Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Flood-Ready Garden

This morning, Sustainable Princeton will host another in its excellent series of Great Ideas Breakfasts at the Princeton Public Library. This month's program is about water that comes through Princeton in all its forms: precipitation, runoff, drinking water, wastewater. I'll be leading one of the discussion groups, on the concept of resilient landscapes. Below are some photos of the stream that flows through my backyard during heavy, extended rains, and how I've harnessed that water to drive a productive and diverse habitat of native floodplain wildflowers, sedges, and (my daughter's contribution) ducks.

The water cometh from uphill.

In its path lies this normally tranquil scene, with a series of miniponds, a constructed stream channel, native sedges, rushes, and wildflowers building towards summer blooms, and a chicken.

After heavy rain falls steadily for a day or so, upstream soils become saturated and begin to shed any additional rainfall. The water begins to flow in from uphill neighbors' yards, bringing this ephemeral stream to life. When the rains stop, the plants will emerge unharmed and replenished, and a little of the runoff will have been held back, slowed down, by the series of check dams and miniponds.

Now looking towards the back of the property, a quiet "before" scene: our path to a little town park bordering our yard.

And a "during" scene, as rainwater runoff flows from the park into our yard, and gets redirected by a berm so that it will feed our ponds and then flow safely between two houses just down the slope from us.

Being ready to accommodate a flood also better prepares a yard for droughts. Slowing the water down allows an underground reservoir of moisture to form, sustaining trees and wildflowers through the dry times.

A "fillable, spillable" pond prototype--something of a mockup intended to give the ducks a place to swim during droughts. And, when the ducks have mucked it up the way ducks do, or when the mosquito wigglers appear, it can be easily tipped to spill and refill with clean water. Need to build a rock wall ramp on either side to provide ornament and also a means for the ducks to waddle up into the water.

The ducks love the heavy rains.

The chickens? Not so much.

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