Category Archives: Homeowner Rain-Saving Techniques

Techniques for retaining rainwater so as to reduce downstream erosion and flooding and provide storage on homeowner property of water to use during drought periods.

Book Review: A New Way of Landscaping that Creates Habitat for Our Wildlife

Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes, Portland, Oregon, Timber Press, 2015, 271pp.

Douglas W. Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Portland, Oregon, 2007, Timber Press, 358pp.

Andrea Wulf, The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire, and the Birth of and Obsession, New York, Knopf, 2008, 359pp.

Rainer and West in Planting in a Post-Wild World write:

…[A] new way of thinking is emerging. It does not seek nature in the remote mountain tops but finds it instead in the midst of our cities and suburbs. It looks at our degraded built landscapes with unjaded eyes, seeing the archipelago of leftover land—suburban yards, utility easements, parking lots, road right-of-ways, and municipal drainage channels—not as useless remnants but as territories of vast potential. We pass them every day; their ordinariness is what makes them special. As such, they are embedded in the fabric of our lives, shaping our most recurring image of nature.

The traditional landscaping that we inherited from the early gentlemen and merchants and their gardens evolved into landscape culture of “naturalness” as the picturesque preference for long views, open landscapes, clean edges, and touches of mystery. As a result, the general public has little tolerance for wild, illegible landscapes and plantings, especially in cities and towns. When people encounter highly mixed plantings, they are often reminded of abandoned fields or derelict industrial sites, places often associated with urban decay or neglect.

Rainer and West give us an alternative vision that can begin with our yards and be adapted to our communities.

So what exactly is the planting of the future? Look no further than just outside your front door. Go find a patch of weeds in your neighborhood. Notice the variety of species and how they interweave to form a dense carpet. Or better yet, take a hike in a nearby natural area. Look closely at how plants grow in a meadow or a forest’s edge. Observe the lack of bare soil and the variety of ways plants adapt to their site. Then when you get back to your neighborhood, compare those wild communities to the plantings in landscape or garden beds. There is a difference between the way they grow in the wild and the way they grow in our gardens. Understanding this difference is the key to transforming your planting.

…the solution lies in understanding plantings as communities of species that cover the ground in interlocking layers.

Notice that the question for gardeners shifts from what to plant to how to plant.

By focusing on naturally occurring plant communities, as opposed to those that are purely native, the focus is shifted from a plant’s country of origin to its performance and adaptibility.

All it takes to become a plant community is:

1. All plants should survive in similar environmental conditions.

2. Plants must be compatible in terms of their competitive strategies, the key to having plants that last.

The practice is to cover the ground densely by vertically layering plants. As the light levels drop under a tree, grasses transition to a mass of ferns, maintaining a continuous sea of plants. The bases of trees where traditional planting often piles mounds of mulch can be filled with plants (green mulch) instead. Any space around the base of a plant is a space waiting to be filled. Even low plants benefit from being under-planted with creeping plants.

Rainer and West talk about ” naturally occurring plant communities, as opposed to those that are purely native.” Doug Tallamy in Bringing Nature Home is an entomologist concerned about the insects that consume native plants and support native insectivores, like birds and amphibians. Tallamy goes to the ability of the native insects to survive on the plant, regardless of its origin but notes that even alien plants with similar origins accommodate fewer insect species than native plants. The ability of insects to survive to eat and pollinate the next year’s crops of native plants is critical to the survival of those native plants. As habitat is destroyed in development, as pesticides and herbicides are broadly applied without planning, the links between native plants, native insects, and native birds are broken and we start to notice population declines of birds and popular insects, like butterflies and showier moths. Tallamy describes these relationships in his chapter, “What does bird food look like?”

Whatever else it is, local habitat extinction is a local ecological and horticultural crisis. Having the native plants for native insects is the security for the habitat of the rest of the food web. And whatever impact native insects have on alien plants, alien insects frequently have had devastating impacts on native plants. And alien insects are frequently transported on alien plants.

How did we get so enamored of ornamental exotic species in the first place? Andrea Wulf tells the tale of how, on the British side of the Atlantic, wealthy gentlemen and merchants with networks of correspondents around the world traded plants from one continent to another. Andrea Wulf’s The Brother Gardeners describes how that correspondence and shipment of boxes of plants produced the explorer-botanists who would search out and ship the boxes of these new exotics as they were laying the foundations of the science of botany in the midst of Britain’s expansion of its empire. She then traces that history to the English obsession with gardening that was exported to America.

Peter Collinson had a correspondent in Pennsylvania named John Bartram, who regularly shipped him boxes of native plants from the eastern coast of America. Another correspondent, a Father d’Incarville sent seeds of Ailanthus altissima from China to Collinson in England in 1751; within a few decades, the tree of heaven had arrived in America. Because it is resistant to pollution, it was widely planted. Today it is considered an invasive species. In 1739 the Camellia japonica camellia had arrived in England and was on its way to America. It is one of the mainstays of ornamental exotics and quite well behaved; its popularity increased the replacement of native plants (such as rosemallow) with ever more camellias. In fact, the default landscaping for local gardens tends to be these exotics that are the result of 300 years of globalization.

Wulf’s book introduces some of the early scientific botanists, such as Mark Catesby, whose Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands, (London, 1731-48) contains some of the earliest paintings of native plants and animals in the Carolinas. She follows the obsession with gardens that spread from France to England to America; a subsequent work of Wulf’s describes the gardening obsessions of the four first US Presidents, to whom much of our current styles of landscaping owe inspiration.

Save the Rain Workshop – Saturday, October 22, 9 am – 11 am

sandwich sign that says Northeast Creek Streamwatch Save the Rain Workshop
Upstream Neghbors/Downstream Neighbors Project hosts a Save the Rain Workshop

As homeowners, we can extend the principle of catching and holding rainwater to restrain how much water and how fast its flows downstream during a rainstorm. These actions can affect the amount of erosion of stream banks in downstream neighbors’ yards and reduce flooding of downstream neighbors’ property. We can also save back some of that water for dry spells, hold it long enough to recharge the water table here instead running rapidly the length of the Cape Fear River, and create more habitat for pollinators.

A reasonable goal is to capture the first inch of rainfall from the square feet that your property has as impervious surfaces and hold it for up to three days. There are a variety of ways to do this; the county Soil and Water Conservation District (in Chatham, Durham, and Wake counties for Northeast Creek) can provide technical assistance and tips for beginning your plan of rain saving. And you need not hit the goal of “one-inch saving for at least three days” all at once; you can try different combinations of techniques on your property to see what works best.

For the second year, Cory Quammen, a resident of Grandale Forest on the headwaters of “Tributary D” of Northeast Creek, is holding a gathering of his upstream and downstream neighbors, Saturday, October 22, 9am – 11am to show some examples of problems caused by excessive runoff as well as some rain-saving measures that have been installed on his property.. Invitations will go to the neighbors within his local creek basin in advance of the meeting. Contact cquammen@gmail.com for further information.

Upstream Neighbors/ Downstream Neighbors project hosts Mike Dupree; Mike speaks February 24 at ERUUF

People listening to Mike Dupree of Durham Soil and Water talk about retaning rainwater on your property
Upstream Neighbors/Downstream Neighbors Project holds Save the Rain workshop at South Regional Library on February 4, 2016

The Upstream Neighbors/ Downstream Neighbors project hosted Mike Dupree of the Durham County Soil and Water Conservation District at the South Regional Library on February 4. Mike informed us about the services that his department of county government provides to property owners and why these services benefit both the property owners and the quality of water—specifically in Northeast Creek and in Jordan Lake.

In introducing Mike, Cory Quammen shared how the Durham Soil and Water Conservation District is helping owners of property that backs up on a creek in his neighborhood with flooding and stormwater issues.

Mike will be speaking at the Eno River Unitarian/Universalist Fellowship (ERUUF) on Wednesday, February 24 at 7:00 pm. His topic will be managing water, nutrients, and pests.

Thanks to everyone who came to the South Regional Library. We would love to hear feedback from those of you (5) who set appointments for Mike to consult with you about the issues with your property. Send your comments to colleen_haithcock@yahoo.com.

For those who wish contact Mike Dupree, it is mdupree@dconc.gov or 919-560-0558.

Here is a link to a video about the Voluntary Nutrient Reduction Program that Mike Dupree described February 4.

Voluntary Nutrient Reduction Progam

Upstream Neighbors/Downstream Neighbors

Hurricane Joaquin highlighted the effect that upstream water retention has on downstream currents and flooding. It makes us more aware of being upstream neighbors of coastal areas like the Cape Fear region and also our immediate neighbors downstream.

The water that Joaquin dumped on our roofs and flowed down our gutters and downspouts and across our yards into tributaries of Northeast Creek will eventually join water that fell on roofs in Guilford County and flowed down the Haw River. Then it will collect the water that has fallen more recently on roofs in Sanford and Fayetteville before it reaches that bridge. The large area of the Cape Fear River drainage basin includes a lot of neighborhoods, with water flowing from upstream neighbors to downstream neighbors, affecting the use of water and the condition of the stream boundaries along the way.

Closer in, the water from Northeast Creek flows into Jordan Lake, which is the water supply for a number of neighborhoods as well as the towns of Cary and Morrisville. The Town of Cary in turn will supply additional water to the City of Durham during drought conditions.

More local, the water that runs off all at once from roofs, sidewalks, driveways, and streets (surfaces designed not to allow the water to soak in, called “impervious surfaces”) can erode downstream neighbors’ yards. The collecting of rapid runoff at creek junctions can back up into yards and threaten to flood under houses.

As homeowners, we can extend the principle of catching and holding rainwater to restrain how much water and how fast its flows downstream during a rainstorm. These actions can affect the amount of erosion of stream banks in downstream neighbors’ yards and reduce flooding of downstream neighbors’ property. We can also save back some of that water for dry spells, hold it long enough to recharge the water table here instead running rapidly the length of the Cape Fear River, and create more habitat for pollinators.

A reasonable goal is to capture the first inch of rainfall from the square feet that your property has as impervious surfaces and hold it for up to three days. There are a variety of ways to do this; the county Soil and Water Conservation District (in Chatham, Durham, and Wake counties for Northeast Creek) can provide technical assistance and tips for beginning your plan of rain saving. And you need not hit the goal of “one-inch saving for at least three days” all at once; you can try different combinations of techniques on your property to see what works best.

Cory Quammen, a resident of Grandale Forest on the headwaters of “Tributary D” of Northeast Creek, is holding a gathering of his upstream and downstream neighbors, Saturday, October 24, 9am – 11am to show some examples of problems caused by excessive runoff as well as some rain-saving measures that have been installed on his property.. Invitations will go to the neighbors within his local creek basin in advance of the meeting. Contact cquammen@gmail.com for further information.