When nature gives you water…pay attention

When I started Timshala, I had no idea what the conditions here were like.  And of course, I should have known. I could have known.  If I were advising a client who had just bought a new multi-acre site and needed a design, my advice would have been:   live with it for a year; learn about the site, the soil, the climate, the wind.

Well, I didn’t follow my own advice.  I made a gorgeous plan.  I did take into account the soil (did a soil test) which is somewhat alkaline.  I knew the zone was 5b.  But grades, water, wind, drainage? I ignored them.  I turned into an amateur.  I could not wait the year.

And the result is I don’t exactly have water, water, everywhere…but when there is rain I sure do have a lot of it.  More than the plants I planned for could live with.  More than my plans can live with.  So I’ve changed a lot of the plantings I had planned, trying to keep the forms I had in mind originally, but changing the plants.

And now, finally, some great successes: Weeping Willow  (Salix babylonica),  Button Bush (Cephalanthus oxidentalis) and Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice) .

Willow. Buttonbush. Clethra June 2019

The Willow went in two years ago, a small tree about 8’ tall.  Now it is a gorgeous, 20’ tall weeping background for the flower border and the Button Bushes.

The Button Bushes were planted bare root, about 18” high, two years ago, and are flowering this year for the first time.  I love the white “button” flowers on the coarse leaves, and particularly the contrast with the delicate Willow leaves.  They look wonderful together, and both can happily take some standing water.  The Clethra also were bare root, about 18” high, and actually flowered their first year. They like it moist, though not quite as wet as the other two, not standing water; they should be luxuriously pink in a few more weeks.

And if I had been a better client, I could have started with them and had a lot less heartache.

 

I did not want a waterfront property

Last year, after some of the most dramatic rainfalls since we have been here, I woke up to look out at a garden almost completely submerged.

 I already knew we had some water problems in some areas.  I had some dry wells put in; I planted various water loving plants.  I added a river of Willows (Salix Mt. Aso)  groves of Cephalanthus (Buttonbush),  Clethras.  I redesigned some parts of the perennial border.  Everything helped a little.  Nothing really solved the problem.  Soil and mulch were washing away, trees and shrubs were drowning. 

So now we are in the process of putting in about 150’ of French drains with beautiful river rocks covering the drains.  Most run along the center of the path, creating an extra line of direction and motion.

This is the beginning of the trenching.  MFrench drain under construction20180309_163501 (002)ore to come, when the reconstruction is complete. 

And while I hate to be spending the money, I actually think it is going to look quite good.  There is a Japanese style of design called Wabi-sabi, which uses nature’s imperfections as part of the design. Wikipedia calls it the “appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes”.   

The water isn’t exactly keeping to the path and therefore, neither are the French drains.  But the effect is of an interesting interplay between the direction of garden path and the direction of the water.