The Dry(ing) Season

June 7, 2013 § 31 Comments

This year, spring made it only by the skin of its teeth, hastily scrabbling together all its flowers and flinging them into a heap in May.

Summer, however has been exemplary so far (this week, that is) and has delivered one of my favourite sights:

I am both mesmerised and exhilarated by the sight of clothes drying on the line. I spent a lot of time today gazing upon my own happy contraption — and I was reminded that I have a page in my book, The Living Garden, devoted to this excellent device. I hope you don’t mind if I hang it up here to air for a bit. (The tone is quite crusading — and slightly at odds with this memorably sunny day — but there are some things about which I feel strongly.)

A plea for the clothes line

Banned from some housing developments and shunned by people who seem to think that laundry is indecent, the poor clothes line has sunk to the same status as a messy drunk. This is horribly unfair. Those who use clothes lines are doing a service to the environment by keeping carbon from entering the atmosphere.

Dryers are avid energy guzzlers, having both a heating element and a motor. They release between one and two kilos of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere with each drying cycle. The clothes line, on the other hand, contributes zero carbon and is easier on your clothes (all that lint in the dryer is the fabric wearing away). And the bracing, fresh, ozonic smell of clothes just brought in from the line is an instant mood elevator. What’s more, sunlight and fresh air are potent bleaching and disinfecting agents — something our mothers and all the mothers before them have known ever since, countless centuries ago, woman first washed a length of cloth and hung it to dry in the sun.

Yet the clothes line is often ignored by garden designers, and forgotten about by those who are creating their own gardens. Usually, it is either forgone, or is shoved in awkwardly. So, if you’re planning your garden, give a tiny bit of thought to this greenest of laundry devices.

To my mind, the neatest way of drying clothes is to stretch a line (or two or more) across the garden when you need it, and to take it down when it is not in use. You can buy a retractable affair, with parallel lines that wind into a protective housing, or you can simply unhook the line from one side of your garden, and roll it into an unobtrusive coil that hangs against a wall or pole. Rotary dryers are more conspicuous, and tend to suffer from the same injuries as umbrellas in a storm. If you opt for one, make sure there is enough room for sheets to blow freely without snagging on plants, or brushing against walls.

I love clothes lines. They remind me of my fellow mortals’ daily lives; they are the flags and pennants of a human community. I asked for (and received) a clothes line for a recent birthday. The sight of our laundry flying in the breeze while being magically freshened by sunlight and oxygen always makes me happy.


§ 31 Responses to The Dry(ing) Season

  • I love them too, and you’re right, tumble dryers guzzle energy and NO excuse for them in the summertime whatsoever. Keep meaning to get a line, but I then picture dirty tangled rope (I can barely manage the garden hose) that two small boys will use as some horrible device to torture each other with. I think I’m firmly in the retractable line camp.

    At the risk of sounding like a kath kidston forum, do you recommend a particular line?



  • Kathryn says:

    Those who don’t want their gardens disfigured by a clothes line can sometimes be persuaded to install a solar clothes dryer 🙂 Definitely one of the loveliest sights of summer


  • Christopher Cotton says:

    I’m with you for the cloths line. I’m raising two kids (who produce lots of dirty cloths) with no dryer. Still, for the carbon/energy equasion — I do a lot more ironing this way than when I had a dryer, and an electric iron sucks up a lot of power (and time) so, just to be faire.., I thought I’d add that detail into the equasion. Lovely writing, Jane, as always.


  • Oh I don’t know – I’m sure there are people out there with washing lines with roses on them – it’s an orgy of flowery peg bags in blackheath. I think I’m more the argos type!
    So a double line means you don’t need pegs right?


    • Jane Powers says:

      By double line, I just mean there are 2 parallel lines. You can use one or both. You still need pegs. Pegs, of course are HALF the fun of hanging the clothes out!


  • Arabella Sock says:

    Line-dried washing has a kudos like pan-fried fish (rather than just fried fish). I have a retractable clothes line. I am totally with you and the ridiculousness of modern developments forbidding them EXCEPT for my vile neighbour who has a rotary washing line and hangs out clothes every single day of the year come rain or shine or even snow! I think in our mothers’ days a day of the week would be allocated laundry day and allowing for weather it would all be hung out on the one day a week and certainly never on a Sunday! I don’t think permanent displays of neighbours washing are fair!


    • Jane Powers says:

      Maybe, for frequent hangers (such as your neighbour) there should be an obligation to hang washing up in an aesthetic or entertaining manner?


      • Mag says:

        Talking of aesthetics – in Newfoundland there is/was a tradition of “neat” clothes lines. All items had to be hung in order of size – biggest at one end and smallest at the other!


  • Sid Stratton says:

    I am an ardent hanger upper, even in mid winter if there is ‘drooth’ (a bit of a dry breeze) in the air my clothes are out there.It beats the damp laundry piled onto radiators…but obviously not when it is raining or snowing and definitely never ever on a Sunday….Sundays are for lounging about,reading the papers,hanging with friends,walking…..etc etc.


  • Jane Powers says:

    Oh, a “drooth”: how wonderful! Where is that from?


  • Here here! I had a drier about 20 years ago. I put it in the shed for the summer and a rat ate some important bit of it. Ever since I have managed to dry clothes outside, or in the barn. I have become very sensitive to the changes in light and air quality before rain. This winter was quite challenging but we at least got stuff half dry, before bringing it in to finish off on the backs of chairs or bedroom doors.


    • Kathryn says:

      Don’t you use the polytunnel? works for me – clothes are well above plants


      • Jane Powers says:

        Madeline has a wonderful drying shed for her seeds, which would be perfect for clothes. (We don’t have a polytunnel, just a small greenhouse, which until today was full of false widow spiders — something I don’t want in my clothes.)


  • I agree with all you say about clothes lines. Some designers do think about making provision for drying. The garden town of Garbatella was provided with special areas for drying – here is a photo of one I found on Flicker –
    Maxwell Fry incorporated drying boxes into the balconies of at least one of his apartment blocks.
    I think leaf blowers fall into the same category as tumble driers for pointlessly wasting energy.


  • Richard Lavin says:

    The video reminds me of an Andy Warhol film.

    On Fri, Jun 7, 2013 at 11:59 AM, One Bean Row


  • Maraeka Hoover says:

    My mom always had a clothes line and your post reminded me of how much I want one and that I could make one simply and cheaply. I hate the dryer!

    Last summer my mischievous child took a heavy metal tow chain for pulling cars out of ditches and zip-lined down the hill on my grandparents’ clothesline while we were inside packing. Needless to say the line broke. He escaped with only a cut under his eye. That clothesline served them well, went out with quite a bang, and won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

    Thanks for this, loved reading as always.


  • Janet Sheehy says:

    A woman after my own heart! You can’t beat the smell of air-dried clothes, unless, as my neighbours do, you use highly perfumed detergents! I can smell, as soon as I go into my garden, if they have hung their clothes out.
    Christopher, I find that if you hang shirts/blouses on hangers on the line, and carefully smooth and fold the other washing when you bring it into the house before putting it in the hot press that you can cut right down on the amount of ironing needed. Saves time and electricity.
    I do try to hang my clothes in an aesthetically pleasing way, but I’m sorry to admit that do ‘hang out’ on a Sunday if the weather is favourable.
    I am also lucky enough to have a rather old washing machine that has an economy cycle so that when the weather is sunny and my solar panels are working well I can use the hot water from my cylinder. Unfortunately the new machines don’t seem to have this facility so I am not looking forward to the day when the machine needs to be replaced.


  • Tracy Rich says:

    I live in an old Scottish tenement and written into our title deeds is the condition that a third of our shared garden must be forever set aside as a drying green. I planted lavender around the washing lines with the idea of laying clothes on top in the summer but haven’t actually tried this yet!


  • LazyTrollop says:

    Oh yes, washing lines rule! Ours is out there permanently & does not disfigure the garden in any way. My only problem is line dried towels; instant exfoliation!


  • Denise Dunne says:

    Loving this discussion Jane..
    About 25 years ago I made a pact with a friend that we would never utter the expression ‘there’s good drying out today’.
    But now we are older and eco-friendly. There is something primal about drying the laundry outdoors. I was told that my great-grandmother used to spread the clothes out on the gorse bushes to dry, but sometimes the goats ate them..
    Connecting with my ancestors!


  • Jane I so agree! Where would a garden be without the clothes line?!

    For many years we had a line stretched across “the yard”. When we finally got around to turning the yard into “a garden” we ditched the line in favour of a rotary drier that was moved out of eye sight. I put my foot down for ages as I liked my line but gave in eventually. This turned out to be a good decision because as soon as the line was taken down the garden seemed to grow in width and length!

    The rotary does work well, even though it doesn’t have the memory associations of childhood at granny’s that a line had. Incidentally when we were in the US last year the neighbours asked us why we hung out the clothes and didn’t use the electric drier… It was only a mere 36 deg Celsius out there 😉


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