Garden Thoughts for April
March winds and April showers bring May flowers. I think someone made that
one up just to give us the willpower to make it through the horrid weather
we generally experience this time of year.
I must admit, this has been one of the sunnier and drier seasons for several
years, but we can still be certain of getting plenty of rain through April.
And that brings to mind the really unglamorous gardening topic of drainage.
Throughout most of Campbell River and the upper island, we are blessed with
a thick clay soil that soaks up water and drains very poorly. I have a
drainage trench below my back lawn, and the soil one foot on either side of
it still turns into a quagmire each winter.
The soil problem is compounded when new subdivisions are created. The
standard practice is to scrape off any existing vegetation and topsoil
before building a house. The clay is nicely leveled and topped off with a
couple inches of topsoil on completion, though in this area, the topsoil you
buy is more often than not sifted clay complete with horsetails (I'll save
my ranting on this subject for another column!). Consequently we end up
with lawns that have standing puddles of water through most of the winter.
There are several solutions to this problem. Ideally, you will be in on the
landscaping of your new house and can ensure it's done correctly. The clay
subsoil should be graded quite steeply, and plenty of drainage installed.
Then build up the subsoil with as much sandy soil as you can find, and cover
with a minimum of 4 inches of really good topsoil. That's my dream anyway.
In reality, most of us have an existing, less-than-perfect yard to contend
with. One way to slowly improve things over time is to build up your lawns.
Each spring, sprinkle ¼ inch of sandy soil over the whole lawn area,
preferable after you have aerated. You can also top up with compost from
time to time. Eventually, this will amend the soil and raise the lawn up a
little higher than the water table. No doubt you've already raised your
flower beds. This is not a look I prefer, but it's absolutely necessary in
You can also take a more heavy handed approach, and dig up your existing
lawns and flower bed to lay drainage below them. To be truly effective,
however, these drains must be quite close together, and you should be
prepared to redo them every 5 to 10 years as they silt up.
It's an uphill battle, and perhaps the ultimate solution would be simply to
plant your yard in ferns, salmonberry and horsetail. Better yet, don't mess
with what's growing there in the first place.
Karen Barber is an architectural and landscape designer in Campbell River.