Posts tagged garden

Aspirations and admiration of a garden as beautiful as this one from Lou Murray has motivated me to search for supplemental water sources for my garden.

Aspirations and admiration of a garden as beautiful as this one from Lou Murray has motivated me to search for supplemental water sources for my garden.


With California residents experiencing a record breaking dry season, many landscapes are feeling parched, while garden caretakers are feeling pressure to conserve water. When Los Angeles receives any rain, I feel a sense of relief for my small backyard garden (although this much needed rainfall seems to come and go all too quickly), but realize we can’t rely upon rain alone for our gardens. So I’ve been trying to find ways to efficiently save water during these drought years and take care of my garden, and my research has brought me to the conclusion rain barrels are an essential rainfall collection solution.

Gardening With Soul's DIY rain barrel project.

Gardening With Soul‘s DIY rain barrel project.

Collecting rain using catch barrels and utilizing the water for garden irrigation is a water wise strategy, and the practice is even supported by many city organizations. For instance, the City of Los Angeles offers great incentives for residents who choose to install rain barrels through their “Keep Los Angeles Beautiful” program, periodically offering rebates which bring down the cost of rain barrels to the subsidized price of “free”.

While readymade rain barrel catchment systems are occasionally available for free or for sale online, anyone can build their own rain barrel system quite easily following these steps using parts available at local hardware stores or big box home improvement retailers:

Step 1: Gather required parts and materials (all equipment is available at most home improvement stores)

  • Large catchment basin of your choice; a plastic garbage can or wooden barrel work equally well
  • Mesh fabric to keep debris out of basin
  • Plumber’s teflon tape
  • Washer and nut fitting for spigot
  • Drill
  • Cutting tool

Step 2: Determine the best placement for your rain barrel
Locate an area in which you a redirect the rainfall from your gutter into your container and safely situate a large container without the worry of it tipping over (remember, water is very heavy, so a stable base is mandatory). If the ground isn’t stable, you might need to lay a foundation or build a raised platform.

Step 3: Cutting the inlet and outlet for your rainfall
With the gutter source directed toward your container, cut an opening at top of the basin and secure a fabric mesh over it. This mesh will keep debris out of the basin. Afterward, drill and cut a hole on the bottom of the basin, matching the opening to the ring size of your spigot.

Step 4: Installing the spigot
Attach the spigot into the drilled and cut hole and secure it into place with a washer and nut.

Step 5: Start collecting
Now the hard work is done! Position the barrel directly under the gutter downspout. The next time it rains you’ll enjoy the rainfall even more knowing the water you’ve collected in helping conserve water and benefitting your garden!

Hyundai HeadquartersPeople often ask whether there is a grass that can replace their traditional water-loving lawns. The challenge is most residents want to continue to see the color green. However, one should keep in mind there isn’t a magic plant that will duplicate the rich green, all-American fescue lawn that many of us have grown accustomed to in front yards and reduce water use significantly. In order to get a low water grass we must begin to rethink the garden and imagine our home’s landscape with a more naturalistic meadow appearance. Here is a trio of California Native grass options that require less water:

The Buffalo Grass Blog documented 8 weeks of growing UC Verde Buffalo Grass in their yard.

The Buffalo Grass Blog documented 8 weeks of growing UC Verde Buffalo Grass in their yard.

UC Verde Buffalo Grass (Buffalo Grass)
I recently used this grass at the Hyundai Headquarters in Fountain Valley, California as a lawn substitute. I think it’s a great options for the front yard. This grass uses about 75% less water than the traditional grass and was developed by researchers at UC Davis and UC Riverside specifically for the California climate. Buffalo Grass is typically sold small plugs and not by seed. Plant the plugs at 8″ to 10″ on center and they will spread by stolons. You should have a full coverage within a 4-6 months if you plant the plugs in the spring.

Dog owners will be pleased to know this variety of grass not only holds up to foot traffic, but is also non-toxic for grass chewing hounds, while also being beneficial for improving allergies because this grass does not produce seeds. UC Verde Buffalo Grass is even available online for direct delivery to make establishing a new lawn easier.

Landscape designer Julie Orr used Agrostis Palens to  beautiful effect, noting Native Bentgrass does well in full sun and creates a more flowing, meadow-like lawn.

Landscape designer Julie Orr used Agrostis Palens to beautiful effect, noting Native Bentgrass does well in full sun and does a good job of looking like a traditional lawn.

Agrostis Palens (Native Bentgrass)
One of my favorite meadow grasses. Although this grass can be occasionally mowed, be aware this grass wants to be a meadow. If you want a more immediate cover use this species. It can be seeded any time (although prefers the fall season), germinating within a few weeks. It normally goes dormant during the summer, but can be kept somewhat green with occasional water during the hot months.

Carex Praegracilis (California Field Sedge)
This is a great option if you live near the coast. This grass uses about 25% less water, but once established it will appear similar to your old lawn. I’ve seen a few installations in the Santa Barbara area and California Field Sedge will tolerate some foot traffic as well as occasional mowing. Although it can be seeded, it is best to plant this grass with containers. This grass will spread by rhizomes.

Why should we care about soil?

“Soil is our planet’s epidermis. It’s only about a meter thick, on average, but it plays an absolutely crucial life-support role that we often take for granted.”Dr. Donald Sparks, University of Delaware, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

I don’t typically think about soil in this context. Instead, the mention of the word evokes remembrance of the distinct fragrance of moist earth. I love the smell of it. I also recall a familiar sound: a shovel breaking into the ground during planting season; the scraping of metal against silt, clay, and rock. If you’re a gardener, you know what I am talking about.

Do you recite a prayer, as I do, when digging? I pray that my efforts reveal a healthy soil, with worms wiggling away in the disrupted ground, and burrowing further into its rich brown to black colored mass. In those moments I give in to the urge of removing my garden gloves and touching the soil, testing its texture for the plants it is about to nourish.

This connection to the soil and the need to care for its health is more critical when considering the importance of soil from a global perspective. Dr. Spark’s analogy of soil as the outer layer of the earth’s “skin” explains how soil serves a protective function against a variety of environmental disturbances. It purifies our water, absorbs and stores carbon that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, and provides nutrients to help plants grow.

Most importantly, without soil there would be no food. The relationship of soil to food production and global hunger engages scientists, governments, factory farmers, NGOs, environmentalists, and others in the rhetoric about climate change policies and agricultural practices.

From environmental health to global hunger, individuals should care about soil fertility and quality. An exploration into the subject empowers us as citizens and gives us tools for our own practices on a micro level.

AHBE_Lab-Linda-garden-apr-19-2015
Lately my thoughts have wandered to my gardens as they’ve begun to display their spring buds. They are spaces I enjoy on weekends, usually in the early mornings when you can hear birds greeting the day uninterrupted by other sounds of the city. My gardens were not designed in advance of their implementation. Instead, I prefer to think of my process as “composing on the fly.” Upon reflection, I probably did begin with a general idea of where I was ultimately headed, but the journey was filled with trials and errors (lots of them), with changing garden layouts and impulse purchases along the way.

I discovered the garden is a wonderful place to experiment, and I did just that over several years of “tinkering.” So what if the broken concrete I had planned to use for a stacked wall ended up as a garden path? My hands-on gardening approach revealed my lack of skills in the craft of dry-stacking but also, ironically, my dislike for digging soil. I solved the latter by planting smaller nursery stock – a less expensive option, but one requiring a bit more patience.

AHBE_Lab-native-plant-apr-19-2015
But that is the luxury of designing your own space. You do it at your own pace and as your mood dictates. Along the way I learned about both patience and horticulture, investigated soil structure and beneficial insects, and observed many birds and butterflies visiting my gardens. Luckily, the plants I placed in the ground took root and filled up my gardens, despite my neglect for weeks at a time.