There's been a lot of water in the news this week – flooding in the Whanganui area and heavy snowfalls down south. Our thoughts are with those who are now trying to cope with the aftermath.
Ironically enough, I had thought that this month I would talk about water in the garden, for despite the fact that there has been way too much water around this week, we can't do without it in the garden. We want the right amount of water in the right place at the right time! Water is one of the main aspects of any garden system. Because we are pretty much starting our garden from scratch, we have the opportunity to consider the design from a water perspective and try to get it right!
One of the first things to consider will be climate – of course this is something over which we have no influence, but it's good to take into account what the rainfall data is for your area – are there long, dry periods?
Next, look at the land forms that affect you. Do you have any running water in your garden – streams, creeks or springs? Are there areas where water collects (or runs off) your property after rainfall? Do you have nearby hills or paved areas that increase the amount of water flowing onto your property?
In permaculture, some core principles to consider for designing water systems are: Slow, Spread, Soak and Store, and to re-use water as many times as possible.
Soil drainage is the next factor to consider .....clay soils drain much more slowly than sandy soils. If you have soil that drains poorly, raised beds can be a design solution that will alleviate the problem. If you have sandy soils that drain out too quickly, you can work on improving the soil by adding more organic material – better soil structure will give you better water retention.
Working with nature is always more successful than working against nature....if you have an area in your garden that is just plain wet, then selecting plants that like wet feet is a great solution, as is choosing plants that can survive in arid conditions if you have areas of the garden where water delivery is difficult.
Realistically, most of us are just trying to make sure we can deliver a good quantity of water to our plants throughout the hot, dry summers when there is little rainfall. This is where putting in a good irrigation system is so valuable (especially ones on a timer!) There are other solutions – you could establish wicking beds. These are garden beds that have a built-in water reservoir. We've built these beds at some of our permablitz events, and they have been really successful – instead of having to water them continually, you can just fill the water reservoir up with a hose occasionally and the water will wick up into the soil as it is needed. You can even use this method for container gardening! These are great for long dry summers!
Water harvesting is definitely worth considering....even in low-rainfall areas, there is a lot of potential for capturing water by putting in rainwater tanks and channelling roof run-off into your tanks for use during dry periods. Site placement of your tanks is another factor – keeping your tanks as high as possible in relation to your garden allows you to use gravity to move the water to where it is needed.
You don't have to use a tank to collect your water. In our last garden, we had the guttering from the roof directing water into a dry, rock-lined stream bed (which we made), which flowed into a pond. Everyone really enjoyed checking out the stream that flowed whenever it rained!
There are lots of reasons why having a pond in the garden is a great idea! Beyond its water storage function, and aesthetic appeal, a pond has a lot of other functions. Having a body of water in the garden moderates night/day temperatures by providing a thermal mass, so that you are creating a little micro-climate around your pond that is warmer in cold weather. In hot weather, the pond can help cool the garden by cooling the air that flows across the surface. The pond also provides a habitat for beneficial wildlife - increasing biodiversity in your garden by providing an environment that encourages insects, frogs, lizards and birds into your garden. And you can have goldfish! Encouraging beneficial insects and birds into your garden can help with pest control and pollination. Water in the pond can be used to water the garden, and the nutrients in the pond-water provide extra food for your plants. We are planning to have our pond sited next to the main lounge windows, as sunlight will then reflect up into the room, providing a little extra light and warmth to the room in winter.
Another thing you could consider doing in our garden is to use swales to capture and deliver water. Swales are a step away from the conventional practice of moving storm water off the property as quickly as possible. Instead, you are attempting to slow down and capturing the run-off by channelling water along the longest path possible so you slow, spread and sink the run-off around the property. Swales are channels dug along contour lines on a slope. Excess water will run into the swale, allowing it to soak into the ground rather than running off the property. We are intending to use this principle on the slope in our front garden. Planting fruit trees on the down-hill side of the swales will allow water to percolate to the trees' root systems.
So far, our water plan includes building a pond, into which the catchment from the house roof will drain. We have a large garage as well, so we are planning to direct that roof catchment into a tank. We'll build swales on the sloping front lawn to catch water to direct to our fruit trees. In the back garden, we'll be putting in an irrigation system. That's a fair bit of work! And it's all on hold until after a building project is complete.
A final update on our garden this month. Some good alternative titles for this blog post might have been “Anemones with your pizza” or “Teach your children plant ID”. Last week, my delightful son was intent on making his own pizza from scratch, including using the oregano, thyme and parsley that is still holding its own in pots outside. After some lazily given instructions on which pots the herbs were growing in, he came inside with a good handful of....
…. My anemone seedlings!
We didn't put them on the pizza. I need to teach him what parsley looks like!
P.S. There are still a few anemones surviving.