The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Giving away plants and watering

Photo: Broad Beans 2009

Photo: Broad Beans 2009

“I gave him some purple sprouting broccoli plants and told him to net them. A week later he rang me to say that the pigeons had eaten the lot.”
John Coe peered at me, eyebrows raised over his coffee cup.
“And then he had the nerve to ask for replacements! No chance. I’d cared for those small plants for months.”

If you give away plants you have to let go of them there and then, and not get upset if you see dried out husks still in their pots a couple of months later. This only happens occasionally. It’s generally with new gardeners who are fuelled with ebullient enthusiasm and still trying to match their space and time with their dreams.

When we dug the first two borders in our kitchen garden one autumn, I had bought 26 packs of seeds by Christmas. Finally I succumbed to a bout of flu and lay in bed under a large pile of vegetable gardening books and the seed packets. Within a day I twigged that I just didn’t have enough space to plant the seeds that I had bought. Even if we had the borders that we have now, I couldn’t accommodate 26 packets of seeds. But those seed packets gave me hours of pleasure that winter. Planning and dreaming. And the bursting borders that I imagined were better than any ‘real’ borders that I have ever seen at the cottage since then.

We give away quite a few plants from the kitchen garden each year. It’s fun to see friends’ faces light up when we deliver them. But generally now I double check whether people really want them and also give a few simple pointers to get the best out of the plants. Never assume that a friend knows how to care for the plants.

Last weekend Seraphina adopted runner beans and tomato plants. Tonight she popped in to collect some sturdy strawberry plants that I had discovered on the plant stand at the church fete. She is planning to raise some fruit and veg in large black rubber ‘tree pots’ at the end of her garden.

She’s got the pots, the compost and the plants. But I know that the watering could be her Waterloo. So I’m going to fix some guttering on her shed to feed the water butt in the new vegetable area. Otherwise she has to walk back and forth with watering cans filled from the kitchen tap –a good fifty yards there and back. I’ve also suggested investing in a hose – even if it’s just to fill the water butt during dry spells.

Apparently ,the palaver of watering crops is the main reason why people give up on raising fruit and vegetables. I’d love to fix up a water butt watering system for Seraphina but at the moment she’ll have none of this. A drip feed system conserves water and is a version of the systems used in Indonesia, Africa and India.

Mains sprinklers can waste gallons of water as a lot evaporates before it sinks in to the earth. You can use mains water directly into your drip feed watering system. All you need to buy is a diffuser to knock back the force of water before it enters the drip feed pipes.

We run the water butt drip feed system in our kitchen garden and hopefully I’ll set it up in the greenhouse this weekend – it’s crazy not to if you want to conserve water. Even if you fill your butts with mains water, the drip feed system optimises the effect of every drop. Plants watered by this method  develop strong roots and have a better chance of surviving dry conditions. By autumn, Seraphina could be coming home from work and opening the tap on the water butt for half an hour. Easy, lazy watering for busy people who want to conserve water and give their crops the best possible chance to thrive.

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  1. Katyvic


    Both sound like great ideas – I’ll look into them. I had rejected (full sized) sweetcorn on the grounds that – if they weren’t already planted out – they would never ripen in time. But baby veg sound great…

    Sounds like I need to get on with planting them fairly soon.

  2. mandi


    What about some baby sweetcorn I have tried it this year the plants are about 4 inches tall and planted about 3 weeks ago if that gives you growing scale idea , baby veg are very popular. Also how about some sort of pepper/chilli plant always a hit with guys as they seem to think ‘hot’ is ‘cool’ if you know what I’m saying. The one I grew last year from seed made quite neat busy little plants with pretty white flowers before the chilli’s came.

  3. casalba

    That is very thoughtful of you to ask first. I’d always say “yes, please” to broad bean plants, but I was once given a yellow rose. It was such a sweet thought, but I honestly had nowhere I wanted to put it. (Helpful info on watering systems.)

  4. mandi

    After giving my self some sports name elbow 3 yrs ago trying to lift watering cans up and out the top of water butts during a hose pipe ban I vowed never to get caught trying to keep my precious borders alive in the same manner again. I suffered for months after sometimes my hand would just give way trying to grip a mug and on several occassions spilt hot tea in my lap.
    I have now half buried a ‘brown’ hose along the front edge of my border and made a small hole in the hose at intervals corresponding to each plant. The hose gets wound up and hidden at the tap end and the other end has a normal hozelock spray nozzle turned off as a blanking device.
    Now I just click the open end onto the outside tap and let 60ft of border have a drink for 10 mins the water goes striaght into the soil non gets wasted, I don’t get floppy wrists and burnt thighs and it only cost me less than a fiver! Far less than the irrigation kits I first looked at.

  5. moonroot

    Anyone finding watering the veggie patch too much of a chore should move to Wales – lack of rain is rarely an issue! 🙂

  6. Katyvic

    I’m currently trying to grow some plants to give away for the school fete, as I rather foolishly volunteered to man the plant stall this year!

    The trouble is that it isn’t until 20th June, which means that most of the vegetables should already have been in the ground by then. Any suggestions for attractive ‘fete veggies’ that beginners would fancy taking on?

    I’ve thought of lettuce plugs, dwarf french beans, runner beans, my left-over purple sprouting broccoli plants, basil, chives, (herb) fennel and the odd squash plant (courgettes and onion squash probably). Am I missing something obvious?

    But then there’s the tricky job of trying to sow these vegetables so that the timing is ‘just right’. We can’t transport 5ft runner bean plants or massive courgettes…! I’m trying to aim for attractively compact plants which look like they could romp away; but so much of the timing depends on the weather.

    5 1/5 weeks to go, so I think it’s too soon to sow dwarf french beans; but I sowed a few plastic mushroom boxes with ‘cut and come again’lettuce seeds the other day, alternating red salad bowl with green salad bowl. But will they be old and leggy by the day?

    And if anyone has any ideas on how to stop the 20 pots of feathery bronze-leafed fennel I potted up bolting and running to flower I’d be so grateful! And should I shear the pots of chives now, just before they flower, so they look perky again in 6 weeks time?

    Oh dear…!

  7. Sylvie

    You’re right about the watering. I’ve been thinking about asking my landlord to let me dig over a bit of the communal garden for veg patch but it would mean carrying buckets of water down from the third floor as I’ve not yet found an outside tap.

  8. Joanna

    We get our water from the local pond and drag it up in big containers in the wheelbarrow, either that or I walk up and down the garden with a watering can. You can see how long our garden is at and the pond is not on the picture but away to the left. The other alternative is to walk up and down the three flights of stairs with it as we live in a flat. Fortunately last year I only had to water plants at the beginning of the season when everything was just starting, the rest of the time the rain came in perfect intervals. Phew!

  9. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Patti

    The link works fine for me. Have you enabled Active X controls?

    Here is the link anyway

  10. Patti

    I would love to read the info on your Water butt link, but don’t have permission to view it???

    Living in water challenged California, I’m always looking for new garden watering ideas…

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