February 2011

It’s very much around this time of year in Minnesota that we begin to sneak away breaks from work to peruse landscape books and dream. Included in this list of daydream-inducing books would have to be Beth Chatto’s The Gravel Garden. Not only is the book instructive for its dogma-free approach to waterwise landscape design, but her descriptions of the garden’s ebbs and flows across the seasons rival the work of the best fiction, taking you on a journey to somewhere else, somewhere you would like to be. This video contains an overview of her gardens as well as an interview. And you can learn some Finnish on the side while you watch. What’s not to love? Hmmm, perhaps not the music, oh well.

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Photo from the LA Times of less-than-aesthetically-appealing rain barrel

One of the simplest ways to reduce irrigation costs and conserve water is to install a rain barrel (or two or three) on site. The barrels can then capture a portion of the rainwater that runs through your downspouts. While we think the trend is fantastic and impeccably simple (namely because it is old technology revived after 80 years of thinking freshwater supplies were infinite), we do not buy into the belief that because one is doing good by installing a rain barrel that you should just accept that the barrels are ugly. This is the lazy line of reasoning that leads to scrubby native-plant-only gardens (re: you should overlook the fact that the garden is a botanical hot-mess-up because it is ALL NATIVE. Repeat: ALL NATIVE), and that leads to bad vegan desserts (re: you should overlook the rubbery texture of this brownie becase it is VEGAN. Repeat: VEGAN).

Rain barrel by CFC Rain Barrels of Minneapolis; observe: paint matches house

Doing good should not require taking a hit in the aesthetic or taste department. Thus, if the client wishes to capture some of their rainwater on site, then it is our job to integrate that wish into a cohesive design solution for the site and not cop out and respond that you will have to settle for an obtrusive black plastic barrel on the side of your house. And fortunately, there are places like CFC Rain Barrels of Minneapolis that have devised seemless designs that house each barrel in a mini wooden shed, whose paint color and style match those of the house or building it is adjacent to. A few of these on one’s property and you reduce your need for irrigation, reduce your water bills, and no one notices the barrels one bit.

On capturing rainwater in an arid climate such as LA’s: click here.

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Habitat for Urban Wildlife, by Ifat Finkelman_Ofer Bilik Architects

At one time 100s of concrete water towers were constructed across Israel. Now, many have fallen into disrepair and remain unused. A recent design competition entitled Water Tower – New Perspectives called for submissions that offered up new visions for the water towers and their future. The winning entry, Habitat for Urban Wildlife, envisions the water towers as multi-layered, multi-functional spaces that attract everything from migratory bird species, to bats, to rainwater, which would collect on the roofs of the watertowers and be harvested for irrigation.

For more on the project, click here.

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