The last few weeks or so has seen an increase in steady, soaking rain in my part of Australia. This is the type of rain all gardeners love: the rain that soaks deep down and nourishes roots gasping for a drop of water. More importantly is the fact that at least some of the farmers suffering under drought conditions have received a little of these rains. Not enough of course and not widespread throughout drought-stricken regions but at least some relief may be at hand.
The relief that gardeners and those that work the land feel at the arrival of good rain dates back to the dawn of time; or at least to the dawn of cultivation of food crops and decorative gardens. It won't surprise you to learn then that there is a school of thought that has built up around the superiority of rain water over tap water. The argument goes like this:
Less chemicals Our tap water has added chemicals which, while they may not be deadly, may not be as healthy for plants as good old-fashioned rainwater. The chemicals added, some by design, some through runoff, are not there to benefit the health of the plant.
Natural delivery The argument for leaving nature to water plants rather than humans is that nature has developed a superb soaking technique over the millennia. While this can be replicated by skillful gardeners, the argument goes that nature still performs this function best.
Safer water supply This argument is simple: that rain water is far more preferable than tap water because of rainwater's decentralised collection which is safer against mass contamination and even system failures. While rare in Australia, poisoning of tap water is becoming common around the larger cities of countries such as China as it has rapidly industrialised.
Protects water supply This also holds that allowing an emphasis on rainwater rather than tap water will help protect our water supply. As the world's driest continent gardeners need to stress that water overuse cannot be tolerated particularly as our water needs grow through an increased population. Now some of these arguments seem to hold true while others may be more nuanced depending on where you live. After all in heavily industrial area the rainwater may contain a significant level of contaminants --so-called acid rain -- which may not only be harmful to your plants, but also to humans. Therefore any perceived benefit from the natural watering would be negated by the delivery of harmful chemicals.
However efforts to control pollution in heavy industry have reduced air pollution and therefore decreased the likelihood of severely contaminated water water from falling.
The solution may be twofold: to plant drought resistant plants (like natives) and to get a rainwater tank for watering your garden. This increasingly popular option ticks all the boxes. Not only do gardeners benefit from having a supply of rainwater at their disposal but this also reduces pressure on our precious water supply.