Horridculture – That’s Just Swale

P90424Building and environmental codes are so ridiculous. So much of what I would want in my home is now illegal. So much modern technology that I do not want is now required. Fireplaces and wood stoves are not allowed. Overly elaborate electrical systems to serve every room are necessary. I would prefer a technologically simple home comparable to those built more than a century ago, but am prohibited by law from ever constructing one.
The area outside of a home is no easier to work with. Dead trees inhabited by the wrong sorts of woodpeckers can not be cut down. Excavation can be prohibited if a particular beetle happens to be in the way. Even some of the increasingly combustible trees and overgrown vegetation have more rights on my land than I do. Now, I am a horticulturist; so I know more about vegetation management than the treehuggers formulating these laws.
Even some of the weather has more rights than people do. In some municipalities, rain that falls onto a property has the right to percolate into the soil. Rain water that drains from roofs and pavement must be provided with ‘swales’ or basins where it can do so. It can not be evicted into old drainage systems that drain into local creeks and rivers. However, such rain water must not be detained in tanks for use in the landscape through summer.
The picture above shows part of a new landscape in the middle of a new parking lot at a newly constructed building. It looks simple for a reason. It is a pair of swales. The meadow grasses conceal a pair of surprisingly deep ditches on either side of the central walkway. Rain water drains here to percolate into the ground. The soil below the walkway might have been replaced with coarse gravel to promote drainage into that area as well.
Do not park a car at the curb and try to step from the curb into a swale to get to the walkway! You could get hurt. As I mentioned, that grass is concealing ditches that are deeper than they look. It is safer to walk through the parking lot to a large paved patio like area that is out of view behind where the picture was taken from. The other option is to walk away from the building to the far end of the walkway, but really, who would do that?
Why is the walkway even there? I really don’t know. There are no curbs on it, so anyone in a wheelchair who feels so compelled to go to the far end to use it could get seriously hurt by tumbling off the edge while trying to get out of way of someone going the opposite direction! The swales are snares for walkers and baby buggies too. Perhaps the walkway is merely bait. What are the surveillance cameras really for? What sick entertainment!

FINALLY! We have RAIN!

P80103+For those who do not remember what ‘rain’ is, it is, it is those odd drops of water that fall so mysteriously from the sky in other regions. We get it here too, just very rarely, and almost exclusively within a limited season centered around winter. Rain tends to be affiliated with storms. The last storm moved through here last spring.
Rain may not be much to look at, and is nearly impossible to get a picture of, but it adds up to become a very important commodity known as ‘water’. Some believe that California does not have enough water. We natives know that there is actually plenty of water, but merely too many people in need of it, and a few of those many who capitalize on that need. Anyway, I did not even try to get a picture of the rain that is falling so nicely now, but recycled this old picture of a small volume of water in what is known as a puddle, which is merely an accumulation of water within a low spot on a flat surface.
As unpleasant as rain is to work in, we are very pleased to get it. The sky is rinsed of smoke, and despite the unpleasant news that rain will interfere with searching for remains of those killed by the Camp Fire, there is also the excellent news that the rain is falling over a large area, and making forests significantly less combustible. The formerly crispy forest is again lush and damp and sloppy. What had been a Dust Bowl down where we dump greenwaste is now an epic mud pit! Everyone here is delaying other work to clear drains on roads and roofs. The first storm of the season is always something to celebrate.

Happy Easter!

P80401Happy Easter!

This is one of those holidays when no one should work, which is why I wrote this a few days ago, and scheduled it to post today. I hope you are not reading this today. You have more important things to do. Lent and the forty days of fasting that goes with it are over, so you can eat all the Easter eggs and anything else you want.

The only work that should be done today are chores that can not be delayed until tomorrow. With the weather warming (at least in our region), watering might be one of those chores. For most parts of the garden, this might be the first watering since autumn. Although the rain has been meager, cool weather had kept things damp until now. Resuming watering is typically an easy task. It sounds simple enough. Water is water – right?

I get all sorts of unexpected questions in my work. In autumn, I sometimes get asked about trees that were planted in spring or summer that are suddenly turning yellow and dropping leaves; and must explain that the seemingly sickly trees are merely deciduous and defoliating for winter, which can be a major disappointment if evergreen foliage was needed. Then there are the questions about the five pound kumquat that is actually a shaddock fruit on an overgrown sucker (understock from below the graft).

About this time, many years ago, I got a call about a sad #5 (5 gallon) pistache street tree that had been planted while bare during the previous autumn. The client who planted it wanted to do what was best, so planted it in autumn so that it could settle in slowly while dormant through winter, and get an early start dispersing roots in spring. Generous rain that year provided more water than the tree needed through winter. As the rain ran out, and the weather warmed, buds swelled and began to pop. The client who planted the tree was very careful to water it when she thought it was necessary, but the new foliage immediately started to get discolored and distorted. Her remedy was to give it more water, but the health of the tree continued to decline as quickly as it was trying to foliate.

I asked all the typical questions about the tree, but only determined that it was not lacking water, and probably was not getting too much water. The symptoms exhibited by the foliage suggested soil saturation and poor drainage, but the soil drained well, and the roots seemed to be firm. I was baffled, until the client mentioned something very unexpected. I had to ask her to clarify.

She loved the tree so much that she wanted to give it the best water she could obtain. Every day, on her way back from downtown San Jose, she stopped at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Joseph to procure a gallon of Holy Water to water it with!

That was a new one. I then had the sad duty of explaining to her that her devotion to the tree was what was killing it. The Holy Water that she had so diligently been giving it was saline. After Holy Water is blessed, some gets stored for upcoming baptisms, and the rest gets blessed salt mixed into it, mainly for sanitation. It was this salinity that was so toxic to the tree.

After a lot of fresh water was rinsed through the root system, the tree started to recover almost immediately, and eventually resumed healthy growth. The client telephoned the following autumn as the tree was coloring to inform me that it had been restored to good health, and grown through summer as if nothing had ever happened.