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January 13, 2006

The Backyard Bog

BogNot quite two months ago, my wife and I became home owners. We love it. But in additional to the pride of ownership, there are also the worries: Can we really afford this house? Should we get earthquake insurance? Why does a small lake appear in the backyard when it rains?

That last one has been on our minds a lot lately. After 26 consecutive days of rain (and counting) here in Seattle, there's a frighteningly large pool of water that has swamped the roses and turned the lawn into something resembling the Everglades. My dad jokingly suggested that we stock it with trout. But I have a better idea: I'm going to landscape my way out of the problem.

There's a growing movement in sustainable landscaping that emphasizes not only native plants and summer drought tolerance, but also managing water runoff during our many wet months. Lisa Stiffler over at Dateline Earth (the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's environmental blog) puts it thus:

The gist of it is this: By creating some very shallow depressions in your landscaping and planting them with hardy grasses, shrubs and trees in well-draining soil and covering the ground with a thin layer of mulch, you can catch and slow the flow of rainwater. This "rain garden" gives the stormwater a chance to soak into the dirt, helping trap pollutants and preventing the water from harming streams where salmon and other cool creatures chill out.

Lisa also includes a bevy of links to handy resources. Check them out.

In particular, I'm fascinated by some advice from the Puget Sound Action Team. They describe how one home owner in Shoreline, Washington--who was similarly cursed with saturated soils--created a bog garden. He built a retention pond and used a variety of plants to create a yard that can process an estimated 10,800 gallons of water a year on his quarter-acre lot. Total cost? Just $600.

Landscaping for water management helps ameliorate some of the environmental effects of impervious surfaces: less pollution runs off roofs and city streets. And during storms, less water deluges the city drain system that discharges untreated sewage into the Sound when it gets overloaded. Plus, there's another benefit: I won't be freaked out about my basement flooding.

Sounds like a no-brainer to me. I'm going to start digging just as soon as this rain stops.

Posted by Eric de Place | Permalink


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Tracked on Jan 18, 2006 9:10:47 PM


Growing Wild can help you, Eric, with your excellent idea.


Posted by: Dan Staley | Jan 13, 2006 4:35:09 PM

Creating a "rain garden" sounds like an excellent way to prevent mosquitoes from breeding, too -- which is something to keep in mind with global warming.

Posted by: Michelle Parker | Jan 13, 2006 6:44:43 PM

i myself find lawns to be one of the most idiotic, dull and destructive inventions. it hardly seems far-fetched to blame their prominence on groupthink mentality. i suppose it has something to do with taming wild nature.

if you have enough water you should make a bog. they're amazing in so many ways. they're very prominent on beaver island (in lake michigan) - however the last time i was there some corporation was destroying one to make room for a golf course so their executives could play during their retreat.

additional criticisms of lawns:

From Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawn#Criticisms

A number of criticisms of lawns are based on environmental grounds

* Many lawns tend to be composed of a single species of plant, or of very few species, which reduces biodiversity, especially if the lawn covers a large area. In addition, they may be composed primarily of plants not local to the area which can further decrease local biodiversity.

* Lawns are sometimes cared for by using pesticides and other chemicals, which can be harmful to the environment.

* Maintaining a green lawn often requires large amounts of water. The use of such large amounts on plants that are often unsuited for their environment puts a strain on water supplies (especially during drought years), requiring larger more environmentally invasive water supply systems. Grass typically goes dormant by turning brown during hot, dry summer months, thereby reducing its demand for water. But this appearance may be unacceptable to the lawn owner.

* In the US and some other areas, lawn heights are generally maintained by poorly tuned gasoline push or riding lawnmowers, which use an excessive amount of fuel and contribute to urban smog during the summer months.

* Lawns use up vast areas of arable land often obtained through the expropriation of farmers from their land to make room for suburbs.

However, using ecological techniques, the impact of lawns can sometimes be reduced. Such methods include the use of local grasses, using only organic fertilizers, and introducing a variety of plants to the lawn.

In addition to the environmental criticisms, some gardeners question the aesthetic value of lawns.

One positive benefit of a healthy lawn is that of a filter for contaminants and to prevent run-off and erosion of bare dirt.

Posted by: charles | Jan 13, 2006 7:02:07 PM

Hey Dan,
Love the "growing wild" link... Do you know if any groups offer something like this in the Portland area?

Posted by: Ron | Jan 16, 2006 2:30:06 AM

Dan, thanks for that WNPS link. I'm actually going to take advantage of that program.

Ron, this doesn't speak to directly to your question, but there's some pretty helpful stuff on Seattle Public Utilities' page--homeowner landscape calendars, plant ID guides, and so on. (There can't be much different between natural landscaping between Seattle and Pdx.) Here's the link: http://www.ci.seattle.wa.us/util/About_SPU/Drainage_&_Sewer_System/Natural_Drainage_Systems/Natural_Drainage_Overview/index.asp

Posted by: Eric de Place | Jan 19, 2006 5:19:37 PM

Holy cow, my grammar was atrocious in that last comment. Apologies folks.

Posted by: Eric de Place | Jan 19, 2006 5:21:10 PM

Ron: G.W. is a rarity, unfortunately, and the Seattle program is the first one I'd heard of. Usually you just get plant lists and you have to find someone that knows where the plants go.

Eric, let me know what suggestions they have. Should be a lot of fun.

Posted by: Dan Staley | Jan 20, 2006 8:45:42 AM

Thanks Eric...
For those interested, here is the link for the Native Plant Society of Portland. They have some pointers for native gardening plus other petinent links.

Posted by: Ron | Jan 21, 2006 8:39:40 AM

Might be helpful if I actually included the referenced link...


Posted by: Ron | Jan 21, 2006 8:40:34 AM

The article posted about the Backyard bogs has helped us get started in a project we seen as practically impossible. After purchasing some land in Northern California last year, we experienced one of the the most saturated winters seen here in a while. We too have large pools of water resembling small lakes in our yard and it has stumped us on how to develop a garden. We are still waiting for the water to recede to get started. Typically, we have a very long wet winter (very capable of flooding) and then a very dry (drought) summer.
We have checked out the Dateline Earh links and they seem helpful, however if anyone should have any more advice for developing gardens in saturated flood prone soils we would love to hear from you.

Posted by: Jannine Rossi | Apr 24, 2006 11:20:38 AM