Posts Tagged ‘sustainable’

half full or half empty?

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Pleased to report that we are now HARVESTING RAINWATER!

Just to remind you, here’s the view inside the tank Thursday night before the rain:

tank completely empty

And here’s the view on Saturday after an inch of rainfall:

tank half full

So look at that! Just one inch of rain collected off our roof filled the tank about 2.5′. The highest the water can rise is 4’6″ where the overflow pipe starts channeling water out into the overflow trench. Not bad! (The floaty stuff is plastic shavings… don’t worry, we skimmed those off.)

David has a grand plan to hook up a solar-powered pump to the tank, but until then we’re using a cheapo submersible sump pump…

david installing pump

With the garden hose hooked up to the pump and the whole contraption in hand, David slowly dropped it down into the tank…

david submerges pump

He made sure the hose and electrical cord were threaded through the top of the manhole cover, of course…

david closes tank

Then we plugged in the cord and turned on the hose…

first water from our tank

And voila! We can now water with rain! *touchdown dance*… *fist pump*… *chest bump*

day 3: a whole new yard

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

What a difference a day makes! It really does look like we have a whole new yard.

Yesterday morning began with the arrival of a tri-axel filled with Smithfield Peat’s finest screened loam/compost mix. Impressive. The Savages broke out the big guns…

tri-axel truck arrives full of loam

7:30 am, Adam starts with a little more grading out back with the mini excavator…

7:30 am grading begins

You can hardly even tell the water collection tank is there. Well, except for the giant manhole covers and the filter, of course. We’ll remove one of those covers and screen it all with plants soon enough…

water collection manholes

For future reference, David marked down where the overflow piping and other underground bits of the system are hiding. Probably a good idea…

rain collection diagram

The veggie zone got raked out…

ready to spread compost in veggie zone

… then the loam was brought in and spread with the bobcat. So rich, it looks like brownie mix…

loaming veggie zone

Our plants are going to be soooo spoiled…

finished veggie zone

Rich and Mr. Savage perfected the grade out back so that water would flow away from the house and down the slope…

getting the grade right so water will drain

Then it was ready for loam…

back ready for loam

Which  Adam had spread in no time…

backyard with loam

Ever since we moved in, I’ve been looking forward to finding a new home for five fairly young rhododendrons. The last owner must have put them in hoping to add privacy to the downstairs patio area… which is ridiculous for several reasons. One: those suckers take forever to grow, so there wouldn’t be privacy screening for at least another decade. And Two: they planted them practically on top of each other and way too close to the pathway — hard to believe looking at them now, but these will be monsters when they finally reach 12′ tall and 12′ across…

row of rhodos

So Mr. Savage dug them up for Rich to take home with him. Plant them and love them, Story!

bye rhodos

Mr. Savage added a little soil and smoothed out the eroded slope along the road…

adding to slope

… the entire 100′ foot length of it. Wow, that looks incredible!

slope prepped and ready for curlex

Then Rich and Shiva dug a shallow trench along the top of the slope where the biodegradable Curlex erosion control matting will be secured…

digging the trench up top

That was a lot of digging…

top of slope trench

Then the two of them rolled the Curlex down the slope…

first roll of curlex

… and secured it with our natural, biodegradable staples at the top and bottom.

second roll of curlex

Up the hill, down the hill, up the hill… and so on. Thanks, Rich!

two more rolls

sixth roll of curlex

closeup curlex

twelfth roll of curlex

By late afternoon, the slope was completely transformed. The Curlex won’t break down for three years, which is plenty of time for plants to get established. Speaking of which, the plants arrive this Tuesday…

end of rolls

Meanwhile, David made a trip to Sylvan Nursery in Westport, MA, to pick up our focal point tree for the backyard…

tree in truck

Doesn’t look like much in the truck…

tree arrives

After months of deliberation, I finally settled on a Betula nigra Cully Heritage River Birch. Yes, I considered many other gorgeous options — Perrotia Persica (Persian Ironwood),  Stewartia Pseudocamillia (Japanese Stewartia), Fagus Sylvatica Tortuosa (Tortuous European Beech) and Cercidiphyllum Japonicium (Katsura or Caramel Tree), were top contenders. But the size and multi-trunked habit of the Heritage Birch was just right. I’ve been stalking just such a tree in a neighborhood where I run. This is what it looked last last summer…

heritage cullen birch

The peeling bark is really something…

birch bark closeup

So with the help of Adam in the bobcat, Shiva, David and Rich got the tree up the slope…

tree wrangling

… and hoisted it into the hole..

putting tree in hole

And, voila! Landscaping has officially begun. Thanks to Shiva and Ellen for making the tree-sleuthing trip to Sylvan last week to find the perfect specimen for us. It’s gawgeous!

tree planted

Birches grow quickly, so this should fill out nicely in no time. Will look lovely from the living area…

goodnight yard

Thank you so much Savages. You rawk!

savage trucking


Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

You want a washout? Yeah, we got that…

slope washout

That slope used to be slopier. Days of constant rain have made it slumpier. What a mess. Good thing the cavalry is coming later this week. To the rescue: some supercool, environmentally friendly erosion control.

curlex closeup

American Excelsior Company makes this awesome biodegradable erosion control blanket called Curlex, available in 150′ rolls. It offers some benefits over straw or coconut fiber, a few other green options out there. We definitely did not want to go with polypropylene. We’ll be using the Curlex CL. Here’s what makes it better for us…

curlex in action

They’re made of barbed, interlocking aspen fibers, of all things. It allows rainwater to slowly percolate into the soil, clings to the ground to stop erosion and creates a warm, damp place for new plants to take hold. Which is exactly what we need. There’s really nothing else like it out there. I’ll let you know how it works out.

e-staple |

To secure them, we’ll be using 6″, water-resistant biodegradable stakes made from plant sugars and oils, also by Excelsior. Not petroleum based. And rather than leaving hundreds and hundreds of metal stakes in the ground forever, these E-Staples will naturally degrade slowly  — by the time they’re gone, our plants will be established.

Shiva, who’s going to be tackling that bear of a slope (with some help) bless her heart, will be able to cut right through the blanket once it’s been rolled out and dig planting holes for the new plants. The plants are ordered and on their way. Woo hoo!! Thanks for making it all happen, girlfrennn.

Before Shiva can do her magic, it now looks like we’re going to have to add soil to that rain-ravaged slope. It never recovered from the retaining wall guys turning it into a ramp…

a ramp in my slope

Once they loosened the dirt, it was bound to erode even quicker. The concrete guys still owe us 40 yards of top soil — this looks like a good place for some of it.

We have a crew we love coming as soon as the mud dries up to make it all happen. Not just on the street slope but around the entire yard where we need final grading. More heavy equipment, yay! Our neighbors are gonna love us.

rain rain... you know the rest

reaching entry entropy

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Outside: moving. Inside: going nowhere until we settle on finishes. We finally agree on the flooring. Except that we’d both like to see something different than cork in the entryways. What we’re loving: concrete tile.

It’s gorgeous, ridiculously durable and generally an eco-friendly choice. Thus far, I’ve come across three styles of concrete tile:

  • something monolithic that resembles poured — these range from plain to colored to terrazzo
  • patterned
  • and dimensional or relief, meaning it has raised bits — doesn’t make sense in a high-traffic area

Whatever we choose, we’re not going to need much. The front entry is roughly 8’x5′. The back entry maybe 4’x2′. The tile has to go with the cork flooring we think we’re going to use…

edipo cork tile in bleach white |

edipo cork tile in bleach white |

So considering that, I’ve found a few options that catch my eye…



In a modern house, you can never go wrong with terrazzo. The drawback to polished terrazzo in an entryway, of course, is that when it gets wet it may get slippery. But it is a modern staple and who knew you could get it in tile?

marble mosaic in honey onyx |

marble mosaic in honey onyx |

custom marble in twilight white |

custom marble in twilight white |

Both of those from Fritz Tile and use marble in the aggregate. Pretty. We’d need an inside doormat no matter what kind of tile we choose, so maybe slippery won’t matter? Hmmm.

Fritz also offers two lines of LEED-certified recycled glass terrazzo tiles set in aggregate, but I’m not as fond of their look. For glass terrazzo, I prefer this…

recycled glass tile in riviera |

recycled glass tile in riviera |

or this…

recycled glass tile in swiss alps |

recycled glass tile in swiss alps |

from Wausau Tile, which also uses an aggregate base. Some recycled glass terrazzos are set in resin rather than aggregate (like countertop materials) — Enviroglas is a popular, environmentally friendly source. If we order samples, I’ll share.


Here’s a tile from Ann Sacks that’s not only concrete with a pattern but terrazzo as well…

neoterrazo by andy fleishman |

neoterrazo by andy fleishman |

Less glossy than the all-terrazzo choices above. I’m not one to shy away from pattern but I’d have to see it next to the cork to know if it would work. Maybe too… traditional?

Just to funk things up, Angela Adams has a few subtle but very modern patterned concrete tiles at Ann Sacks…

argyle by angela adams |

argyle by angela adams |

manfred by angela adams |

manfred by angela adams |

Nice matte finish. A hint of the ’70s there, am I right? Might be good in a circa ’72 house. Anything by Angela is a class act.

In case my design aesthetic isn’t all over the place enough for you, how about these Paccha concrete tiles, also at Ann Sacks…

zigzag by paccha |

zigzag by paccha |

Would the pattern overwhelm the rest of the room? Maybe. Popham Design who makes Zigzag also makes lots of other styles not carried by Ann Sacks — some that might go better. Although Zigzag doesn’t have to look like a quilt. Their website shows you how you can change things up in layout…

zigzag, zigging |

zigzag, zigging |

zigzag, zagging |

zigzag, zagging |

Does crazy things to your eyes after a while, doesn’t it?

Here’s another Popham style completely covered in awesome sauce…

popham squarish |

popham squarish |

Called Squarish. Simple yet arty. Probably my favorite by Popham for our entryway. Just love that so much.

Another configuration of Squarish, more vintage looking…

squarish, yet againish |

squarish, yet againish |

I emailed back and forth with Popham not long after we moved in. At the time they were only in Morocco and had no U.S. dealer. Not sure if the ordering deets have changed since ’08 (may well have and if we decide to pursue, I’ll double-check), but this is what Popham shared with me about ordering through them at the time:

We sell the tiles for $15/square foot and can ship via air or sea. For air, which takes about a week once the tiles are dry, you’ll add about $12/square foot, for groupage (marine), which takes about a month, the cost is about $5/square foot. Or, if you want a container’s worth :), about 6,000 square feet, the shipping cost drops to about $1/square foot. Our production lead time is 2-3 weeks depending on the size of the orders.

So maybe $20 a square footish. Not cheap but also not out of the realm of possibility given the small footprint. Not very “green” ordering from Marrakech, I know. On the other hand, it does employ local artisans in a very low-tech process. Conundrum. Nice video, btw.


I dream of a statement-making entry floor but my gut tells me this house wants something sleek and simple. We’ll see. For me, tile is a must-touch, must-ogle item. This means a visit to Ann Sacks, for sure. And I located Fritz Tile’s terrazzo at a few shops in MA and RI. Field trip!

my cork finally popped

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

I thought it might never happen but I just laid eyes on cork flooring I’m pretty smitten with. Just unboxed some samples of DuroDesign’s Edipo cork and, yes, it would actually complement this house nicely. Guess you can consider my cork POPPED.

Edipo cork flooring from DuroDesign

It’s made up of strips of cork, so it’s very linear, just like our house. No swirls. And yet not so uniform that it looks like a corkboard. Neither of those are styles I’ve disliked in other people’s houses — I just think they wouldn’t be the best choice here given our straight lines and hard angles. Perhaps this linear style has existed and I just somehow missed it in other flooring lines? Dunno.

Here’s Edipo in a range of neutrals, from bleached to darker…

Edipo in shades

I like how the linearity makes the cork resemble its original form: tree bark. In fact, the lighter shades remind me a lot of birch bark. Here’s a closeup of the darkest sample…

Edipo closeup

It comes in 12″x36″, click-together planks that would be easy enough to float in…

Edipo 1/2" plank edge

And they have thin, very light cork tiles that could work well on the ceiling (we want to contain our popcorn ceiling)…

Edipo tile edge

They’d need to be glued and/or nailed to something else first in order to be installed overhead, but that seems do-able.

As far as I’m concerned, the Edipo is a strong contender, assuming it’s in our price range. And of course, if we go with this we get all the sustainable, LEED-certified benefits of cork. As I mentioned in my last post:

… composed of 100% post-industrial recycled content from wine-stopper production.

Luv that. Lots more info and pictures of DuroDesign’s cork flooring options here in their PDF brochure.

quick, get the flamethrower!

Monday, March 15th, 2010

I’m only kidding a little. We’re being invaded. Fuh reals. I recently wrote about my intent to keep invasive plants out of my garden. Perhaps I should clarify — when I say “invasive,”  I don’t mean plants that are a little rambunctious. I’m talking about something much more menacing.

Here’s The Nature Conservancy’s definition:

On their home turf, plant and animal populations are kept in check by natural controls, like predators and food supply. However, when a species is introduced — accidentally or intentionally — into a new landscape that is not used to its presence, the consequences can be devastating. Most of these “non-native” species do not misbehave. But some non-native species spread unchecked by the lack of natural competitors and predators.  They push out native species and cause ecological chaos. These are known as “invasive” species.

Here’s an excellent example I know you’re familiar with: Kudzu.

kudzu monsters

from Kudzu Covered Houses |

Originally from Japan, it was brought to America in 1876 as part of an international exposition. The plant was pretty, easy to grow and became increasingly popular with gardeners.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Soil Conservation Service promoted kudzu for erosion control. Hundreds of young men were given work planting kudzu through the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The planting of well over a million acres of the stuff was fully subsidized by the U.S. government. The South’s balmy climate is perfect for Kudzu, so of course it thrived. And then it kicked ass. Literally. It smothers native trees and plants to death. Researchers have tried torching it, spraying it with deadly (to everyone) chemicals, and sic-ing kudzu-eating bugs and sheep on it. Now there’s talk of it being used for biofuel — I hope that catches on. Want to see awesome photos of houses being devoured by it?

purple loosestrife |

purple loosestrife |

If you live in New England, you’ve no doubt seen Purple Loosestrife choking our wetlands, marshes and meadows. Pretty in bloom, yes. But it’s a dense, aggressive grower that’s difficult to eradicate. It was brought here by settlers from Europe in the 1800s and is now displacing native grasses and other plants our local wildlife relies on for food and habitat. Purple Loosestrife has spread to every province of Canada and every contiguous state except Florida. The Department of Agriculture sees it as a threat and has been bringing in European beetles as an experiment in control. Dunno if it’s working.

Like Kudzu and Purple Loosestrife,  there are plenty of other plants listed as “noxious weeds”  by the fed and state governments. “Noxious” indicates an invasive plant considered to be such a threat that it requires an organized effort to eradicate it and is in some cases illegal to plant, propagate or sell. That said, I bought Purple Loosestrife a decade ago at a very reputable nursery and only found out afterwards it was wanted by the long arm of the law. Lesson learned: be aware so that you don’t contribute to the problem.

Pretty sure you don’t have invasive plants lurking in your garden? You might want to check. Here are just a few that look pretty innocent but are far from it where I live. These are plants I pass every day on my run through the city…

japanese barberry |

japanese barberry |

oriental bittersweet |

oriental bittersweet |

“burning bush” euonymus |

“burning bush” euonymus |

“vinca” common periwinkle |

“vinca” common periwinkle |

japanese honeysuckle |

japanese honeysuckle |

I’ll stop there. There are links below for a much longer list no matter where you live, if you’re interested. Maybe you’ll luck out and find you’re not harboring an invasive or two in your garden — unlike me.

So what can we do about it, really?

When I read things like this from the University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners site…

The two greatest threats to biological diversity around the world are habitat loss/destruction and the presence of invasive species. Nearly half of the plants and animals on the U.S. Endangered Species List are at risk because of invasive species.

and things like this from a 2010 State of the Birds report…

… nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline… [due to pesticides, invasive species and general loss of habitat]

… it only reinforces my feeling that I don’t need to add to the problem. Bees are suffering. Butterflies are suffering. Hybridizing has been hard on both, as well as the same things killing off our birds.

By eliminating invasive species from my own yard, I’m doing something. Not much, I know, but every little bit. And many sources say if you want to help pollinators make the best of an increasingly bad situation, provide at least some native perennials, shrubs and trees for food and habitat — “native” means original to North America as opposed to a plant brought here from another continent.

I confess now that not all of my plants will be native — my ginkgos and Japanese maples are obviously Asian, for instance. I do have a large number of natives, though, and will continue to add them as the garden goes in. When I post garden plans, I’ll try to identify what is and isn’t native.

In the meantime, look out, invasives. If I see you, I’m reaching for the blowtorch. Yeah, I’m talkin’ bout you, vinca.

*     *     *     *     *

Bookmarks for this post Excellent resource for info on invasives, including news updates… their Invasive Plant Atlas of the U.S. is broken out by plant types Lists by state of invasives considered to be noxious weeds Group from Cornell University that researches how non-indigenous plants affect native ecosystems and the species living in them

Invasive Plant Atlas of New England Species considered to be invasive at some level, also a list of illegal noxious weeds

Wildlife Habitat Council Lots of great resources for creating pollinator (bee and butterfly) habitats in your backyard

National Wildlife Federation How to help improve your local ecosystem by creating habitat in your yard for all kinds of wildlife — sustainability starts at home!

North American Native Plant Society An excellent plant database for restoring and conserving native plants

Your native plant society (nationwide links) is an excellent source for native plants to supplement your garden. Being in Providence, I like Garden in the Woods — the garden and shop of the New England Wildflower Society outside Boston and the RI Wild Plant Society annual sale, and there are scads of nurseries that either specialize in or offer native plants. Lists of native plants by region as well as nurseries

I’m sure there are other good books on natives, but I can highly recommend these because I own them: Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines published by the New England Wild Flower Society

man-sized rainwater collection

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

We don’t do things a little around here. No, we go big and hairy. Even when it comes to rainwater collection. You don’t think we forgot about that when we were busy putting in retaining walls and planning the yard, do you? I’ll let my huz David tell you all about it…

flat roof

Look at that flat roof. Not only is it a great modern architecture feature, it’s great for collecting rainwater. With all the water running to one edge, the gutter to roof ratio is very low and the downspouts are easy to collect into one outlet. We knew we wanted to take advantage of our rainwater — so let’s look at the decisions we had to make to do it.

Crunching the numbers

Research on the web gave us lots of formulas and tables and charts on water collection — I’ve included links to some of those at the end of this post. Our roof is about 1,200 square feet which will generate about 720 gallons per inch of rainfall. Average annual rainfall in Rhode Island is about 33″, so we could theoretically harvest almost 27,000 gallons of water per year. That’s a lot of water! In actual practice, we won’t ever get even close to that number.

About 10% of the rainfall is lost to wetting the roof and evaporation. The filter rejects another 5%. But the main limiting factor is tank size. A heavy rain of say 3″ would produce about 2,160 gallons of water — less 15%, that leaves about 1,800 gallons we could possibly gather. The tank is 1,700 gallons and will seldom be empty enough to take a full rainfall.

What size tank?

There’s never been a garden here before, which means no historical data to refer to in order to figure out outside water usage. A rain barrel just isn’t going to do it for us — we need a tank and had to guess at how big. I suppose we could have opted for smaller than what we ended up with. But given size of the property and the opportunity to collect the maximum amount of water for just slightly more cost, why wouldn’t we go with a hella big tank?

We settled on the 1,700 gallon polypropylene, underground tank from Norwesco. Won’t rust or corrode. It’s cleared for environmentally safe, potable water, even. And by sinking the tank, that frees up more valuable outdoor space. Here are the 1,700 gal cistern specs.

Will we save money?

Yes and, um, not so much. There are multiple costs at play here. The average household served by Providence Water Board uses 75,000 gallons per year. Right now we only use about 35,000 gallons a year, less than half the average in this region — but again, none of that includes watering more than the few tomato plants we had. We pay $.0032 per gallon for water and $.0035 per gallon for sewer. That means we’ll save $.0067 for every gallon of city water we replace with rain water. Great! But we’ll have to save 463,000 gallons to break even on just the tank, filter equipment and the cost of getting it transported here. (Luckily, DIY means we’re saving on plumbing labor.) We might expect a 10 to 20-year payback, typical for green projects without state or federal incentives.

We’re trying to be smart in our garden planning. We’re planning for areas of pea gravel with a super-minimal, low-water lawn zone, a drought-tolerant plant zone, a zero-water plant zone, and so on, but obviously we can expect a decent amount of water use as we get our garden established. No doubt, all that rainwater we gather will go to good use.

The installation

Here are the down-and-dirty instructions. And here’s how an installation plays out in reality, starting with our tank arriving the week of Christmas. I knew it was huge but I hadn’t really considered that it was bigger than a Toyota…

tank delivery

We waited for our concrete guys to dig the hole for us since the backhoe was already digging our retaining walls. We had to leave it in the street, completely paranoid some drunk college kid would mow it down in daddy’s car.

tank waiting by ramp... waiting... waiting

But a week or two later, the tank was fine and the hole was finally dug…

digging the hole

Then there was the matter of getting a 400-lb. tank up a hill without it sliding back into the street.

The tank is recommended to be set on sand to provide drainage and lower the chances of a puncture. The distributor told me crushed stone would work fine, so we went with that. Once the bedding gravel was added to the hole and the tank set, my friend Joe and I did the plumbing prep work. Plumbing the tank will be a lot easier when the ground isn’t frozen like it is now, so we installed the 4″ inlet and 4″ outlet then connected pipe to get us to where the filter will be buried.

plumbing the tank

The rest of the plumbing will be buried in the spring. Next, we backfilled the hole with gravel…

filling hole with gravel

On sites where the water table is high or where there might be flooding, underground tanks have to be anchored down so they don’t pop up out of the ground when they try to float on the groundwater. They also require good drainage around and beneath so that a good New England frost heave won’t crush or shift them. Luckily, our hilltop location means excellent drainage and not having to worry about such things.

tank with more gravel

When we’re done plumbing the tank in the spring, there will also be a vent shaped like an upside-down J. A pipe will carry water from the in-tank, 12-volt pump (powered by batteries that will be charged by a small solar panel on the roof of the house, which I’ll also rig to power all of our exterior lighting) to a spigot next to the existing one that delivers city water. At least that’s the plan.

tank burying

The gravel and tank then got topped off by soil to the same grade as the rest of the yard.

tank buried

We’re waiting out the winter for the soil to settle — which it will inevitably do given the gravel. Then we’ll raise the level again with some nice loam. If it weren’t for the two manholes (we hopefully only need one), you’d never know the tank was there! Once the plantings are in, I think the manhole will hardly be noticeable.

The gadget geeks in the house will appreciate this: the filter we chose is German… because as we all know, German things are beautifully engineered.

tank filter

The Low Capacity Vortex by Wisy uses centrifugal force to push water through a fine stainless steel basket while detritus falls down the center along with about 5% of the water that goes in. That 5% passes through a second coarser filter, plus any overflow from the tank feeds into a perforated pipe where it can re-enter the water table instead of pouring into the gutter and down a storm drain. That’s better for the local soil and better for the ocean, since street and storm drain run-off can carry all kinds of nastiness. No need for us to contribute to that.

The ground should be warm enough in the weeks ahead to finish up the plumbing. Did I mention french drain? Sexy. You might want to stick around for that post.

man down!

Bookmarks for this post has a online rainwater calculator (requires javascript) has a really basic calculator (no javascript) has all the formulas if you’re feeling brave enough to do your own calculations has an interesting explanation of the mathematical principles behind the rainwater calculator posted an interesting look at somebody else’s underground tank system and associated costs

as for equipment… has some nice rainwater collection setups for residential applications

tjb has an innovative rainwater collection setup we could never afford — but wow, impressive

and if you’re really, really into it… posts everything that’s happening in rainwater collection on a daily basis — this is where you’ll learn that rainwater harvesting is a surprisingly controversial subject and even illegal in states like Colorado! links to great resources and new products. is the American Rainwater Cachement Systems Association — lots of links to lots of resources.

Rainwater collection is obviously a subject that will continue to increase in importance. I think we can expect to see many more companies jumping into the business and continued innovation in products — way beyond the standard rain barrel.


Monday, March 8th, 2010

We think this house was recently swathed in floor-to-floor carpet, including the stairs. Ugh. The last owner ripped out a good deal of it…

particle board floor

But not all of it. Which leaves us with flaking particle board. And splinters in our feet. So you can probably understand why we’ve been collecting flooring samples. A few days ago, we woke up to a new box of samples on our front step. Wanna peek?

Duro Design sent us a ton of eco-friendling flooring samples for free (nice), including cork (available in 54 colors)…

duro cork

But why does cork leave me so… meh? Honestly. I love the idea of cork — that it’s completely renewable and easy on the feet. But I’ve yet to come across cork I love the look of. Duro’s cork comes from “post-industrial recycled content from wine stopper production,” so there’s a lot to be said for it.  And some of the patterns are pretty interesting…

duro cork closeup

Maybe too interesting? My discrimination is completely unfair, I realize that. David loves this stuff.

I do like the look of their strand bamboo

duro strand bamboo — spanish leather

No PVCs. No formaldehyde. Low VOC-finish. More durable than hardwood or regular bamboo floors. And I’ve long preferred the look of the stranded.

duro strand bamboo — miel

Available in 22 colors, although for us there are really only a few that could work.

duro strand bamboo — country

I’ve noticed that lately I’m drawn to lighter finishes… that clean, airy Scandinavian look must be appealing to me.

Which leads me to something I hadn’t considered before…

duro fsc oak — oyster

FSC oak, from environmentally and sustainably managed forests. I normally despise oak but for some reason I’m liking the look of their extra-wide engineered oak planks in the lighter finishes. Above, Oyster.

duro fsc oak — pastis

And this is Pastis. The difference is subtle but if you put them side by side you can see…

side by side duro fsc oaks

The Pastis on top has a little more pink in it. I prefer Oyster.

Ultimately we can’t settle on flooring without taking into account kitchen cabinetry and countertop materials, as they’ll all be visible in the main living space once we’re done with the remodel. I see this calls for a future post of some possible combinations.

Guess that means I better start gathering countertop samples.

the erosion zone: plant choices

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Did you catch Erosion Zone, part one? This is part two, Revenge of the Erosion Zone, in which the battle against a tyrannical slope continues. Now that you’ve seen the problems that need solving, here are the plants that are up to the job.

1. Arctostaphylos uva ursi ‘Massachusetts’… also known as Bearberry or Kinnickinnick (Algonquin Indian name)

arcostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry) |
arcostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry) |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? excellent slope erosion control, loves crappy soil, recommended under oaks, native to the East Coast, it’s a spreader, white/pink flowers in spring and red berries in fall for birds, evergreen so it has year-round color, disease- and bug-resistant, long-lived, should do fine in morning sun/afternoon shade, rare and protected in some states

READ MORE ABOUT IT: here and here

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2. Comptonia peregrina … also known as Sweetfern

comptonia peregrina (sweetfern) | shot at Garden in the Woods
comptonia peregrina (sweetfern) | shot at Garden in the Woods

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? native to the East Coast, great for stabilizing slopes, thrives in dry spots on woodland edges, food for moths and butterflies, gorgeous blue-green foliage will look great peeking out above brighter greens, excellent spreader, it’s actually shrub that looks like a fern, should do great in morning sun/afternoon shade

READ MORE ABOUT IT: here and here

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3. Cornus canadensis… also known as Bunchberry or Creeping Dogwood

cornus candensis (creeping dogwood or bunchberry |
cornus candensis (creeping dogwood or bunchberry |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? nice bright green with white flowers just like a dogwood but only 8″ tall, as a northern native shade-loving woodland groundcover it prefers morning sun and afternoon shade (hey, I have that!), good spreader, likes medium moisture which may be helped once other plants are established, reputed to be dependable so I’m willing to see how it does on-site


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4. Ribes sanguineum ‘White Icicle’… also known as white flowering Wild Currant

ribes sanguineum hannaman’s (white flowering currant) |
ribes sanguineum hannaman’s (white flowering currant) |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? native to the dry open woods and ravines of the Northwest coast, absolutely gorgeous pendulous white flowers, fruits, food for hummingbirds, butterflies and birds, good in zones 4-9 (I’m 5-6ish), drought-tolerant, recommended under oaks, should do great with morning sun/afternoon shade


WHY NOT A NATIVE CURRANT CLOSER TO HOME? our regional variety, known as American black currant or wild black currant (Ribes americanum), has been banned since the early 1900s in an effort to prevent White Pine Blister Rust. Sounds painful. It’s a fungus that was bad for the logging industry at the time. Black currant is officially deemed “a public nuisance” in RI and MA. Heavy. The ban has been lifted in most states. btw, red-flowering currant and pink-flowering currant are two great alternatives to the white — we went with white to unite the color scheme on this slope.

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5. Rubus pentalobus ‘Emerald Carpet’… also known as Ornamental Raspberry

rubus calycinoides (ornamental or creeping raspberry) |
rubus calycinoides (ornamental or creeping raspberry) |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? loves climbing steep hillsides, used for erosion control (mostly on the West Coast), very drought-tolerant, from the thickets of Taiwan and has a slight Asian look about it that will tie nicely to the garden above, white flowers in spring, golden fruits for birds later in the season, bright green will really pop in the shade, leaves turn purple in fall and only fall off in extreme cold, insect- and disease-resistant, says hardy in zones 6-9 but in canvassing plant chats about this species (yeah, I’m a geek that way) I see that fanatics from Canada to Connecticut say they have no problems, local nursery endorses it… am willing to experiment

READ MORE ABOUT IT: herehere and here (Arnold Arboretum magazine feature on unique Asian plants grown in the Boston arboretum, including ornamental raspberry — another reason I’m sure it will do well here)

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6. Symphoricarpos x chenautlii ‘Hancock’… also known as Chenault Coralberry or Snowberry

symphoricarpos x chenaultii (chenault coralberry) |
symphoricarpos x chenaultii (chenault coralberry) |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? native to the West coastal range but disappearing on the East Coast, pinkish flowers attract hummingbirds, white berries in fall and winter for birds, good spreader, used to restore embankments, drought-tolerant, not picky about soil, hardy in zones 4-7, likes some sun to full shade

READ MORE ABOUT IT: here and here

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7. Xanthorhiza simplicissima…  also known as Yellowroot

xanthorhiza simplicissima (yellowroot) in flower |
xanthorhiza simplicissima (yellowroot) in flower |

xanthorhiza simplicissima (yellowroot) in fall |
xanthorhiza simplicissima (yellowroot) in fall |

WHY PERFECT FOR THIS SPOT? native East Coast woodland shrub accustomed to stream banks, thrives in bright shade to full shade, bright green with small purple flowers in summer, fruit for birds, turns an amazingly deep purple in fall, average soil, great spreader, appears to like some moisture so protection of other plants may help

READ MORE ABOUT IT: here and here

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So Shiva talked me into bearberry. I talked her into flowering currant and creeping raspberry. I’m sure her bearberry will do well — great idea, Shiva! I think the fruit-bearers will thrive but I’ll probably give them special attention until established. Garden experiments. Ya never know.

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How much will it take to fill 95′ x 8′?

Shiva suggests the following, although we’ll likely need to add after it’s had a year to get established…

1. Arctostaphylos uva ursi/bearberry:

6″h x 1-3’w at maturity … need 15 plants

2. Comptonia peregrina/sweetfern:

2-4’h x 4-8’w at maturity … need 75 plants

3. Cornus canadensis/bunchberry or creeping dogwood:

6-9″h x 2’w at maturity … need 50 plants

4. Ribes sanguineum Hannaman’s White/white flowering wild currant:

roughly 6’h x 6’w at maturity … need 4 plants

5. Rubus pentalobus Emerald Carpet/ornamental raspberry:

6″h x 3’w at maturity … need 9 plants

6. Symphoricarpos x chenautlii Hancock/snowberry:

2’h x 6’w at maturity … need 8 plants

7. Xanthorhiza simplicissima/yellowroot:

2-3’h x 2-3’w at maturity … need 42 plants

Oof, that’s a lot of plants. Now you can see why I need help! Thanks, Shiva, for doing the figuring.

erosion zone

More to come on our erosion zone project as springtime unpacks its bags and the real work begins.

the erosion zone: challenges

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Chomping at the bit to garden. But there’s really only one spot on the property that’s ready to go: the steep slope at the bottom of the hill. I call it the erosion zone. Interested in the plan at all? Take my hand.

First, lets look at the site we have to work with…

slope in winter

Desolate. 95′ long. At least 8′ up between street-level and top of the slope. It’ll take a shizzle-load of plants to fill it. This is what it looks like after Luke and Shiva…

Shiva and Luke dismantle the incomplete rock wall

tore apart that partial stone wall, then weeded and yanked out the cantankerous shreds of juniper right around Thanksgiving. Thanks, mates!

That leaves a blank slate. Or blank slope, if you prefer. And a few issues that affect plant choice. Maybe you have some challenges like these, too?

  • Eastern-facing slope under oaks — gets full morning sun and full afternoon shade. This means I need plants that can thrive in an either/or situation. I’d also like some color to brighten the shade. Luckily it’s steep enough that the acidic oak leaves slide down and blow away. I don’t see baby oaks anywhere, so acorns must roll down.
  • Steep embankment — first, we need erosion control. Second, weed control, because this slope is practically impossible to weed. No chemicals, not ever. I want a weed-control mat that smothers weeds, allows water to soak into the soil and breaks down naturally — more on sustainable options another time. I need plants to fill in quickly to discourage weed growth — fast climbers, spreaders and creepers.
  • Far from water — except to get the plants established, this area will not be watered. This means I need fairly hardy and mostly dry-loving or drought-tolerant plants.
  • Soil is probably meh — not that great, not that bad. We should get our soil test back in the next week or two to know for sure. For this zone, I’m betting on plants that don’t care. Although we’re going to bring in a truckload of loam to fill in some of the more eroded spots, soil will only be specifically amended in the planting holes.

But wait. To add complication, I’m bringing my own issues to the party. Why not? It’s my party, right?

  • No invasive, crap or boring plants — invasive, bad. So no vinca or barberry allowed here. And boring? I promise I can do better than the standard pachysandra I see everywhere. Color and texture are important to me, even though we’ll never be able to see this zone from the house. We have a steady stream of walkers to Providence College down the block… let’s do something nice for them.
  • Must work in some native species — this helps take care of many issues above. I love exotics too, but it’s important to promote biodiversity and protect our natural heritage by relying on some North American natives. Helps conserve water and is better for the ecosystem. Besides, there are tons to choose from. More on this in another post.
  • Must be friendly to wildlife — in addition to no chemicals, I want flowers for butterflies and bees, and fruit for birds. Creating habitat in the city is definitely a must.

Based on that, I did some research and came up with an initial list of plants that would work in our erosion zone. Then I enlisted help. With so much time spent working, there just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to get this done on schedule. Shiva has tons of experience in garden design, procurement and snapping a bullwhip, so she’s my go-to gal on making the hillside happen for spring. We wrangled a little on idears… I talked her into some of mine, she talked me into some of hers. It all worked out to be something that will look awesome.

Gardeners, take note: not your typical plant choices coming up in part two.

plants in waiting

Meawhile, the rest of my plants sit patiently in pots amidst the hay bales… waiting… waiting…