Sunday, July 05, 2009

Letter to Urban Homeowner

I was thinking of you and Laura and about your new digs. I googled rain gardens, noticing that Wikipedia now has a most comprehensive entry on same. The only quibble I have is the percentage of compost (80%) recommended for backfill. I have seen all but the most heavy soil (we have such clay here in the metro area) not require excavation only digging or finding a low area on the property and directing the water there. The most elegant way I know of is to dig a depression and put an inch or so of compost on it, adding compost from time to time, planting deep rooted plants (natives are often preferred); but I have seen rain gardens that would not drain and become ponds. I have also seen properties with two feet of water in the drive, and the drive became dry when a rain garden was made on the adjoining land. That project was in Huntington Woods and the city provided a back hoe to remove the soil to two feet below grade and replace it with compost and sand. 

Each installation is different. I am sure that you will require a few rotations of the seasons to get a handle on what is desirable for your situation. Managing water in your new area to your satisfaction will take a few years, I'm pretty sure. Living near an urban river is both exhilarating and sad, sad in that you become cognizant of the damage occurring when developments upstream tear off top soil and vegetative cover, build impervious surfaces. New developments often cause problems for those living with the extra runoff downstream. Sigh. Hopefully in the coming years we as a society will be able to mitigate some of this damage. To mandate Rain Gardens or other bioremediation seems a reasonable solution. There already exists heroic and wonderful technology toward this end. It seems to me an up and coming area of adapting, but I have been wrong before on what will catch on in the popular imagination. 

If your urban soil has become contaminated with heavy metals (chances are it has lead in it if your neighborhood was developed before 1972, as that is when lead was outlawed in gasoline) there are plants (Sunflowers are great heavy metal uptakers) you can plant. Opinions vary on whether your plants out then to be land filled as toxic waste, or burned and the toxins removed, or composted. I cross my fingers and compost, but I live in a 60's ranch. 


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