Rain Garden Update

Root simple reader Julia requested an update on the rain garden our landscaper Laramee Haynes designed and installed in 2019. Laramee’s rain garden idea solved two problems by taking care of a confusing, unused area of the yard and sending valuable rainwater to our landscape.

We consider the rain garden both a success and a work in progress. As Kelly put it, “I’m still trying to figure out what plants work best.”  She adds, “The issue with our rain garden is the soil around the edges is different than the soil at the bottom. And also the light conditions are such that one side is in shade and one in sun.”

The soil at the top is loose and the soil at the bottom is a heavy clay. Kelly planted Douglas Irises (Iris douglasiana) and sedges in the bottom. Around the edges she started with Coyote Mint (Monardella villosa) but it struggled and faced nightly digging from the many skunks that drop by while we’re asleep. Bees Bliss Sage (Salvia x ‘Bee’s Bliss’) was another casualty.

Kelly says, “I also planted Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) but I’d didn’t work even though it’s supposed to be hardy. I’m also trying Seaside Fleabane (Erigeron glaucus). I thought it would like the sandy conditions around the edges but it’s been slow to establish and is just holding on.”

Mimulus ‘Jelly Bean Dark Pink’

What has done well? Kelly says, “I’ve placed my hopes in creeping sages such as Salvia sonomensis Mrs. Beard which is doing pretty well. Mimulus ‘Jelly Bean Dark Pink’ looks good sometimes but not all year round and needs to be intermixed with other plants.”

Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens)

Kelly says we’ll be heading back to the nursery soon for more Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens), “It’s been under attack from the skunks but I’d like to put more in. It tolerates shade so I’d thinking of adding three more.”

To prevent the skunks from ripping up the bottom of the pit Kelly put down some pomegranate branches. Pomegranate trees have wicked thorns and that seems to have inhibited those pesky skunks. You can see extensive skunk damage in the top photo in this blog around the top of the pit. Maybe we need one of those motion sensitive hose gadgets?

A rain garden in a climate that gets year round precipitation would be very different than our dry, Mediterranean region where rain falls only during a short period in the first few months of the year. Kelly has thought about treating the rain garden as a kind of rock garden and planting succulents amongst the river rock but has decided to try to let the plants along the top, such as the sages, cascade over the sides.

Volunteer New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides)

She says, “Landscaping the pit is like 3D chess–it’s hard enough to plant a flower bed but this is harder because you have in the same space different growing conditions and you have to make use of this unusual space in a clever way. Is it densely or lightly planted? Is it like a rock garden or do you have plants that cascade down the sides? How do you balance all this and not look crazy? I’m worried ours is looking crazy.”

I’ll add that at the very least the avocado tree appreciates the water and we’re not contributing to pollution by sending our rainwater to the gutter where it just washes oil and brake dust out the ocean. And I like the little bridge I built over the pit. The path leads to Kelly’s shed and something about crossing the little bridge adds some interest to a stroll in the backyard.

Here’s our original post on the rain garden.

I haven’t mentioned this in awhile but it’s worth repeating. The reason I include the scientific names of plants is not to show off but because this blog has international readers and the common names for plants can lead to confusion and, worse, cases of poisoning.

Thankful for the New Rain Garden

See an update on this post here.

One day during a high school English class, here in Southern California where I grew up, it started raining. The entire class spontaneously got up and ran to the window to view the downpour. Our teacher, a transplant from the East Coast, having just lost control of her classroom, looked confused. A moment later I could see in her face that she realized she was dealing with a room full of kids to whom rain is a novelty, something worthy of news reports and, these days, hashtags. Regaining control of her classroom, she patiently explained to us that she came from a place where not only does rain fall from the sky more frequently but that there was something else called “snow.”

This past summer our landscaper, Laramee Haynes and crew installed a rain garden in our backyard and Kelly and I cant stop checking it now that the rainy season has returned. The garden takes the water from the back half of our roughly 1,000 square foot roof. Using this handy online rainfall harvesting calculator, in an average year we could send almost 6,000 gallons of water to our backyard.

We ran a pipe from the rain gutter way back into the yard along a fence. The pipe terminates at a simulated gravel filled stream bed that spills into the rain garden. Kelly has just started planting the wet lower part of the rain garden with native plants including water loving Douglas irises (Iris douglasiana). She planted the dry outer edges with desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), coyote mint (Monardella villosa) and assorted grasses.

Alas, my hopes of building a little boat in which to row back and forth across our new seasonal pond have been dashed by the fact that our soil drains quickly (which is a good thing). We’ll post periodic updates to let you know what worked and what we killed.

130 Farm Unfixed with Jessica Rath

In her work artist Jessica Rath examines, as she puts it, “how human containment of the land effects non-human species from the propagation of agricultural plants to the sensoria of bees.” She is on the faculty of the Art Center College of Design and her previous projects include works about apple breeding, co-evolutionary communication between flowering plants and their pollinators and a long term project called Farm Unfixed that we spend most of this conversation discussing. During the podcast Jessica mentions,

You can look at Jessica’s work on her website at jessicarath.com. Sign up for her newsletter to find out about upcoming projects.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Leave Your Leaves Alone

Photo: David Newsom

Our friends at the Wild Yards Project (episode 126 of the podcast) have posted an interview with plant guru Barbara Eisenstein, “Leave Your Leaves Alone, and Let The Wild Things In!

Eisenstein has a nuanced view of native gardening noting in the interview that we need to consider a mix of native and hardy non-natives in our urban spaces,

Our urban landscape bears little resemblance to pre-development conditions. Consequently, formally local natives may be unable to succeed in these altered environments. What plants are then most appropriate? Rather than looking to a past that is no more, it may be best to use our understanding of the ecological services plants provide. A review of research by Linda Chalker-Scott (2015, Arboriculture & Urban Forestry, 41.4, 173-186) suggests that both native and non-native woody species can enhance biodiversity of urban landscapes by providing these essential services.

At this risk of wonkiness, do we have a Hegelian plant dialectic here, perhaps? Are we on the cusp of a synthesis in the native/non-native plant debate? This is a complicated question, but I think that Eisenstein makes some good points in this provocative interview. Props to David Newsom at the Wild Yards Project to allowing this conversation go where it went.

Eisenstein goes on to talk about what she considers most important for attracting birds and insects to our gardens. Spoiler: it’s more about the leaf litter than the plant selection. Make sure to read the rest of interview on the Wild Yards Project website. And consider signing up for the newsletter and adding to the Wild Yards tip jar.

126 The Wild Yards Project with David Newsom

On the podcast this week Kelly and I talk to David Newsom about his Wild Yards Project. The goal of the Wild Yards Project is “to give you the inspiration and resources to re-wild your yard and to help others around you to do the same. 10,000 Species a Year Lost. 40 Million Acres of Lawn in the US. The New Wilderness Begins at Home.” During the conversation David mentions:

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.