Sustainable Practices: Choices That Honor the Earth

River City Gardens is an Ecological BusinessBeginning with our own small corner of the earth, we can make choices that honor our fellow creatures and plants to leave a vibrant balanced earth for the future. Sustainability refers to practices that are non-polluting and resource efficient.

River City Gardens encourages the preservation and care of the planet through gardening. We promote Earth-friendly gardening techniques, from choosing healthy plants appropriate to the garden site to using natural, sustainable and organic soil amendments and composts.

Click on each title below to read more on the topic.

Feed the Soil, not the Plant… »

Every handful of soil contains millions of living microorganisms which form the skin of topsoil that covers the earth. From this topsoil life as we experience it in all its forms is supported. Feeding the soil with balanced and natural minerals, organic matter, and clean water helps the plants grow strong. Soil building is an ongoing process, year in and year out.Homemade compost is the best for our gardens as it recycles the nutrients from our particular plants. Our model here in the northwest is the deep duff on the forest floor. In late fall the leaves and branches drop to the forest floor where they are broken down by the soil microorganisms. In spring the nutrients are taken up by the plants, the leaves swell, grow and, in fall, drop to the forest floor—the dance continues…

A soil rich in organic matter hold water deep within where it is available to roots during the hotter summer months. Create a system which eliminates toxic gardening chemicals and recycles yard waste on site where it adds to the health of the garden and is easy on the planet.

Treat Water and Rain as a Resource… »

Holding our winter rain water in the soil is the easiest method of water storage. Soil rich in organic matter from a system of repeated additions of mulches, composts, leaves, etc. is efficient at holding moisture. One or two inches of mulch on top of the soil keep it from drying out in the summer.

Water harvesting is becoming more popular as global warming threatens our climate. Storing storm water falling on the roof can help with summer watering. Green roofs cool a building by creating a green carpet above. Rain gardens and bioswales clean water before it soaks into the ground and keep it out of the stormwater system.

Water Features in the Landscape… »

Water in the garden is an essential element in creating a space for people, animals and insects. A water feature enhances a well-designed garden as well as offering a soothing place for relaxation, a play area for children and water for animals – wild and tame.

As with most elements in the landscape the water feature can be ambitious and expensive or relatively simple and inexpensive. The suitability of the site, the budget, and the energy level and life style of the homeowner are factors to consider in making plans. Natural resources – water and electrical power – are involved so keep that in mind. Will your water feature look good as a dry creek bed in a summer when we are on water restriction? How about a solar unit hidden in the landscape to move the water during sunny weather? (see Solar in phone book)

FIRST! Take a class or read a book. Constructing or building water features is a ‘hobby’.

Saturday classes are given during the summer at Hughes Water Gardens, 25289 S. W. Stafford Rd., Tualatin, 503 638-1709. Other nurseries also give classes.

The Range of possibilities for water features include:

  • Bird baths and found objects made into bird baths.
  • A beautiful pot filled with water, a few water plants and a handful of gold fish.
  • Dry creek bed with a water bowl or two in it. Fill with garden hose.
  • Scupper: A scupper takes water off a roof and replaces the downspout. Think of a gargoyle on a 16th century church spitting water away from the edge of the cathedral.. Vladimir Sumchenko, 360-798-3411, makes fanciful and elegant copper scuppers that can be attached to the roof gutter system. Using a scupper, the roof water can be caught in a vessel, bog or pond and is a waterfall during a rainstorm.
  • Self contained fiberglass naturalistic waterfall. Suitable for a deck. (Jeffrey Allen, Home & Garden, 503 968-7299 (I saw these at the Home & Garden Show, Oct. 2004).
  • Self contained water features are available at many nurseries and garden shops. There are many different forms and styles. Plug in and fill with water from the garden hose. Easy to cleanout and empty.
    (Hughes Water Gardens, Portland Nursery, Tsugawa Nursery, Woodland, Wa., to name a few).
  • Bubbler: rock with underground reservoir. See below under CHILD SAFE
  • Bog garden: An especially boggy place in the yard can be planted with water tolerant plants. May have standing water in wet season.
  • Wetland: More water than a bog and heavily planted in the water and on the bank. There are many sources for learning more about how to preserve or create a wetland.
  • Pool with spitter to aerate the water and keep mosquito larvae out.
  • Creek – Waterfall – Pond: The biggest hobby, the most ambitious way to go.

There are many contractors who do beautiful rock and water work. See their work and check them out as you would any contractor.

For the do-it-yourselfer this can be a rewarding project. Get directions and allow more time than you might think. You might hire a contractor to come for a consultation to get you going on the right track. Stone masons apprentice for years to learn to work with rock, so go slowly and keep referring to photos of wild water courses.

Child-safe Water Features

A small child can fall in a pond and not be able to get out; so if you have small children around make sure your water feature is safe. Here are some ideas:

  • A sprinkler on the lawn is a delightful treat to a child on a hot day.
  • Bubbler rocks that cascade water onto stone and collect it in an underground reservoir are both beautiful and fun for splashing. Smith Rock, 6001 S.E. Johnson Creek Blvd., Milwaukie, manufactures a galvanized aluminum reservoir and has the set-up on site to study.
  • Waterfall that falls into a rock bed and is collected by an underground reservoir is again a good place to play and provides plenty of water action.
  • An elevated birdbath is pretty safe.

Resources (a few among many)… »



Right Plant, Native Plant… »

Wild animals visit native plants more often than they visit imported exotics. Northwest native plants are adapted to our wet winters and dry summers and are quite drought tolerant after they are established. I recommend many beautiful and useful native plants for the home garden.

Our agreeable, mild weather also allows us to grow many great plants from other parts of the world. Special attention is paid to placing plants—whether natives or exotics—in the correct plant communities and microclimates.

Growing food for people and animals… »

Every home vegetable garden and fruit orchard saves valuable wild lands from becoming farm land to service city populations with food. When we grow our own food, we know it is free from chemical contamination, filled with life vitality and completely fresh. I encourage using fruiting plants and beautiful vegetables in the ornamental landscape. Berries and seeds encourage birds and other critters to grace our gardens.

Additional Practices for Sustainable Garden Building … »

  • Rejuvenate existing plants
  • Reuse/recycle hardscape materials: bricks, stone, wood
  • Build and maintain soil health with compost, compost teas, organic supplements and mulches. Protect the soil food web.
  • Select building materials that can be reused or will biodegrade
  • Use local products
  • Mulch beds with organic matter: leaves, compost, lawn clippings
  • Sheet compost to decommission lawn
  • Reduce lawn size and use a reel mower
  • Quiet, non polluting hand tools
  • Create habitat for wild animals including drinking water
  • Put plants in suitable location to ease maintenance
  • Edibles for people and animals
  • Plant organic vegetable seeds
  • Conserve water
  • Keep your rainwater by creating storm water management facilities:
    Bioswales (ditch planted with water tolerant plants that clean runoff water as it percolates into the soil) and rain gardens for disconnected downspouts.
  • Store roof rainwater in barrels or giant tanks
  • Install a green roof (garden on top of building that uses rainwater and keeps it out of the storm water system)
  • Make and use compost
  • Use plants to cool the house in summer and protect in winter
  • Trade plants with friends and neighbors
  • No chemicals, nothing toxic; remember the kids, the pets, the planet
  • Make a beautiful garden to sustain the owners
  • Make it financially sustainable