“Fountain of Fun, or Snake in the Grass”
Published August 11, 2008, By Steve Hendrix

It was the original flavored water, although you’re not likely to see it bottled and sold. “Eau de Garden Hose” lacks a certain marketing allure.

But could anything taste more like summer than a long, gulping draft from the sparkling arc that gushes from a sun-warmed hose?

Hose water is venerable and refreshing. But is it safe? There is always the chance the nozzle has been sitting in a puddle of pesticide, and many people are uncertain whether water from an outside faucet is as clean as the indoor variety.

“I’ve never been sure that it’s really safe to drink outside water,” said Connie Bowers, a gardener in Colesville.

In fact, Bower’s outdoor faucets run with fully treated drinking water, like those served by most public water systems in the region.

“The water that runs from your kitchen tap and the water that flushes your toilet and the water that comes out of your garden hose is all the same, and it’s all potable,” said Kira Lewis of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which serves Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

The biggest risk from hose water is probably the hose itself, according to the California-based Center for Environmental Health. The group, which specializes in sniffing out toxic content in consumer products, found traces of lead in many brands it tested. The center warned parents not to let kids drink from hoses, fill kiddie pools with them or even play in sprinklers. The group filed suit against the hose industry, and in 2004 several of the biggest manufacturers agreed in a settlement to reduce the lead levels and post warning labels on hoses that didn’t comply.

Of course, for those who do more toiling than frolicking in the yard, the hose is a tool of frequent frustration, the unwieldy serpent in a backyard Eden. Garden technology has invented the speaker concealed in a rock, the robot lawn mower and the seedless watermelon, but it has yet to cure the common kink.

“They can drive you crazy,” said Bowers, whose three-quarter-acre garden is laced with more than a dozen hoses. “I used to get very frustrated as they got all tangled together.”

Bowers said she has become a better hose jockey by watching how professional landscapers wrap hoses: letting the natural coil flip free as they spin them ’round and ’round their forearms. But a good part of her yard time is still consumed by hose management, keeping them from bulldozing the beds as she tugs them around, straightening out the hissing pinches, tucking them out of the trip zones.

Just preparing them for storage at the end of the season can take the better part of a day. She drains them, wraps them as tightly as possible and either ties them or coils them inside a small barrel or box for storage in her basement.

“It’s easier to fold them tightly when they’re still warm,” she said.

A good hose is to a busy gardener what a good knife is to a serious chef. It pays to invest in quality, and it demands a lot of care if you want it to endure more than a summer or two.