- Author: Paula Pashby
I am so excited to have a new opportunity to work in the education department at Solano RCD (Resource Conservation District). The department has a program to introduce middle school students to nature and help them learn the fundamentals of the scientific study process. The program provides a nature hike at the Suisun Marsh, where the students get to learn to observe the natural world and perform tests on the water, soil and plants. The program also introduces a lesson in what Solano RCD calls the Three R's – Reduce, Reuse & Recycle.
Being a gardener and always trying to be mindful of sustainable gardening, I wondered how the Three R's could specifically apply to home and community gardens. Well, one day while carpooling to work with a friend, she gave me a peek at her garden. To my delight, I found that her garden is a great example of how to apply the Three R's to gardening!
The visual of the garden is stunning, with all of the different colors, textures, and plant diversity. The most remarkable element of her garden is that it has been designed to reduce waste, reuse and recycle all materials. There are so many examples to point out in this garden, so I will highlight just a few of my favorites.
In the front yard, they enlisted the help of an organization called Sustainable Solano to transform the space into a beautiful and sustainable community garden. There are many native plants, such as Salvia, Salvia divinorum that are thriving. There are also many edibles for neighbors to share, such as the jalapeno peppers, bell peppers, artichokes, and more. The place was buzzing with so many happy pollinators!
The globe amaranth, Gomphrena globosa plants showcase little colorful globe-like flowers that are so loved by bees and butterflies, and so lovely to gaze at, but they have yet another function. My friend is going to use these little lovelies for her daughter's wedding flowers! Another surprise is the amaranth, Amaranthus, which also turns out to be a great dried flower.
My friend and her husband also installed a swale, which is similar to a small ditch but it is more broad and shallow. The purpose is to capture and control water flow, directing it where you want it to go, such as vegetable gardens, flower beds, etc. This reduces their water usage because the roof downspout feeds right into it. Also, they send the drained water from their outdoor soaking tub toward the swale.
The swale can follow natural land contours or can be dug out more to fit the landscape. It is covered with native perennials and many other plants. The plants happily suck up that water that otherwise would have gone down the storm drain, etc. and also help remove pollutants from the water. If you want to see the swale as it was being constructed, visit a YouTube video: http://sustainablesolano.org/sustainable-landscaping/.
The backyard used to be landscaped with small stones. So they decided to remove the stones and replace them with beautiful Clustered field sedge, Carex praegracilis (Not to be confused with the invasive nutsedge, Cyperus esculentus). Slender sedge can grow up to 3-4' tall, has light green blades, and looks like cool meadow grass when it blows in the wind. This sedge grass can also be mowed to look like an everyday lawn, which they are going to do for their daughter's upcoming wedding party.
So what do you think they did with the stones that were removed for the slender sedge addition? Yes, in keeping true to the Three R's theme, they reused the stones to make spectacular “gabion walls” for their raised beds! These gabion walls look like small stone borders around the beds. (see picture below)
Not only are they striking to look at, but they are also durable, permeable and flexible. The stones have enough space between them so air can flow and water can pass through the structure. The gabion walls also move with flexibility with any ground movement.
Another fun recycling piece in the yard is the lovely wine bottles used as a border under the arbor. The arbor is in the far back of the yard with a great view overlooking all of the gardens and the numerous fruit trees. It has a porch swing with grapes climbing the arbor. The wine bottles are a lovely accent.
Unfortunately, I couldn't highlight all of the projects, so here is a quick snapshot of their other Three R items and their many uses:
- Headboards - berry trellis
- Fence boards - siding for soaking tub, worm bin, sprinkler manifold bench, plant markers, gifts
- Deck boards - deck for soaking tub, manifold bench, gabion wall raised planter bed accent
- Landscape rock - gabion wall raised planter beds
- Pallets - compost bin and outdoor sink
- Pine cones - deter cats from raised beds
- Wastebaskets - worm towers in raised beds
- Cinderblocks - firewood racks and future chicken run foundation
- Brick - from craigslist for pathways
- Wine bottles - border under the grape arbor
- Buckets - self-watering planters
- Cast iron tub - pond for aquatic edibles
- Craigslist bathtub - outdoor soaking tub
- Cement from pool sidewalk - pathways through raised beds
- Pavers - chessboard
- Neighbors' tree removal - mulch for the whole yard, wood rounds for stepping stones, seating, edging for a pond, risers for berry trellis
Thank you to my friends for sharing your beautiful garden and ideas with us, and letting us see the Three R's applied to gardening!
UC Master Gardeners of Napa County - https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=18432
Sustainable Solano - http://sustainablesolano.org/category/permaculture/page/3/