Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Spring Rain, April Showers or Deluge you choose

Garden in April 2001, not as bad as Floyd but bad enough.
Have to find the Floyd pictures.

Well, the gray is still with us. A little less often than before. We now are the beneficiaries of April Showers. As I write this another storm will probably drop close to an inch of rain to help my garden return to the swamp that it is. This is when my garden shows it mettle. Not that I have a brave garden or anything, but it has determination and a plan on where to put all the rainfall.

Years ago when I purchased my house my backyard was a long green lawn with three trees and a few leftover shrubs. It was all plain enough and encouraged me as to what I could do with some vision, time and a lot of hard work. The house sits on a parcel that is about 50 by 180. Small front yard with the house slightly elevated above the rest on a little mound in an otherwise flat (or so it appears) parcel.

Shortly after closing escrow in September 1999, Hurricane Floyd came up the East Coast and dropped somewhere between 8-12 inches of rain on Collingswood. My large expanse of lawn was quickly transformed into a lake, about a foot deep, lasting about a week until the marine clay which sits about 2 feet deep below the surface allowed the water to permeate. The morning after, there were Mallards swimming and quacking their way through my lake. It was a great sight to see the bounty and the variety that can happen in Nature. One moment green lawn, next day, lake!

Needless to say, I suffered nothing other than water in my yard and unlike the many who were flooded by living near the many rivers, streams, creek and ravines that define this area. The outcome of this experience was to develop a plan to use this water for the garden and make sure that it did not make it into my basement. In addition to the water that sat in my yard, was all the water around me. All of my neighbors were equally flooded, if not more. When looking down from my second story bedroom window you could see that there was a rhythm to this as the water flowed from a neighboring corner in a direction to get to the nearby waterway called the Newton Lake. Our backyards drained the entire square block to Newton Lake (three blocks away). Similarly other blocks continued the process or was helped along by our antiquated storm sewers that flow directly into the Lake. Not only did I have to plan for the rainfall that accumulated in my yard, I had to plan for all that flowed past me from what I could determine as many as eleven neighboring yards. Somehow prior to NJ Department of Environmental Protection my neighborhood was probably a wetland that got filled. Given that much of Collingswood was an old Quaker farm dating from the 17th Century anything is possible -After all, this is New Jersey!
Garden in March 2003 very little improvement although dike and ditch were completed

The plan was simple: Think like the Dutch. They have managed to save a country below water with dikes. I created a drainage ditch about three feet wide and two feet deep around the perimeter of my backyard. I took the soil from the ditch and mound it up to create a dike. The dike would hold my water in place for my use and allow the neighboring water to continue flow through the ditch on its way downstream. I also installed a perforated drain pipe in the ditch to collect backyard excess water and move it to the street. When water reached a significant level in the drainage ditch it would start flowing naturally to the curb(something it did before but above ground). To help this along, the gutters are tied into a solid pipe, along the side of the house, that causes a siphon effect drawing out the water from the rear yard.
The first of the twenty tons of gravel that my friends and I moved by wheel barrow during the summer 2003 and 2004. Initially I thought 6-8 inches would do the trick (notice the netting to keep mallards out of pond).

My dog Taxi who never liked getting wet. One year it flooded so much that the Koi and Goldfish were swimming in my neighbors yard because the water level was six inches above the pond rim. Taxi 's genes kicked in and she turned into a hunter. She and I with a flashlight, a bucket and a net spotted all the bright colored ones and corralled them with extra timbers to raise the edge of the pond until the waters subsided. Alas the dark ones or those we could not see perished - So much for natural selection.

It was not easy and it took long time to develop it, but today it works like a charm. The net effect is that my drainage system even helps drain my neighbors upstream and makes the one downstream receive less water. Only the heaviest storms cause my yard to nearly flood today. The pond has not run its banks since the last tons of gravel forced me to raise the pond edge even further. The gravel area of my back yard is 18 inches deep by the pond and gradually decreasing to about eight inches next to the house. The space between the gravel serves as a reservoir where water accumulates in the middle and back of the property.

The planting beds adjacent to the gravel path and terraces are slightly higher and soak-up the water until it is all gone. When summer arrives and rain is scarce everyone brings out the hoses to water. My garden is lush and green with no strain because of this deep watering system.

Rear drainage ditch taken today. I usually throw my winter leaves in there to help them decompose then I move them as dressing and nourishment to the beds.

My neighbor's yard taken this afternoon. The willow just loves the water.
My backyard next to the willow above. Deceiving how dry it looks. If you dig into the gravel it is just as wet as next door. My Willow also loves it.

Some years ago with Mallards having a great old time in the swamp!
Every now and then the mallards come back and swim on the drainage ditch or worse yet go fishing in my pond. Enjoy your April Showers.

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