Showing posts with label raingarden. Show all posts
Showing posts with label raingarden. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Princeton's Fuel Tank Raingarden Wannabe

Why would a plant lover be drawn to this desolate scene of concrete and asphalt? Because there's a raingarden behind that fence, or at least a raingarden wannabe, and that means I'm seeing not what is, which is pretty drab, but what could be, which is a dynamic, jubilant planting of native wildflowers, grasses and shrubs filling that skinny raingarden squeezed between the sidewalk and the town's fuel tank. The fuel tank was for awhile serving double duty, fueling town vehicles while its appearance fueled controversy in the neighborhood. A fine rain garden planting could go a long way towards healing the discontent, in my humble, totally plant-biased opinion.

The first good news is that the fresh layer of asphalt there appears to be appropriately tilted to shed its runoff towards the raingarden. What is a raingarden, after all, if the rain that falls on the surrounding topography doesn't flow towards it?

For some reason the raingarden hasn't been planted yet, so the plants have gone ahead and started planting themselves. It's looking a little sparse thus far. Or you could say that the plants are social distancing.

Whenever I see plants trying to colonize bare dirt, I think of people who live in an emotionally impoverished situation. Back when I was in that predicament, I was drawn to places like this. Weeds trying to grow in parched ground were my friends and fellow travelers. Maybe that's why I can remember plant names when most people struggle, because the plants aren't just variations on green. They touch something deeper in me.

This late-flowering thoroughwort is a keeper--a native wildflower whose name is unlikely to flow smoothly from many tongues. It grows like a weed, and often in weedy places, like abandoned fields or roadsides, but can sometimes achieve great elegance of form when it becomes covered with plates of white flowers in late summer. It shows up early, but blooms late. Thus the name.

Here are the leaves of mugwort, which adds no color and spreads aggressively underground, taking over neglected raingardens over time. It's a force for monoculture and monotony that must be countered early and often.

Smaller scale weeds are clustered here, close to the ground, with dandelion on the lower right, a mock strawberry in the middle, and one 3-seeded mercury on the left. When I see one or two mock strawberries like this, I'm also seeing five years hence when it will have spread to coat the ground in an unattractive and inedible way. That increases the motivation to be proactive and pull it out now, before the task becomes overwhelming. This ability to imagine the future, learned in a garden, is directly translatable to global issues like climate change, where the job only becomes harder the longer one waits. 

Lots of homeowners puzzle over what to do with hundreds of oak seedlings in their yards, when everyone is telling them we need to plant more trees. Most tree species don't need help. They plant themselves, often in inconvenient places, like this raingarden.

Playing the editor, I'd say this nonnative red clover is a keeper as well, but pull the tall sweet clover at the other end of the raingarden. Sweet clover can be kind of pretty in a gangly way, but it is one of those midwestern and western weeds that appear to be expanding eastward, like teasel, Queen Anne's Lace, knapweed, and wooly mullein. Having lived in the midwest, I've seen how they can start to take over.

Leaping into the void in plants and action a couple months ago, I pushed some "live stakes" of buttonbush into the bottom of the raingarden. Despite the poor, hardened soil, they have sprouted. Here again, I'm seeing not so much the less than impressive seedling but instead the 8 foot high shrub it could become if it's allowed to get well established.

Just up Witherspoon Street, at the Princeton Recreation Dept. headquarters next to the community pool, is a demonstration of how gardens can look if there's someone knowledgeable taking care of them year after year. There's some serious tending going on here. Even the scarily aggressive variegated goutweed (whitish leaves on the left), which tends to take over gardens, is neatly contained in a discreet clump. These gardens owe their existence and beauty

to Vikki, whose job description in the Recreation Department probably has nothing to do with plants. From what I've seen over the years, it's clear that Vikki is one of the few people in town who is hard-wired to have a soft spot for public gardening, like Polly Burlingham with her hanging baskets downtown, and the various school gardeners, and like Dorothy Mullen was until she left our world earlier this year. I'd say that all it takes is love, and from that all things follow--vision, knowledge, persistence, strategic timing.

Maybe the sad, forsaken raingarden wannabe just a block away will somehow become loved ground. It's got "good bones"--sun, inputs of moisture. Good things could happen.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Coneflower Attracts Monarch and Much More

Typically, my random butterfly sightings don't go much beyond a tiger swallowtail fluttering in the distance. But on July 19, the purple coneflowers in the frontyard raingarden drew a diverse crowd, including this beautiful monarch. This sighting added to a few sightings elsewhere to suggest that monarchs are rebounding from a couple very tough years in which the overwintering area they occupied in the mountains of Mexico dropped to only a few acres. The blog at confirms that they are having a comparatively good year. The magnificent monarch with its matchless migration will always be vulnerable, particularly given the destabilizing effects of climate change, the loss of milkweed in farm fields now that Roundup-Ready corn and soybeans allow elimination of weeds, and the ongoing threats to the evergreen forests the monarchs congregate in every winter. There's a lot more work to do to make their population more resilient, but it's heartening to see them on the upswing.

A black tiger swallowtail in particularly good condition.

This looks to be a variegated fritillary,

with a different pattern on the underside.

A skipper,

a bumblebee, of which there are many species.

It was an oak in the backyard that attracted this moth, possibly a tulip tree beauty moth.

A few days later, we were back to the tiger swallowtail.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Frontyard Raingarden

Every homeowner has to deal with drainage, which could be considered dull if it didn't stir considerable passions in people, particularly those on the receiving end of someone else's runoff.

The traditional approach has been to either ignore runoff until it causes trouble, or to get rid of it as quickly as possible, typically through buried pipes.

My approach is to make runoff the central driver in landscaping decisions, to treat it as an asset while keeping it away from the house, and to take as much advantage of it as possible before it leaves the property.

One dilemma in our yard has been that much of the rainwater from the roof was directed into the driveway via underground pipes. From there, it was expected to flow away through a small drainage pipe that has never worked very well. The drain has become so slow, and unrotorootable, that the driveway now behaves like a retention basin. Not a bad use for a driveway, in some respects, but not ideal.

Part of the solution has been to reroute runoff into the front and back yards, away from the driveway.

The most recent rerouting takes runoff from the front portion of the roof under a walkway and out towards the street. Given how little fun it is to dig under a walkway, this project was mulled over for many months.

Sure enough, digging a ditch has not gotten any easier since the last time. It's always good to have a spot picked out for the extra dirt, which in this case fortified the Maginot Berm that diverts runoff from my uphill neighbor's driveway away from our house and into another raingarden in the front yard.

One less than optimal aspect, not considered until after the fact, was that quite a few tree roots got cut in the process. A lawn's monocrop appearance gives no clue to the web of tree roots just below the surface. Hopefully the trees will end up benefitting from the extra water coming their way.

Chunks of sod got flipped upside down and put back in the ditch, then buried with loose dirt. Tubing had been previously obtained from the neighborhood curbside kmart before it could head to the landfill.
Some leaf compost from the Lawrenceville Ecological Center probably wasn't necessary, but a little doesn't hurt. Many native plants do fine in poor soil, and since this raingarden overflows across the sidewalk and into the street, it's best to minimize nutrients.

Here it is in action, holding water that will seep into the ground over the next day. Plants include soft rush, turtlehead, monkey flower, a Carex sedge, and a few other plants thinned from backyard gardens.