Water-saving lessons from a local public garden


The average annual rainfall in Santa Rosa is approximately 38 inches. Yet 10 months into the year’s annual rainfall, calculated from July 1 to July 1, the city received just over 26 inches. It is another dry year in a succession of extremely dry years. Similar dismal rainfall counts were recorded across the North Coast and in the state.

Statewide, the Sierra snowpack is now at 38 percent of average, about a third of what it normally is for this time of year.

This means that this summer, those of us with food and ornamental gardens need to conserve as much water as possible, and many have already taken steps to reduce our water usage. So what are the best strategies for saving water? Where can we turn for solid, practical information?

Here’s an answer: Plan a trip to the city of Sonoma.

At 19996 Seventh St. E. you will find Sonoma Garden Park. This 6.1-acre urban park, overseen by the Sonoma Ecology Center, has been transformed into a waterscape where a range of water conservation techniques allow the park to thrive during drought. These are examples that you can use in your own garden and landscape.

A notice board containing brochures faces the parking lot. Look for a brochure called “Do-it-Yourself Water Saving Features.” It will take you on a self-guided tour of the land, leading to 11 markers that explain the conservation features in front of you.

Some features are simple, like mulching around crops or ornamentals. Mulching involves covering the soil with a thick layer of leaves or other organic material. It prevents groundwater evaporation, reduces erosion from heavy rains, suppresses weeds and breaks down into soil-enriching humus.

Other techniques are more elaborate. You will see a rooftop water catchment system set up so that winter rains on the roof drain into a pipe that fills a 1,500 gallon storage tank used to water plants during the summer .

A water fountain diverts its drainage water to an underground basin so that the water can seep into the ground rather than run off. A gray water system like this can also catch waste water from a sink, tub, or washing machine and route it to a reservoir to be used to irrigate plants.

You will learn 11 methods, simple and complex, to stop wasting water during this drought, where every drop is precious.

Young visitors

In addition to highlighting ways to save water, the park has another goal: to inspire and educate children.

Recently, environmental educator and naturalist Jonny Ehlers worked in the park with a dozen second, fourth, fifth and sixth graders from schools in the Sonoma Valley. He had spotted a swarm of bees resting in a nearby tree and set up a telescope so the children could see better.

Evie Neves, 10, was excited about bees, how they settled in local trees and how they created new colonies by swarming. She had just learned from Ehlers that fungi and insects form hollows in trees, and that bees use these hollows as homes for their colonies.

Because the park is staffed by Sonoma Ecology Center volunteers, it has been organically maintained for the past 20 years. This has allowed a wide diversity of wildlife to flourish.

Visiting school children can see compost being made, a working chicken coop, a hedgerow, a forest of fig trees, a native plant installation, rows of properly pruned apple trees, a bird garden, an oak forest, a butterfly garden and even a community garden where local residents can cultivate.

Complementary methods

Sonoma Ecology Center educator Julia Megna was there to give the group of elementary school students a snack of pickles and pretzels.

Also present that day was the executive director of the Sonoma Ecology Center, Richard Dale. When asked to name the water conservation method he found most useful, he hesitated.

“They work best as a group of techniques,” he said. “The more techniques you use, the better it works. It’s hard to pick just one. »

The plants you choose for your garden can also help conserve water, he added. The native plants of this region have evolved with the regular summer drought of our Mediterranean climate. They get by with very little water in the summer.

A great example is the late blooming Zauschneria californica, or California fuchsia, which produces heaps of little red trumpets in late summer through fall and seems to need no water at all. Mix natives with other plants that evolved in Europe’s Mediterranean climate, such as lavender, rosemary and thyme, for a beautiful yet functional garden for Northern California.

Some of the most interesting features of the park’s water landscaping are the low spots and swales used to hold water so that it can seep into the ground instead of flowing from the surface into the waterways. water nearby.

These shallow depressions can divert rainwater away from buildings and replenish water tables in the garden soil. The extra groundwater can then seep into streams during the dry fall months, allowing fish to move upstream more easily.

The walking tour will also take you to the infiltration basins. These simple gravel-filled basins fill with water during storms, then slowly release their water into the ground. Infiltration trenches are a variant of basins. These are long, narrow trenches filled with gravel and strips of vegetation that filter stormwater before it enters the ground.

Lining any non-permeable surface, such as cement or asphalt, with strips of dense vegetation also slows and filters stormwater runoff, adding to basement moisture. Sonoma Garden Park has done it on a grand scale with its parking lot. Instead of asphalt, he installed a gravel parking area with infiltration devices and hollow pavers to hold the gravel in place. It is strong but permeable, allowing rainwater to seep in, not run off.

This large park is beautiful, educational, water efficient, and run by people who care about the health of the flora and fauna here. It’s a paradise for gardeners of all ages to see conservation and ecology in action.

Jeff Cox is a Kenwood-based food and garden writer. Contact him at jeffcox@sonic.net.


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