That quaint metal object you thought good only for holding silk flowers needs to be taken down from its decorative shelf. • The watering can: It is now one of your most efficient allies in the fight to save your plants during drought, able to deliver a reviving gulp of water to plants in greatest need.
Before modern irrigation systems for watering lawns and gardens, even centuries before the basic garden hose was attached to an outdoor faucet, the watering can was the main water distribution system.
Every gardener had one, or something like it, to water plants and crops during dry spells. Practically a relic — along with the rotating metal sprinkler invented in the 1930s — the old-fashioned watering can has been replaced by more modern watering methods.
The first watering can was actually an earthenware pot used during the Middle Ages, according to the Museum of Garden History in London. The tool evolved over the centuries and was constructed from various metals, including copper. In 1886, English gardener and inventor John Haws patented a new design for the water pot that made it easier to carry and pour. It's essentially the same design used today.
Serious gardeners consider the Haws watering can a thing of beauty, from its long spout that can reach deep into a flower bed to its tall neck that prevents spilling. Crafted from steel and coated with galvanized zinc to prevent rust, it's the kind of can that's passed down from one generation to the next.
Numerous companies manufacture watering cans based on Haws' design, but a true Haws professional watering can is considered the Rolls-Royce of cans. They're still made at the Haws Watering Can factory in England, which has been in operation for more than 100 years. (Visit the company's Web site at www.haws.co.uk to learn more.)
Based on Haws' design, the "rose" spout at the end of the neck is the most important part of any watering can. Either round or oval, it should have fine holes to create a gentle spray when the can is tipped.
A top-of-the-line Haws professional model is expensive at more than $100, compared with a thin, plastic watering can for a few dollars at a discount store. The latter probably won't last more than a few seasons, though, especially if it's left outdoors in the sun. The Haws is an investment. But there are also plenty of good, serviceable cans in the $20 to $50 range available at garden centers and online retailers.
Don't forget to check the shed or garage where you might find the old watering can you haven't used in years. My favorite is a family heirloom: a small red can my father made as a child more than 60 years ago. It's old, but it still gets the job done. One precious drop at a time.
Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg and a Pinellas County master gardener. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.