The Evolution of Watering Cans: A Journey Through Time!

A History of Watering Cans - Moody Mabel Blog

As gardeners and vintage enthusiasts, we often take for granted the tools we use. One such tool that has always been around is the watering can. It may seem a simple device, but it has played an essential role in keeping our gardens and greenhouses functioning for centuries. At Moody Mabel Towers we have a collection ranging from tin to painted to plastic. At the moment our favourite is a lidded British enamel waterer that can be found in our Vintage Garden Tools Collection.

So let’s have a meander through the history of watering cans. Where did they come from? How have they evolved over time? Have they made their mark on popular culture?. 

Did someone invent the watering can?

The first documented use of anything resembling a watering can was found in a painting from ancient Egypt depicting a gardener using a vessel with a long spout to water plants. In Rome, metal vessels were used by farmers to water their crops.

The term ‘watering can’ was first used in 1692 by the cottage gardener Lord Timothy George of Cornwall, and various design types existed at that time. The big revelation came in 1886 when John Haws patented a new design incorporating the sprinkler end to the spout or rose as we now call it. The Haws company remains one of the world’s premier watering can companies to this day. 

What came before watering cans?

In ancient times, clay pots with small holes in the bottom were used to water plants. These old-fashioned waterers were not very efficient because they would release water unevenly and often too quickly, causing the soil to become saturated. Large pots of this type were found intact in the ruins of Herculaneum following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Watering pots were often dual purpose, serving to help water plants, but also to dampen down dust within buildings. Typically these pots had holes in the bottom and a small hole at the top that would keep water in by being sealed with a thumb. Once the thumb was lifted the water pressure shifted and the water was released through the holes. These were known as chantepleures. There is no truth at all in the rumour that the famous Dutch picture of the boy with his thumb in the dyke was actually an industrial-scale chantepleure!

What are the best types of watering can

When it comes to gardening, choosing the perfect watering vessel can make all the difference in keeping your plants thriving and healthy. While older watering cans were made of copper and had a long spout for precision watering, modern-day handheld gardening sprinklers are popular because they allow for more control over water flow. However, some gardeners still prefer the classic design of a traditional watering can.

The size and shape of the watering can also play a role in its effectiveness. A smaller can with a narrow spout is ideal for indoor plants or small outdoor gardens, while larger cans with wider openings are better suited for larger gardens or lawns. Ultimately, selecting the right type of watering can depend on specific gardening needs.

How famous can a watering can be?

Watering cans have made appearances in various forms of popular culture, from children's books to iconic movie scenes. In the beloved children's book 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit,' a watering can is used by the protagonist to water his mother's plants. The image of Peter Rabbit and his trusty watering can have become synonymous with gardening and nurturing nature.

Peter Rabbit and his watering can

And so dear friends

Water with madness and pride in the knowledge that you are using a tool in your garden with Egyptian references, Roman history, fancy French names, and English patents, but no boys with their thumbs in a dyke, oh no.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published