Garden Designers Round Table: Water

Water is one of the most curious commodities when it comes to landscape design. Here in the upper Midwest, we are blessed with native plants that have evolved with a climate that flips between too much or too little water for agricultural crops or common turf grass. This flip flop even happens within a single growing season.

Raingarden at Work

Raingarden at Work

Raingardens are a fine way to even out these extremes. They are the most efficient way to store water for future drought, plus there is a list of plants that can handle both drought and occasional flooding of their root systems.

Weather vs. Climate

Weather is the most recent (last few months/years) accumulation of evidence of what we can expect in the future; climate is what has been known over a longer data collection period (decades to centuries). Our weather patterns are dramatically shifting due to more moisture in the atmosphere. Since our air is warmer it now holds more water and can be severe when it comes. A recent cover story in “Newsweek” referred to this as “Weather Panic”. A big part of the question over “global warming” is when does weather become climate. Evidence is unequivocal that our weather has changed and that it will continue to shift toward more extremes.

Creek Bed and Raingarden

Creek Bed and Raingarden

We design landscapes that see water as an important resource that is not a waste to dispose. Instead, we guide it to the most appropriate location to soak into the soil, benefiting trees, shrubs, and flowers.  Plants work together to cool the air, by up to 10 degrees, as they evaporate water from their foliage. The difference between a cool forested area and an adjacent full-sun setting is not just the shade.

Driveway that holds its water

Driveway with very little runoff

Urban areas with larger amounts of pavement and roofs yield more stormwater runoff. the volume, weight and speed of that water erodes stream banks. That erosion results in expensive repairs to keep if from destroying property as the surge of water takes soil, trees and pavement downstream. Raingardens work to soak up the rainfall and move it through the soil column that will yield a more steady flow to the nearest stream, as they reduce the need for these repairs.

The principles are simple: instead of guiding your roof runoff to storm drains, just guide it out to a shallow depression (at least 10′ from the building foundation). This depression is planted with the right species for soil and light conditions to grow deep roots that become the straws that guide water deep into the soil column. They offer a visual treat with delightful blooms and and the pollinators drawn to them.

Stream and Pond

Stream and Pond

If you are interested in attracting wildlife to your yard there are four basic requirements: food, water, cover for nesting, and diversity of habitats. the more variety of these elements, the greater number of birds, butterflies, and other desired critters will come to enjoy the landscape you create.  For example: one feeder will attract certain birds.  A different style feeder, with different food brings different birds. The same is true for the plants in the landscape. Water can be introduced in ways as simple as a static birdbath to as dramatic as a moving waterfall and pool.

Water features and raingardens can be diverse and unique as the sites on which we build them.  Each site calls for an understanding of the waters flow around the site as well the knowledge of the plants that will work best for the site and the owner.

Debra Lee Baldwin : Gardening Gone Wild : Escondido, CA

Tara Dillard : Vanishing Threshold : Atlanta, GA

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Jenny Peterson : J Peterson Garden Design : Austin TXChristina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

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