Garden Water Use

Rodale’s water use infographic:

Credit Rodale

Credit Rodale

It’s not a bad thing to review your water use, and it’s certainly a good thing to manage your garden responsibly. But I have a few comments about this graphic:

  1. Why would California governor Jerry Brown be proud if you were “growing nothing in your yard”? Not even a joke.

    I guess I don’t have to tell you that being among green leafy things that are growing is a good thing. Maybe the comment came from This is That.

  2. If you have grass, and want to run around on it. the recommendation is smart irrigation. One good option, but there are lot of other good options, including adding Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens) or microclover (DLF Trifolium), which stay green with less water.
    lawn sown with Dutch White Clover

    lawn sown with Dutch White Clover


  3. Vegetables–apparently a better thing to buy them at a farmer’s market than growing yourself. The assumption that the farmer is more efficient at water use than the home grower. I think I’ll send this infographic to This is That and see what they make of it!
  4. And in case you’re still determined to grow something yourself, don’t bother with all those things that might want a little water, like carrots or beets or broccoli, stick to Mediterranean-type herbs.
  5. And one of the best recommendations: “gradually replace your deciduous trees with conifers…” Right. Cut down those Oaks and Maples and Lindens, never mind that they’re 100 years old and that you’ll replace them with trees that will either break the bank, or take 20 years to reach half-mature size.

Sorry for the sarcasm, but Rodale, you really missed the boat on this one!

Compost for Your New Veggie Garden

Wow, we finally hit Day 10 of Garden Tribe’s Vegetable Garden Boot Camp. Yay! Subject of today’s post–COMPOST.

It almost doesn’t matter where you’re getting your information, it’s likely you’ll find this is one of the top recommendations for any garden, vegetable or otherwise: Use Compost! As I said in the post on Understanding Soil, “Feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants.” (That’s not exactly what I said, but who’s noticing?) And compost is soil food. The micro and macro-organisms that live in the soil subsist on what the rest of us throw out–at least the organic stuff we throw out. When the bacteria, fungi, mycorrhizae, pillbugs, earthworms, beetles (I could go on… and on…) feed themselves on the apple cores and tea bags, and garden debris, they cause decomposition over time. Which, when added to soil, continually foster a symbiotic relationship/activity with plant roots, allowing the roots to take up nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

Compost also makes the environment more conducive to the presence and proliferation of all these beneficial community members, by permitting better aeration and better water retention. The compost actually improve the structure of the soil by allowing the soil particles (fine to coarse), along with the organic matter and the bacteria/fungi to clump together (aggregate) into larger, combination particles. I know that’s an awkward sentence, so just imagine the clay soil we read about yesterday (fine particles) retains its nutrient value, but also loosens up and permits better root expansion. The sandy soil (coarse particles) stays light with great drainage, but gains better nutrient and water retention value. Everybody’s happy!

And since compost was once plant material, the nutrients and trace elements that went into the content of that plant material is now present in the compost. This includes not just “the big 3” NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium), but Boron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Zinc, etc– elements we’ve hardly heard of, never mind remember they’re needed for plants to grow. Compost doesn’t have the amounts of these nutrients that you’d find in fertilizers, but because you’re using compost for more reasons than just fertilizing, you are using a much greater volume of material, so you still end up with an appropriate amount of most-maybe all- nutrients, and get lots more benefits besides.

How To…?


Bought this from the city a few years ago. Dimensions are about 40″ tall, 36″ largest diameter. Mix and water frequently, make sure you’ve got lots of browns for the amount of greens, and you’ll get your black gold. If you have two, you can fill the first and let it compost away while filling the second.

So how do you make compost? All organic matter eventually decomposes. What you’re after is relatively rapid, controlled decomposition. The process is dependent on fuel and heat–just like a fire. The fuel is “green” material, or mainly nitrogen containing debris, and the heat is “brown”, or mainly carbon containing debris. The “green” can be any of your food scraps (preferably no grain products, and never any meat products, so that vermin will not consider your compost bin their local restaurant), and any garden material (except invasives or weed seeds, and probably not woody garden refuse–takes too long to break down). The “brown” can be fallen leaves, straw, shredded newspaper (inks and colours are vegetable-based products these days–happily). My usual practice is to wrap 2-3 cups of kitchen scraps in 2-3 sheets of newspaper, and throw that onto the pile. In the fall I collect as many bags of fallen leaves (from neighbours or trees down the street) as I can, and then add them to the compost bin through the year. You need a lot more brown than green, but when you do, you’ll see how fast it all shrinks down and begins that lovely process producing “black gold”.

Important to the whole process is not letting pet micro-organisms die through lack of oxygen, or lack of water. Intermittently mixing the pile of material, layering greens and browns, and making sure there’s at least 3-4 times as much brown as green will keep it oxygen-rich. And locating the compost where it will receive enough rain, and turning the hose on the compost pile during dry spells will keep it moist enough (optimal moisture content described as a “wrung out sponge”– I’ve never tested my compost with bare hands to know that I’ve got the “right” moisture.).

compost bin

The compost bin on the left is the beautiful object featured in Boot Camp. The one on the right is mine! Not quite so beautiful, but it does the job, and it’s pretty hidden at the back of the garden beside the shed, under a big ol’ Douglas-fir. What do you expect from crappy palettes–which are never as pretty as Pinterest would lead you to believe.


If you want to research this a little more, University of Illinois has a great little e-booklet called Composting for the homeowner that you might like to look at.

Rainwater Harvesting 101

I read the following brief article on Rainwater Harvesting on Rob Thibault’s website, TBO’s Green Landscape Systems. I asked if I could repost it here, and so here it is:

Rainwater Harvesting 101



Rainwater is one of the most precious resources in the world. Fortunately here in B.C. we are gifted with an abundance! Unfortunately, the building industry has convinced most home-owners that water is a major threat to their homes and properties, therefore it being important to get rid of it A.S.A.P.! The truth is, if you were to use the correct tools to harness this priceless gift you would be years ahead of the building and development industry! Rainwater Harvesting systems are perfect for indoor use such as flushing toilets and washing clothes, or outdoor use to wash vehicles and pets. Best of all, you can water your lawn and gardens whenever you want in summer months as this no longer controls you by the city watering restrictions! If we install an in-ground drainage system you can additionally reclaim and filter any excess run-off water and use it again!

Excavating--TBO's Green Landscape Systems

Excavating–TBO’s Green Landscape Systems

One of the best ways to use this system is to include a water feature! In doing this, you are able to enjoy and show off the water you are secretly storing underground! If you were to choose to include a pond with fish and plants, this would add even more nutrients to the water for irrigating your landscape! At this stage you would have a mini eco-system on your very own property. A holistic approach based on nature’s intelligent design is always the recommended route, but something as small as a single rain barrel does make a difference in the world.

City storm-water systems have been created to take the water from our roofs and street to direct it into our streams, rivers and oceans carrying harmful chemicals at high velocity. This is extremely damaging to our local eco-systems and is causing greater destruction to plants, fish, and animals than the average person would guess. It’s through small steps like residential rainwater harvesting that will help to heal our local eco-systems and prevent local flooding. We aim to change the world with our clients to create a better world for tomorrow. We hope to partner with you on a rainwater project soon!



The grass on the left side (see picture below) is the RWH finished product!image-1

Written by Rob Thibault


Vancouver’s “City Bird”

This article, “City hopes bird strategy will take flight”, appeared in today’s Vancouver Sun. Apparently Vancouver aims to make the area increasingly bird-friendly, and city management will tell us how to do that. Which is what I’ve been writing about since I started RLGS.

(Sorry for all the links–better than cutting and pasting.)

The Do’s and Don’t’s of Groundcovers

Lots of plants are designated as “ground cover”, because they do in fact cover the ground. If the whole object is to prevent weeds from falling on the soil and germinating, almost anything dense will do. But my own definition is limited to plants that are essentially living mulch (and you all know how much I love mulch!).

Do choose low growing plants.

So I don’t use spreading junipers. Or cotoneaster. Or anything else woody. Or most ornamental grasses. All these have more “character” than I desire in a “living mulch”. I prefer my ground covers to almost disappear into the background (unless they don’t, as you will soon see…), and allow the taller, bolder plants to really shine. A bit like a subtle frame for a picture–usually it’s the picture you want to feature, not the frame.

Do choose plants that are not too aggressive but will still spread in a civilized manner

I include in the category of “too aggressive” things like Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis). It’s got a lot going for it, but it self-seeds like crazy, and tho’ fairly easy to pull out even when it’s pretty large, it does make for a lot of pulling. On the other hand it you’ve got a lot of space to cover, and this would include dry shade like under conifers, Lady’s Mantle is the thing for you.

Ajuga is a pretty vigorous spreader, but can be controlled. Ditto for Creeping Thyme or Wooly Thyme. Both of these grow into my lawn, but if I had a wider edging, like 12″ flagstone instead of 4″ bricks, the runners of ajuga wouldn’t go that far.


Ajuga growing into the lawn. Click on all pictures to enlarge them.

Do choose plants that will give all season interest.

First of all, evergreen. Herbaceous perennials (plants that lose their above ground growth at the end of fall) do not meet the need of ground covering. Large patches of daylilies or columbine or Sedum spectabilis (the tall ones) will indeed cover a lot of ground, but only until winter, when all above ground greenery dies off (needing to be cleaned up), and the ground is again open and subject to weeds blowing in, to compaction by winter rains, and to squirrels digging up bulbs and burying nuts.

Secondly, colour. Either foliage colour or flower colour.

Heuchera 'Purple Palace'

Heuchera ‘Purple Palace’. An “evergreen” that still needs a little spring clean-up.

Another Heuchera--it was already here when I moved in, so don't know what cultivar it is.

Another Heuchera–it was already here when I moved in, so don’t know what cultivar it is.

Both these heucheras have strong colour–not what I’d call subtle. But I find they don’t compete with their mates–I have them located mainly where the plants that grow up around and through them have a much shorter season–like spring and summer bulbs.

Veronica repens--Creeping Speedwell

Veronica repens–Creeping Speedwell

Finally, texture. I keep referring to Lady’s Mantle, and positively in this case:

Alchemilla mollis. Tiny hairs on the surface of the leaves creates "ultrahydrophobic" effect.

Alchemilla mollis. Tiny hairs on the surface of the leaves creates “ultrahydrophobic” effect.

Do choose plants that your native garden visitors (like pollinators and insect predators) will appreciate.

This would include anything native that still fits into all the other requirements: Mike’s top 5 include Tiarellas, Heucheras, Epimediums, and I’d add Salal (Gaultheria shallon)–the dwarf varieties.

Gaultheria shallon

Gaultheria shallon

Don’t choose plants that are considered invasive in your area

Here it’s English or Boston ivy, Periwinkle, Lamium, Goutweed…

Don’t choose plants that need a lot of cleaning up. 

Poor Lady’s Mantle, she gets a bad rap from me. She’s not “herbaceous”, in that she doesn’t lose all her leaves in winter. But most of them will dry up and shrivel. So they are still covering the ground, but need cutting off in the spring when new growth starts. Hellebores have a similar need: they really are evergreen, but by late winter or whenever the particular cultivar begins to produce flower buds, the foliage is looking a little tatty, and may actually hide the flowers. So I usually cut off old foliage as new flowers begin to sprout.

Hellebore in flower with last year;s leaves removed

Hellebore in flower with last year’s leaves removed.

Hellebore after blooming with full spring growth. Both pictures taken same day.

Different Hellebore after blooming with full spring growth. this one blooms much earlier than the previous pic. Both pictures taken same day.

Now neither of these chores is particularly onerous–unless you have acres of them, in which case they will be onerous.

Don’t choose plants that will compete with other plantings.

This would include plants that have a bold character on their own–like Blue Fescue. Blue Fescue is a brilliant plant–love its colour, its shape, it texture, it’s minimal clean-up. But it definitely doesn’t meld into the background. So as a feature plant, especially when mass-planted, it’s wonderful. But not “groundcover”.

Other ornamental grasses however have a more subtle presence, and are fine for groundcover: Carex caryophylla ‘Beatlelmania’ is one of my faves, altho in my garden it’s hard to keep it happy.

Here are a few more options:

Most low-growing sedums

Most low-growing sedums

Another sedum. Most flower in the early summer. Most can be walked upon without damage. most have spectacular texture. Hard to beat.

Another sedum. Most flower in the early summer. Most can be walked upon without damage. most have spectacular texture. Hard to beat.

Wooly thyme.

Wooly thyme.

Iberis sempervirens

Iberis sempervirens. 



Saxifraga x urbium --London Pride, also called "None-so pretty"!

Saxifraga x urbium –London Pride, also called “None-so pretty”!



Most of the above plants are mainly sun-lovers, but will tolerate some degree of shade. Those like Iberis and Aubretia that put on a carpet of bloom would seem to be a bit bold to “meld into the background”. But when they’re in bloom, there’s not much else around them. But the time other perennials or shrubs are growing and sprouting, the groundcover is a lovely carpet of green. Background green.

So you have LOTS of suggestions here. No excuse for not having your soil safely covered and protected from weeds, critters, compaction. Unless you prefer wood chip mulch!

Comments? Questions? Concerns? What are you using for ground cover? Leave them all in the comment box.