Monday, August 30, 2010

Outside Improvements

Our house is still a work in progress, constantly evolving, and recently we have been paying attention to the outside.

Some time ago I began the side garden. Sophia had said when we moved in that she wanted it for hers and we let her have it. We planted a hibiscus, two plumerias, and a mulberry and she put in some other flowers. But teens change as times change and her care of it fell by the wayside. It became a messy burden, a haven for weeds, and a dumping ground… Until last spring.

A friend who is a landscape designer made me a plan: to clear the garden, to lay landscape fabric and a spaghetti pin watering system, to plant some xeriscape shrubs and grasses, and to mulch the whole area with white gravel. I had seen something similar in a Mediterranean gardening book, so her drawn-to-scale plan was just what I needed.

The work took some time, some muscle, and not a little sweat, but we finished it last June and the plants are now flourishing.

Project Two involves the lower area between the retaining wall and the edge of the house – another festering area of weeds and prickles, devoid of its own soil and full of backfill from the house construction. Against my better judgement last year we decided to pave it and Best Beloved had the concreting done as a surprise for me while I was away at a workshop (Romantic-Gifts-‘R’-Us!). I wanted to retain spaces for planters all along the edge – again xeriscape – maybe olives or lentisk underplanted with lavender and thyme, watered by roof run-off. Now this area is being paved, the planters are being built and stone faced, and a nothing place is on the way to becoming a paradise.

The fly in the ointment is that I have been learning about rainwater harvesting, and the mantra is ‘reduce hard-scape’.

Water! Water! We get plenty in winter but the searing summer depletes the dams, and boreholes are drying up and becoming contaminated. Add to that the still-constant building (no-one buys the ghastly little maisonette-boxes, but someone must be making money off them somewhere) and the mining of the underground Diarizos, and rainwater harvesting – both in the soil and in cisterns – seems a good option.

So we are now planning a pool: not a resource-guzzling chemical pool, a living pool, fed by winter rains and cleaned by plants and fish. In times of need it can double as a huge storage tank, and in times of plenty we can enjoy it.

Below: One day this area will be a living swimming pool...

But the learning curve is steep. I have stopped producing organic vegetables on a commercial basis at the moment, in order to devote myself to house projects. There are some great resources, both on-line and in print devoted to graywater use and rainwater harvesting, so I am spending a lot of time in front of the computer and with my nose in books. A major concern at the moment is: if I harvest the water in the soil by building small earthworks and directing it around the trees and into mulch-filled basins, won’t that cause overgrowth of the horrible rhizome weeds that plague any soil that receives sufficient water at the moment? I am joining on-line forums on dryland permaculture to find out!

Stay tuned!

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