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Planning for the Flood…

After an unusually dry winter, the rain started finally started again this last week. There was nearly nonstop rain from Sunday to Friday, around four inches in total (bringing our total since September to 9…). Enough to finally fully soak the ground and again make our drainage trench into a babbling brook through our back garden.

Back Planting Bed Draining into its Trench

Trench at the very back of the Garden

Water Pooling in Our Drainage Trench

Submerged Weeds where the two Trenches Meet

Flowing water next to the Island Planting Bed

Water Flowing through the Lower Garden

Wildflower Planting Bed next to its Full Drainage Trench

Flowing Past the Wildflower Planting Bed

Our house is near the bottom of a hill so it has all of the Maxwell park neighborhood above us draining into the back of our yard and down towards the house. The back garden is on two levels and the upper level, we discovered last winter, turns into a bit of a swamp with each rainy season. So I dug this drainage trench to channel the water down through the garden and out through the french drain behind the house. The trench extends in a “T” shape across the very back of the yard so that it can gather all the excess water entering under the back fence into a central channel. It works well and solves the problem of the upper swamp but there isn’t anything that can be done about the few feet of swampy ground behind the trench. So I have to plan the plantings there for the seasonal flooding.

Back Planting Bed - March 2012

Center of the Back Fence (Sorry for the weeds)

The first planting we did at the rear of the yard predated our knowing about the drainage issues so I had to remove four plants, but they were all lavenders. The centerpiece of the entire upper garden is and will be the Dark Star Ceanothus which we fortunately created a large mound for when planting it in December 2010. A side note, look at the amazing growth that’s taken place!

Rose and Ceanothus

February 2011 – Two Months after Planting

Ceanothus 'Dark Star' After One Year

Ceanothus ‘Dark Star’ – After One Year

In Full Bloom

Ceanothus 'Dark Star' - New Growth

Already Half a Foot of New Growth this Year

Anyway, back to the water problem, when trying to research what plants would survive a winter flooding I tried googling many variations of “plants for winter wet” and gave up after a bit, not finding anything quite relevant to my problem. Then, I just happened to be looking up new types of plants later on the Las Pilitas website and found that, as they deal only in California native plants, they describe many of their plants as often found growing in areas of seasonal flooding. So reading over and over descriptions of plants on their website I chose a few of the main plants I’ve now added to this back area.

Newly Cleared Back Area!

View from the Right – Clearly Before the Rains

Back Garden Fence Planting

View from the Left – After the Rain

Other than the Ceanothus, there were three other successful plants put in before the rains last year – The bearded irises above, the Geum that I’ve just transplanted from in front of the Ceanothus to next to the wood pile, and the Rose still in front of the Ceanothus.

Geum - Red from Transplant Shock

Geum – A Bit Rough from Transplant Shock

Bed of Irises

Bearded Irises that came with the house, Divided and Transplanted.

Now for the new pants, so far, I’ve selected four shrubs that I’m reasonably confident will do well thanks to Las Pilitas.

Rhus trilobata "Three Leaved Sumac"

Rhus trilobata

Near the right side of the strip, next to the wood pile, I’ve planted this Rhus trilobata. A shrub native to the West Coast, with many common names. A few of which are Sourberry, Skunkbush, and Three-Leaf Sumac. I think I’ll be using ‘Three-Leaf Sumac’ most… I planted the shrub while still dormant except for the one flower cluster below.

Rhus trilobata Flowers and new Leaf

Very Small, about the Size of a Thimble

The leaves are still small on my shrub but I’ve read that they will look very much like Poison Ivy without the itchy side effects. Clearly it has flowers in winter, usually more than this. I suspect some mistimed pruning by the nursery people reduced this year’s flowers. Also, in the fall, the leaves should turn a brilliant bright red.

The best positive about this shrub though and the other three I’ve chosen is that they are natives to the area. Now, I’m not a zealot, only wanting to plant natives. Instead, my aim was to plant the best shrubs for attracting birds. And how do you attract birds that are native to the area, you plant native food-bearing plants. You see, I’ve found since buying this property, our first house, that I love to sit quietly, reading or weeding or just doing nothing, and watch the birds close-up flying around my garden and eating from my feeders and jumping around in the trees. I wouldn’t bird-watch elsewhere, but in my own yard, it feels different.

Las Pilitas seemed to recommend the Sambucus mexicana or Blue Elderberry as one of the best plants for attracting birds so after looking at many photos and hoping it looked nice, I decided to go for it.

Sambucus mexicana "Blue Elderberry"

About Three Months after Planting

Sambucus mexicana "Blue Elderberry"

Pretty Compound Leaves

Elderberry next to its Full Drainage Trench

Elderberry next to its Full Drainage Trench

Planted to the very left corner of the back garden, this will be a shrub only shortly, probably growing into a small tree within the year, with a height of six to twelve feet. It will have large pannicles of off white flowers that become huge bundles of dozens of berries that look a bit like blueberries. Not sure how they’ll taste but apparently they could be good in a pie. But I’ll plan on leaving them for the birds for now.

The last two shrubs I’ve chosen are both types of Ribes.

RIbes and its Marshy Back Area

It’s the Small Leafy Thing in the Left

This one came from Annie’s last fall, a Ribes sanguineum glutinosum “Pink Flowering Currant”. Every type of ribes I saw on the Las Pilitas website seemed to be described as growing next to creeks and in flooding areas so I’ve already put in two and will probably be adding more.

Ribes sanguineum glutinosum "Pink Flowering Currant"

Very Pretty Lobed Leaves

This one should be deciduous, not that I’ve seen any sign of it, and have long racemes of light pink flowers. I haven’t seen any on this plant yet as it’s so young but the flowers on my other Ribes plants throughout the property make me excited about this one as well.

The other Ribes and the last shrub I’ve planted in this area, is a Ribes speciosum.

Ribes speciosum - Before Pruning

Ribes speciosum – Before Pruning

I bought this one sight unseen from a wholesale nursery last fall and must say was a bit disappointed with the pruning job. Now it has some upright growth but when I received it, there was only horizontal growth like you see in the above picture from before I pruned it this morning. Luckily, the bad pruning job won’t make a difference in the long run because this shrub wants to grow upwards – thus the three new perfectly vertical branches.

Ribes speciosum - After Pruning

Ribes speciosum – After Pruning

But about the plant itself, this Ribes is a Gooseberry instead of a currant because it has thorns…

Ribes speciosum Closeup

Threateningly Fierce Red Thorns

This Ribes is also supposed to have a lot of dangling red fuchsia-like flowers but due to the bad pruning on mine this year, I only saw one, within an inch of the ground, almost hidden. Next year will clearly be better, once the upright branches fill in a bit.



One thought on “Planning for the Flood…

  1. I think you’ve chose your plants very wisely (from my somewhat limited knowledge, anyway)! I can’t believe how much the Ceonothus has grown…and it’s such a beauty! I love Sumac…have never grown that particular variety, but the foliage of most of them is amazing in fall!

    Posted by Scott Weber | March 20, 2012, 10:14 AM

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