Friday, September 28, 2012

Creation of a small Sustainable Wild Garden

Creation of a small Sustainable Wild Garden

This paper describes personal experiences and benefits of creating a sustainable wildflower garden.

Small Garden, Wildflower Garden, local species, durable species, pioneer plants, soil protection.

I. Introduction
Creating a wildflower garden with local plants is a sustainable approach to gardening. When I bought a small house our front garden (lucky us – there are two gardens in front and in the back of the house) consisted out of plaster stones – in our neighborhood many gardens are sealed with stones – what a shame. Living space in urban areas is scare and a rare resource anyway. Most surfaces are sealed with housing, industrial complexes, streets and pavements, bureaus, etc. Therefore all green spaces are living spaces for humans, animals and plants.

Local flora and local fauna may face problems in densely populated urban areas – therefore the creation of small patches of wildflower gardens will help local insects and local plants to have a refuge…

Many people in my neighborhood do not think about the issue and simply seal off their gardens, because in this way (they think) it is easier to keep the garden orderly (apparently an important issue with gardening in urban areas) and they need to invest a minimum amount of care and time (figure 1).

Picture 1:
Picture of a normal front garden in my street (left hand side) – my newly re-created wildflower garden is on the right hand side).    © Carsten Weerth
II. Problems of sealed gardens:
-     Water runs off into water pipes causing flooding of cellars when heavy rain falls.
-     Water runs off and soil is being lost when heavy rainfalls occur.
-     No living space for local plants and animals.
-     Hot microclimate because stones are reflecting sunbeams and heat up urban areas (micro climate change due to sealed of spaces in town).

III. Benefits of wildflower gardens are obvious:
-     Living space for local plants and animals,
-     better microclimate because soil takes up water and gives water to plants and into the air when sunbeams are hitting the surface (precipitation),
-     run off of water and water/soil is minimized – flooding events in streets and cellars are prevented.

IV. Drawbacks:
-     Your neighborhood might see you as  green weirdoes and outsiders… (see my blog on social implications on creating a wild flower garden).
V. Steps to re-create a natural Wildflower Garden
The first step to create a wildflower garden is to take up all stones and get rid of them (or re-use them).
Then you have to decide how you get new soil into your new garden. Since my front garden only is 12 square-meters I bought sacks of soil and distributed them in the garden.

VI. Choosing the right plants
As the next crucial step you have to think about the light and heat conditions in your garden – which plants are suitable and durable, which are of local origin an how to acquire them?

What happens/has happened in my garden?
My front garden is developing amazingly from year to year – the first year was a start and during the second year many new plants were planted/arrived.

When I started nothing was there (because it was a sealed off garden).
After preparing the garden with the new soil I bought a couple of very durable plants and put them in (e.g. genus Sedum spp., Saxifraga spp., Campanula spp., Phyteuma, Potentilla spp., Viverparum Spp., Geranium Spp.) and also collected local plants in their local places and put them in (again Sedum) and I seeded local plant mixes (e.g. corn flower, poppies, Papaver spp., Viola spp.).

When I started nothing but stone was in the garden.
After one year the following ecosystem was created:

Picture 2:
This picture shows the newly re-created garden after 1.5 years from above – a new little ecosystem was created.       © Carsten Weerth

List of Plants:
- Sedum (5 species),
- Saxifraga (3 species),
- Sempervivum (3 species),
- Campanula (3 species),
- Phyteuma (1 species),
- Geranium (3 species),
- Potentilla (3 species),
- Aquilegia (2 species),
- one apple tree (Malus spp.),
- one pear tree (Pyrus spp.),
- Cotoneaster (2 species),
- Asteraceae (six species),
- Forgetmenots (Myosotis spp.),
- Minuartia spp.,
- Lavender (Lavendula spp.),
- Broom (Genister spp.),
- Brassica raba,
- an Oak seedling (Quercus spp.),
- Corn flower (Centaurea cyanus),
- Rape (Brassica napus),
- Poppy (Papaver spp.),
- Armeria maritima,
- Labularia maritima.

Some pioneer plants are building the first generation and will produce many seeds so that these plants will flourish there again (poppies, forgetmenots), some are durable and grow rhizomas that will survive winter in the ground and grow again the next years to come (Campanulaceae), some are durable alpine plants which will survive winter as a green plant that during summer is mostly fit to live on small amounts of water (e.g. Sedum, Saxifrage, Viverparum), and sole are growing wooden parts which will survive winter (e.g. Broom, Cotoneaster)…

Picture 3:
Poppies are pioneer plants – seeds out of my garden spread into other small spaces with enough earth to grow a couple of poppies.      © Carsten Weerth

VII. Animals

List of animals living in my newly re-created garden:
- Ants (Formicidae),
- Spiders (Arachnida),
- Firebugs (Pyrrhocoris apterus),
- Bees (Apiformes) (visiting),
- Hummelbees (Bombus spp.) (visiting),
- Beetles (Coleoptera) (visiting),
- Butterflies (Lepidoptera) (visiting),
- Birds (Aves) (visiting),
- Cats (Felis silvestris catus) (visiting).

VIII. Zoning
When I created the garden I did a zoning with three zones: low plants (between 1 cm and 15 cm above ground) for about 2 meters at the street (the outer boundary of the garden), a middle section with middle high plants (between 15 cm and 30 cm) and a section next to the house with very durable plants that can grow larger up to 1 m).

IX. Soil
When I started to crate the garden it was plastered with small plaster stones underneath which was placed rubble stones. All plaster stones and rubble stones were removed. I bought brown very fertile earth and put it above the natural rather sandy soil. During the first years the soils will intermingle by help of roots and animal live/bacteria/fungi in the soil. A new mixture will be created and additionally the input from plant and animal material will occur.
The use of real local earth would have been desirable, but this is rather difficult to accomplish (how to get the earth and how to transport it…).
Soil will be important for the microclimate: it stores water and holds water back, it enriches the air, it stores minerals and other organic material important for the nourishment of plants and animals… The plants on the soil and its roots will enable to aerate the soil and to make it stay in place even in events of strong rain (extreme weather events and rainfalls), thereby it reduces runoff and helps to prevent local flooding events.
Plant coverage also allows for a better O2 level in cities, a lower albedo-factor and the tem­peratures are not getting as high as without plant coverage (e.g. when the areas are sealed with stones). Some plants (e.g. Sedum) help to lower the particle concentration in urban areas.

X. Natural Cycles began to run
The natural water, carbon, nitride cycles to name the most important, have begun to run and natural energy flows have started – nature is claiming back a little space that was destroyed earlier… This small natural garden runs sustainable…

XI. Conclusion
Dozens of native plants and other wildflowers have found a new place to live and produce oxigen, save the soil and contribute to a better micro climate - the newly re-created garden is preventing flash flooding of the area.
Animals arrived and are thriving: ants, spiders, insects (Bees, Coleoptoera, Lepidoptera)…  Now a cat likes to sit in the green and enjoys the sun and the jungle of green spaces…
So do the human beings living in the house nearby and most passing neighbors…
A little peaceful natural sanctuary in an urban area has been re-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Carsten Weerth
Sustainable Water Collection in Small Gardens

This paper describes possibilities and personal experiences with water collection in small gardens.

Small Garden, Water Collection, Rain Water, Rain Pipe Clap, Barrel.

A. Introduction
Clean water is a scare resource in the 21st Century. This is valid for most regions of the world, but not necessarily for all regions of the globe. For instance in my region in the north of Germany clean water is abundant – that means that water coming out of the water tap is clear and pure enough to be drinking quality (authorities make sure that it is tested regularly – but this will be the topic of another blog).

B. Rainwater collection for Gardens
Many people in my neighborhood do not think about the issue and simply use this pure drin­king water for watering their gardens when necessary (in some wet summers it does not seem to be necessary but most people like to have short cut green lawns which means that they must be watered and cut regularly – again, the benefits of creating a wildflower garden will be covered in another blog).

Some gardeners which are aware about drinking water quality (and the price you have to pay for drinking water) are using pumps to pump up ground water. That has the consequence – in some areas with many small gardens ALL gardeners are doing it – that the level of ground water falls, which is not good for all naturally growing wild plants (in particular in heavily agriculturally used landscapes).

Therefore the water collection of rainwater is a useful, sustainable approach to use water in small gardens.

When I created my wildflower garden (which is covered in another blog), I also bought an old wooden wine barrel with an open top (coverable with a lid). Then I build in a so called “Rain pipe clap” (see picture) in my rain pipe. Old people may know about this idea since it was used in Germany and other countries long ago.
Such a device enables you to open the clap when rain falls or is expected to fall. By doing so you can easily collect rain water in your barrel (which holds about 200 Liters of water). This water can be distributed in your garden by help of a water can.  

The concept of a rain pipe clap (2 pictures):

Picture 1: open        Picture from URL:

Picture 2: closed        Picture from URL:

C. Benefits
Benefits are obvious:
-     you can collect rain water for your garden for free,
-     only a rain pipe clap is necessary which costs about 20-50 € depending on its material (plastic, tin, copper, etc.) and possibly a knowledgeable person which installs it,
-     using an old wooden wine barrel is romantic and useful (however you can also use plastic barrels),
-     water storage barrels and tanks can either be placed above ground or underground.

D. Drawbacks
-     When using an old barrel make sure to close the lid when you do not want to fill in more water – midges are using the water as breeding ground…
-     When heavy rain is forecasted or falling make sure your rain fall clap is closed. Otherwise water is pouring over the brink of the barrel…

E. Conclusion
Rainwater collection is an important puzzle part of sustainable gardening. One can get rain water for free and it is much cheaper than freshwater out of the tap. Flashfloods are prevented.

Water quality in Germany, the creation of a wildflower garden, water reduction devices and ideas to use rain water for household issues (washing machines, toilet rinsing, etc.) will be addressed in other blogs.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Carsten Weerth

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sustainable Water usage and Water saving devices in Houses

Sustainable Water usage and Water saving devices in Houses

This paper describes possibilities and personal experiences with water saving and sustainable water usage in small houses.

Small House, Water saving devices, Rain Water usage, Rain water storage, Rain water pipes, Ideas for small devices.

A. Introduction
Clean water is a scare resource in the 21st Century – sustainable people and sustainability students are aware of this fact. This is valid for most regions of the world, but not necessarily for all regions of the globe. For instance in my region in the north of Germany clean water is abundant – that means that water coming out of the water tap is clear and pure enough to be drinking quality (authorities make sure that it is tested regularly – but this will be the topic of another blog).

However it is of importance to address the question, whether it is possible to reduce the amount of clear drinking water in daily use for cases such as washing dishes, showering, watering the garden, flushing the toilet, cleaning the car or other items of your household.

B. Rainwater collection and usage
To put it at the first possible choice:
Whenever you live in regions, in which precipitation is high enough to create bigger amounts of water in barrels or specialized cisterns, go for that solution.
Benefits of the use of rainwater:
- it is free,
- it is available in huge amounts (where applicable).

Drawbacks of the use of rainwater:
- You need barrels/cisterns and these require space in your garden (either above ground or underground).
- You require machines that can handle rain water (washing machines, dish washers, etc.) – these are normally much more expensive. That does not apply for toilets.
- You require extra rainwater pipes in your house that pipe water from the barrel/cistern into the desired machine – therefore you need extra space and money for the installation of these rainwater pipes.

C. Small devices/ideas for saving clear freshwater
Some small devices and ideas however are rather cheap and thereby you can easily save between 20 and 50 % of the freshwater you are using:
- Flow reducers: small plastic or metal flow reducers can be screwed in front of all water tabs: these reduce the water output between 15 and 50 % depending on the mesh size you are applying (cost: about 2-3 Euros/US$ per reducer).
- Flow reducers in your shower: different producers are offering different shower types with different reducing capabilities – so you can reduce the amount of water you are using by help of these shower reducers: other smart ideas: choose showers over full baths, cut shower time down, stop the shower (stop running water) when you do not need it…
- Content reducers for your toilet flush: a rather old fashioned but rather effective idea – simply put in some (brick-) stones in the water reservoir – by doing so the volume of water in your toilet tank is reduced by the volume of the stone put inside – when flushed it fills up less the next time compared to the volume without stone(s).
- Likewise useful are stop buttons at the toilet flush – so you can stop the amount of water flushed down, when applicable.

D. Conclusion
Benefit of all small ideas: you save clear and pure freshwater, your water bill will be reduced.
Rainwater collection is an important puzzle part of sustainable living, however you need funding and space for implementing it. However saving water and using water saving devices is rather easy and straightforward – so everybody can do something and keep spreading the ideas. Hopefully more and more households are going to save valuable freshwater…

References:, “water tap” as of 25 September 2012                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
Carsten Weerth

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Social Implications of Creating a Wildflower Garden

This paper describes personal experiences with the social implications and conflicts that can occur when creating a wildflower garden.

Wildflower Garden, Social Implications, Neighbors, Conflict

In an ideal world the creation of a natural wildflower garden should be acknowledged as desirable and beneficial – an action that is “good” for mother earth, that is good for plants and animals, for the humans living nearby and thereby it should be welcomed by everyone.

Benefits are obvious:
-     local wildflowers are reproducing and having a place to live,
-     local animal wildlife is having an opportunity to thrive and found nourishment,
-     the soil is mingled with roots and thereby it remains in place (it is not blown by the wind),
-     local wildflowers are keeping the moisture in the earth, and
-     spaces with local wildflowers can take up huge amounts of rainfall and thereby help to prevent flooding events in urban areas.

However since this is not an ideal world and not all citizens are as well educated as some other are or they like to stick to traditional gardening or they like to swim in the mainstream there is a huge danger of being in an outsider position when creating a wild garden.

Wildflower gardeners might be seen as danger to the community, as different, as not orderly, as not belonging in good society, as outsiders who cannot keep a garden orderly, as green weirdoes… Conflicts may arise and most likely will arise…

Be prepared for all sorts of attacks and keep going – in my first year my sunflowers (which were standing next to the footpath/street) were simply broken in half when they began to overhang a little over the footpath…
This year I made sure that they grow next to the house wall – nothing has happened yet.

One or many more neighbors are talking behind our backs... But somehow they seem go grow used to their wild gardening neighbor…

Positive and understanding reactions are scare – but they occur. So we are not the only garden that grows sunflowers any more – one other garden has joined in and is also growing sunflowers as a statement. However a wild garden is much more than planting sunflowers. 
It is about growing wild flowering plants that belong into the flora of the region (see the blog Guerilla Gardening for sustainability?!). But I will write about this issue in another blog...
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Carsten Weerth