Friday, August 31, 2012

The Mostly-Native Fairy Garden

Cucumber leaf fairy stepping stone
When trying to design and build native gardens that make my entire family happy I quickly realized it meant creating a space just for my two children, both under the age of four. And so we built their Fairy Garden.

When I garden in an area I don't really want them digging in they can go to their Fairy Garden and dig all they want. I divided up some old hostas from near the greenhouse and let them decide where to plant them. I even splurged and let them have some newly purchased native lady ferns and bunch berries (which my two-year-old just trampled last night). We also poured our own concrete stepping stones with cucumber and hosta leaf impressions for their fairy path, which they move around daily wherever their fairies apparently need them.

When I decided to deed over a patch of earth to them I picked an area where I couldn't really fit anyway: the secret spot under the hemlock tree. I often found them hiding under there on warm winter days, so it was the perfect place. I edged the area, left a path all around it and let them go crazy.

Mini turtle bird bath under ginger

No Fairy Garden would be complete without a pile of sticks for fairy houses!


I have to say not only do they love the Fairy Garden, my older child knows the names of all the plants she's planted. She also feels a sense of stewardship over everything in it from the ginger to the mini concrete bird baths we made with their turtle and sea star beach molds. The Fairy Garden may not be the most attractive part of our Slow the Flow Grant native garden makeover, but I don't care. I love it just the same.

Just the other day my older child asked, as she was planting a baby hosta, "Mommy, is this hosta native?" When I said no she was disappointed and a little confused. When I explained that since it was already here when we moved, and it wasn't invasive, then it was OK. And she said "good, then all the hostas can live in my Fairy Garden."  

The Fairy Garden has definitely worked its magic. Its given my kids their own patch of earth to work and make beautiful, or destroy, depending on their mood. They're learning what plants are native, what animals use them and how to care for a garden. I'm looking forward to watching the garden grow as they grow. And I already know where to look when I can't find my garden tools. Apparently fairies need ALL my watering cans!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The mini rain garden doing its thing

first you dig a trench down the slope
 On the upriver side of our new fenced in child safety area we have a drainage problem. Most of the water from the rear roof drains to this side of the house, forming a lake on the rear patio and leaking back into the basement in a heavy downpour. One of the first things I did when we moved in last fall was to extend the downspout past the patio and away from the house. But then the run off just makes its way straight down the sloped backyard (right) and into the river. We can't have our basement flood, but I knew there must be a way to capture this water and let it soak in to the watershed, preventing it from just flowing straight out to sea. One of the main objectives of the Slow the Flow Grant funding my landscape makeover was to do just this.

the trench with gravel filled channel

 To fix this issue I dug a trench along the new fence and filled it with gravel (left). Then I planted the edges of the trench with lady ferns, male ferns, sensitive ferns, dwarf goats beard and a few non-native hostas divided from existing ones on the property from the old owners. 

ferns and other plants are planted

The gravel-filled trench continues right under the fence and ends in a small circle scooped out like a bowl and filled with compost, loam and more lady ferns. The trench and bowl is edged with plastic landscape edging to hold back run off, preventing it from flowing over the last 30 feet of backyard and straight down the riverbank.

If any of you experienced the heavy downpour that passed through Ipswich this past Friday night you'll know this was the perfect moment to put the mini rain garden to the test.

And it worked.

The water bypassed the brick patio (and our basement), flowed right down the gravel channel and filled up the bottom of the rain garden. From what I could tell little water spilled over and washed into the river. The garden remained flooded about five inches deep until dark but was empty the next morning, with very happy plants that loved their soak.

This was an easy project, and a great solution that keeps our basement from flooding and replenishes the watershed at the same time. It certainly slowed the flow this past Friday evening!

flooded rain garden "bowl"
flooded rain garden trench