Capturing the Rain

As of this morning, March 11, we’ve had a scattering few days of rain here in Southern California.  I check the weather forecast regularly starting in November, which is supposed to be the beginning of our rainy season. We’ve gotten a few days here and there, but we are once again below normal.

Folks tell me not to worry, we really don’t get our heavy rains until January, February, even into March.  As I said, we’re now March 11.  Every now and then I get hopeful, as the forecast changes from sunny, to sunny/cloudy, to chance of rain, to RAIN!  Three days of rain are in the forecast for next week.  I can’t wait.  But then, as has been the pattern too often, the forecast changes again.  We go from three days of rain, to two days of rain, to one.  It rained, yesterday.  We got an inch or two, depending on where you live in Southern California.

Where am I going with this? 

We are getting less rain than normal. We’ve been here before, we will be here again and again. And yet, we are getting rain, some rain.  So how do we maximize capturing every drop possible and keeping it in our gardens, storing it in our aquifers?  

This is also the work I do, educating folks on what can be done in each of our gardens to nurture and nourish the earth, so She can nurture and nourish us.  There is a natural system, that of the ‘watershed,’ that is the perfect model for us to replicate in our landscapes.  This approach to landscaping, founded by Pamela Berstler, of G3, Green Gardens Group, looks at the key aspects of the natural system of a watershed and uses those as the building blocks of a beautiful thriving landscape.

The four key principles are these:

  1. Creating a healthy living soil sponge

2. Planting climate appropriate (ideally native) plants

3. Capturing rainwater

4. Irrigate, but only if necessary

SOIL: The soil is the heart and soul of the garden.  It is a living breathing universe beneath our feet, teeming with microbes too small to see with the naked eye.  Healthy soil, with a proper balance of water and oxygen, will function as a sponge. Holding onto the water as it flows in and releasing it to the plants long after the rain is gone.  The microbes in the soil create the nutrients that feed the plants.  This takes the guesswork out of what plants need to be healthy and minimizes the need for any artificial inputs to make plants grow.  Feed your soil with compost, and the rest takes care of itself.

PLANTS: Ideally natives.  It is no longer a new idea to bring in plants that are adapted to this climate, that grow during the bounty of the rainy season, and then tend to go quiet as we enter the deep heat of summer.  The double blessing of natives is that they have co-evolved with the wildlife: the birds, insects, critters that roam this part of the world.  So, when we plant natives, we are creating a sanctuary for the native fauna who are losing their natural habitat at a rapid rate.

RAIN: Capturing the rain.  This is where we began.  Whatever we get this year, be it a little or a lot, we need to hold onto every drop possible.  For every one inch of rain that falls on every one thousand square feet of area that equals 600 gallons of water (1″ x 1,000 SF = 600 gallons). So, imagine that we got 10 inches of rain, that fell on a 2,000 square foot roof, that’s 12,000 gallons of water.  And if the garden were contoured properly and the soil was a living sponge, almost all of that 12,000 gallons could be captured in the garden.  But even if we got five inches of rain, that would still be 6,000 gallons of water, captured not lost. Gives you pause.

IRRIGATION: Irrigation, highly efficient, and only if necessary.  The last component isn’t part of a natural watershed, but it has been perceived as essential in the garden.  Most of us tend to assume irrigation is a given, but it doesn’t have to be.  Here is the beauty of the watershed approach:  If you have developed a living soil sponge, and selected plants adapted to our environment, and captured the rain, it is possible that you would not need to add any additional water at all.  Now that really gives you pause.

Of course, there are disclaimers to that.  Supplemental water may be necessary when we don’t get enough winter rains or when we just installed our plants and they are still getting established. Then, yes, perhaps. But it is no longer our default.

When we step back and look at this as a way to transform our landscapes, it seems so simple. Feed the soil, capture the rain, plant the rights plants in the right places. Close the supply loops, lessen the demand for resources by composting, letting leaves stay in place.  

And when we do right by the Earth, she does more than right for us. These watershed-wise gardens create an oasis for the body, the mind, the spirit.  What sweet pleasure can be found in the garden. And not just for us, but for the other inhabitants of the planet. 

And as you close your eyes to smell spring in the air, to listen to the mourning dove calling out to her love, you can only believe the Earth is smiling too.

If you’re curious to read more about gardens, and nature, and healing, and creating, I’d love to invite you to join my mailing list.  Click HERE and scroll to the bottom!

To learn more about watershed-wise landscaping, visit G3, Green Gardens Group.

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