A Drought of Posts (and water too)

I haven’t posted anything since early June and have been cataloging my excuses, foremost is that the garden is full of plants (potted and otherwise) all screaming for attention.


Two decorative rain barrels each holding 65 gallons

The small kitchen/vegetable garden needs weeding, tending, watering etc.; three quarters of an acre of property (even if just brown lawn and bone dry meadow) demand a modicum of upkeep; and keeping all the potted plants limping along in the face of record drought calls for hand watering using collected water from ten rain barrels supplemented with post-shower gray water left in the bottom of the bathtub.

All of which leave me less time for reflection then I planned.


Eight more rain barrels (hold about 417 gallons)

Paradoxically, I suppose I could cite our incredibly warm and dry weather as motivation for sitting at a computer and writing rather than toiling in the garden, but since garden chores are a proven antidote to a sedentary lifestyle, I force myself to work outside no matter how hot.  [See my post on why gardeners live better and longer lives]

Add to that mix the example of five cats (now sadly four) who perfectly model indolent behavior in the face of really hot weather, and you can see why I long to curl up in the shade and nap too.


Emma, snoozing

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Despite its reputation as a rain and cloud magnet, our region typically has very little rainfall in the months of July and August, and many of our native plants are adapted to our dry summers. This year rainfall fell off precipitously in early spring and was accompanied by hotter than usual temperatures.

Unlike the greater Seattle area, which depends heavily on runoff from the snow pack in the Cascade mountains, Vashon Island (about 37 square miles) must rely on our sole source aquifer, which is reportedly still in good shape.

Many folks on Vashon have their own wells, while others belong to small water districts. Our water district, Heights Water, reports that while use is up this summer (after two years of summer declines) the aquifer is holding up nicely. Nevertheless, we are keeping the perennial plant beds, the trees, the shrubs and the potted plants from suffering severe damage by using rain water and hand carrying gray water as much as possible.

Here’s a look at some more scenes from the garden.

Morning sun from grape arbor

Woody enjoying morning sun as seen through the grape arbor

Sword fern, Japanese fountain grass, hosta

Sword fern, Japanese fountain grass, Hosta


Agaves, Cerinthe, Campanula

grape arbor1

Pots at entrance to grape arbor

From left, variegated sedge in pot, dwarf cyprus (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Ellwoodi'), lilac and hydrangea

From right , variegated sedge in pot, dwarf cyprus (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Ellwoodi’), lilac and hydrangea

Our old apple tree is laden with fruit this year

Our old apple tree is laden with fruit this year


Mason bee house might be why


Rain Garden Update Winter 2012-2013

The rains came as expected this winter. October, November and December were wet and generally milder (above average temps). The rain garden performed exceptionally well.


It was a pleasure to watch the torrent of rain cascading down the rain chain. The barrel filled so quickly during the rainiest of days that I frequently opened the spigot and let the rill carry water to the garden.  I can think of only one day when I even noticed a bit of “pooling” in the center depression of the garden, but that quickly receded within an hour or two after the deluge ceased.

It really wasn’t necessary to direct any overflow from the barrels to the foundation drain.  Instead I just opened the spigot in heavy downpours and let the rain garden handle all the flow.

Improvements to the low area on the west of the house  — where heavy rains used to result in the foundation drain creating a small pool  —  were noticeable.

The following original plant list reflects just those plants established with the rain garden. As each plant reaches its bloom season common names in the list will be a link to a picture.  Plants under propagation or planned for adding this spring are indicated by delta symbol.

Initial Plantings (2012)    

northwest native;  Δ to be added spring 2013

  • Amelanchier x grandiflora  ‘Autumn Brilliance’   (Serviceberry)
  • Iris tenax   (Oregon Iris)  
  • Rudbeckia fulgida  ‘Goldstrum’  (Black Eyed Susan)
  • Lupinus poltphyllus  (Large Leaf Lupine)
  • Aster subspicatus  (Purple Dome Douglas Aster)
  • Penstemon x mexicanus ‘Pikes Peak Purple‘  (Pike’s Peak Beardtongue)
  • Digitalis purpurea ‘Foxy’   (Foxglove)
  • Solidago rugosa  ‘Fireworks’  (Solidago ‘Fireworks)
  • Aquilegia alpina   Δ   (Alpine Columbine)
  • Aquilegia formosa    (Western Columbine)
  • Coreopsis verticella ‘Zagreb’  (Zagreb Tickseed)
  • Achillea
  • Camassia quamash (Small Camass)
  • Juncus patens ‘Elk Blue’  (Taper-Tipped Rush
  • Deschapsia cespitosa ‘Pixie Fountain’  (Dwarf Tufted Hairgrass)
  • Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’   (Variegated Sweet Flag)
  • Polistichum minutum  (Sword Fern)
  • Sysyrinchium idahoense  (Idaho Blue-eyed grass)
  • Fragaria chiloensis  (Beach Strawberry)
  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi  (Kinnikinnick)

Rain Garden Project

A rain garden is a planted depression designed to take as much excess rain run-off from a house or other building. It’s critical that a rain garden site be designed to provide sufficient drainage to handle the expected volume of water.

Rain gardens are emerging as an especially important element  in urban design by replacing hard paved surfaces with plants and vegetation, helping to ensure a more sustainable environment by returning rain water to the aquifer, rather than have millions of gallons overload storm sewers and go directly into our rivers and other bodies of water.

Wherever implemented (urban or rural), rain gardens encourage biodiversity, are good for wildlife, reduce flooding, ameliorate pollution problems and provide humans with aesthetic pleasing habitats.

Our new small rain garden (established May 2012) uses a rain chain to divert our roof run-off into two 65-gallon rain barrels. The rain chain replaced a downspout that previously connected to our foundation drains. Two rain-barrels feed a rill that crosses our deck and spills into the newly planted rain garden.

So far there is no indication of the garden not being able to handle the roof run off.  But if needed, we can simply take the overflow hose from the first rain barrel (normally it goes to fill the second rain barrel) and divert it back to the foundation drain.

Overflow hose diverted back to downspout leading to foundation drains

Future plans call for adding more rain barrels to increase our storage capacity.