© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2024

Water charges no match for one Canterbury gardener

Mikayla Wright
Blue house gardens
Gardens   Supplied by Blue House Amberley

The excess water charges introduced by the Christchurch Council last October have meant high water users have had to change their ways or pay the price. 

Residential property owners are to pay a fixed rate of $1.35 for every 1000 litres they use over the 700 litre daily limit. 

The first set of bills went out over the last couple months, around 4000 bills all together, averaging $78.97 and reaching a high of $1622 for one Sumner property. 

The council says they have seen a 10% decrease in water usage since the charges were introduced which has saved millions of litres. 

The garden city is unsurprisingly full of enthusiastic gardeners, many of which have been hit with a bill while trying to maintain their botanical spreads. 

The expansive Blue House Amberley gardens sit outside the border affected by the charges but if they were, their money would be staying in their pockets. 

Owner of the gardens Jenny Cooper has adapted their 4600 square metre space to run on very little water, her driest bed going all three months of summer without a single drop from them.

The dry bed blue house
Complete summer dry bed Supplied by Blue House Amberley

Cooper is aware of the charges and believes they are a good thing, saying something like this had to happen. 

What she’s created is a ‘summer dry garden’. It comes from what is called Mediterranean gardening, developed based on a specific weather system that is very similar to Canterbury - long dry summers and wet cold winters. 

Cooper explains it’s a whole different way of gardening that differs from the traditional English way many Kiwis have taken to. She explains England has a much higher rainfall than New Zealand, especially in Canterbury, so the same style isn’t appropriate. 

“There’s a disconnect between what’s happening in nature and how we’re treating our gardens.”

She says about three-quarters of her land is now a summer dry garden. There is no supplemental watering - everything designed to work with rainfall and natural temperatures.

Cooper urges new gardeners, especially in Christchurch, to not install irrigation. She says there’s a plethora of negative effects that will come with it including copping the council's bill. 

Her top tip for watering is to get a fork and actually check whether the soil needs it, don’t just turn on the hose. She also says if it's raining, get on a jacket and water then as the plants will be more receptive. 

She claims you’ve got to believe in your soil, with the exclusion of new subdivisions. Excellent and natural root systems are key. You ‘bare root’ and plant as young as you can, put them in a sea of mulch and try to have a barrier between the soil and the sun. 

Cooper also pays lots of attention to plant in zones. She puts plants with similar water needs together, a simple but water-saving trick. 

She says some of her common plants look different to how people are used to seeing them. Due to how she treats them, they’re often smaller, flowering more and what she believes to be more appropriate for the north of Canterbury. 

Cooper says it took a real mind set change and the process didn’t happen overnight. She encourages the public to do their own research and visit sites like hers for inspiration. 

The Blue House Amberley is an open garden, charging $15 per visit. It's involved in the annual Hurunui garden festival in early November.