They are water-saving wonders but plastic water butts have traditionally been eyesores to keep hidden from view. Now, though, with conserving water more important than ever, designers have upped the ante with clever models that double as planters, ornaments and even fountains.
The market was ripe for a makeover because “one of the barriers to having a water butt is that it’s got to be in your garden, and we want our gardens to look nice, don’t we?” says Gin Tidridge, a product sustainability manager at the B&Q owner Kingfisher.
“One of our biggest sellers is a very slimline water butt,” she says. “It is only 100 litres. It’s still a useful volume of water but it’s not too big. When we’re looking at something larger, it’s nice if it looks good.”
Many Britons underestimate their daily water usage, with the average person using 142 litres, according to Water UK. The need to use it wisely was hammered home last summer when prolonged dry conditions resulted in a drought being declared across wide swathes of England.
At the time, Sir James Bevan, the boss of the Environment Agency, outlined the measures ordinary people should be taking in and outdoors to avoid severe droughts – a list that included getting a water butt.
“Small things make a big difference,” he said. “Take showers, not baths. Cram the dishwasher or washing machine and only run it when it’s full. Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth. Outside the house, get a water butt: plants prefer rainwater. Use a watering can, not a hose, and don’t water the grass.”
The message seems to be getting through, with 76% of the 3,000 adults polled by Kingfisher stating that reducing the amount of water they use is important to them.
Some have taken action, perhaps spurred on by having a water meter fitted, with the number one change installing a water-efficient toilet (31%), followed by a water butt (26%) and fitting a low-flow showerhead (18%). However, a third (31%) had not taken any water-saving measures in their home, according to the survey.
Some gardeners, of course, are not worried about aesthetics, and a 200-litre water container can be had on eBay for as little as £10. If you want to spend more, the selection available from big high street names such as B&Q as well as specialist players such as Water Butts Direct is a world away from the green plastic tubs of old.
There are slim space-saving models, as well as containers that can be prettified as they incorporate a planter. Some are even shaped like beehives or wooden barrels.
“You can spend as much or as little as you want,” Tidridge says. “The important thing is to make sure you get a good setup. You need to make sure you can get a watering can underneath the tap, and the easiest way to do that is to have a stand. We sell an awful lot of water butt kits, which include a stand and the diverter, which is the pipe and the plastic bit that attaches to your downpipe.” (B&Q sells a 100-litre butt with stand and diverter for £32.)
Water Butts Direct has models available for under £25 as well as high-spec ones costing several thousand pounds. The capacity ranges from 50 litres to a massive 1,300 litres. Eye-catching designs include the 300-litre Helena amphora (£356) – which one reviewer says “is a brilliant addition to any garden, as it looks like an amphora but is plastic … and is so pleasing to the eye” – and the Madison rain barrel, a 185-litre water butt that doubles as a fountain (£271).
Given the warm weather has already arrived, you may feel you have missed the boat for this year but Tidridge – who has three water butts set up in her garden and has just invested in a pump – says that is not the case.
“In an ideal world, you’d have your water butt installed by the end of March, early April, so it’s almost full, ready for the season,” she says. “But, given the way that our weather is changing, with hot, dry periods and sudden heavy deluges, a water butt works really well in terms of making use of the rain when it does fall.”