflows with smug satisfaction when a new morality can be forced on their minions and enforced with retributive enthusiasm.  The guilt of our consumer greed is assuaged by choosing some basic need, overtly ensuring that its demand continues to increase, scaremongering a crisis for its users and then placing limits on its availability.  Citizens under restraint, as in wartime, are deemed to be more servile.  The common enemy – using water – must be conquered.


We could have raised the Sooke dam in plenty of time to give us an adequate supply of water for these predictable droughty years.  We could have had an adequate supply for topping us visiting cruise ships and for building mains to new housing (with green lawns and rhododendrons), hanging baskets, washing cars and flushing toilets – even the low volume ones that need to done twice – if the modern day inquisitors had not held sway.  Emerson said that his civilization had built a coach and lost the use of its feet.  That was a long time ago but we are no different.  We can build $1.4 billion highways and fast ferries – after a fashion – and worldwidewebs but have trouble with a $14 million dam to store water in a region where more falls from the sky than evaporates back up.


Most of the plants that we get pleasure from are exotics – what the Newfies call ‘come from aways’.  Half of them are from China.  Generally, these fancy foreigners are brought up knowing dryish winters and summer monsoons.  We can grow these beauties well, provided we supplement the water that nature gives them in summer with some that we have stored, for that purpose among others, in our lakes and aquifers.


Rhododendrons, in particular, are not overly thirsty, but they are shallow rooted; they don’t know how to probe deeply for water like their cousin, the arbutus does; they do not to dry out.  If the garden is small and the gardener limber enough to lug hoses around like a firefighter, then hand watering is not a very onerous matter.  One inch of water per week will keep a one meter (the water police dislike serfs who mix up units) tall rhododendron in top condition.  This translates to one minute’s worth of water from a haof-inch (12.5mm) hose per week.  A stop watch is not currently required but Stage 4 or Level 4 – whatever its called – of the Water Board’s Regulations will require its use.  Better for the rhododendron, would be 30 seconds twice a week.  If you are growing some of our comely natives, such as Shooting Stars and Flowering Current and Menzies’s Dogwood, be sure that not a drop of supplementary water is wasted on them.


In nature, rhododendron plants build up a nice mulch over the years from their old leaves.  In waterless summertime Victoria, a rhododendron will be tempted to achieve this mulch in one year by dropping all of its leaves in a one-time valiant, but painfully suicidal, effort to conserve moisture.  We can increase its chances of survival by providing an artificial mulch.  This can be done with oak leaves (No 1), grass clippings (No10), in fact a no-no), or ground bark (No 2).  If the last is chosen, it should be done immediately as it is rumoured that the amount of water used to grind bark and the amount of fossil fuel needed to get bark from forest to our rhododendron is being monitored and if decreed by our neo-Covenanters (my Scottish ancestors were Covenanters and they were all for proscribing whisky use too) then its use in gardens will be banned.  A couple of inches (5cm) are about right.  Just make sure that there is

no mulch touching the trunk of the bush and that the two inches is at the drip-line (i.e. where the water drops off the plant in winter).  It should taper down from the drip-line to the trunk.


In our society the most popular recreational activity is gardening.  Recreation is a good word.  It implies enlivening, making new – and therapy and healing.  I can’t quote figures but I am sure that our medical costs, if we went gardenless, would soar.  One would think that economists would love gardening as it is largely concerned with growth.  To be successful these days one must have growth.  Why has there not been an outcry from the critically wounded horticultural industry?  When the automobile or the fiber optic industry, or the NHL (Owners of Canadian Hockey Clubs Unite!), hit hard times there are screams for help.  Gardeners are silent, gentle people.  We now need a crusade.  Gardeners of the World Unite!


I’ve had an evil, nefarious thought that with some trepidation I will share with you.  Could it be possible that some eager, snooping cub reporter would investigate the personal financial affairs of the members of the Water Board and discover that at least one of them has an interest in a company selling bottled water or better still pistol-grip hose nozzles?  The current national fixation with Cretien’s Shawinigate would evaporate like water from a kiddie’s wading pool and we would have a truly Canadian Watergate.


Go and have a wee dram – but neat – no water – someone might be watching.