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Canna & Fuchsia Graywater Planter

Canna & Fucshia Gartenmeister

Canna & Fuchsia Gartenmeister

This combination of cannna and Fuchsia “Gartenmeister” is one way we try to do water-wise gardening without necessarily resorting to xeriscapic plants. Both plants look quite tropical and work well together–different sized leaves, hot colored blooms, and the purplish tint of the canna leaves echoed in the stems and veins of the fuchsia–and both are actually able to survive quite a bit of drought in our climate, though they look their best with a lot of water. We have them in a raised wooden planter with an open bottom to give their roots a deep run and we water them with the graywater from our washing machine. (In our area you can use laundry water for landscaping as long as you don’t spray the water through the area. Shower and sink graywater requires a permit. EBMUD has a graywater fact sheet that lists the conditions with which a graywater system does not require a permit.) I don’t remember if we wanted to have some tropical looking plants without wasting a lot of water so we fed the graywater to them or if we first planned to use our graywater and then chose those plants because of their wide tolerance of water quantity. Probably a bit of both. In any case, the canna and fuchsias are thriving, and we’re not pumping our laundry water into the sewer system anymore.

Hooking up the washer to the planter was really easy. We just fed the hose into a section of pipe that ran gently downhill along the side of our porch, we capped the end, and then just drilled a few holes where we wanted the water to exit into the planter. I can’t remember if we had to turn down the hot water or if it was already cool enough to pipe directly onto the plants, and we were already using biodegradable, earth-friendly laundry soap. We clean the pipe once in a while to make sure it doesn’t clog.  We used a raised planter, thinking we might want to dispose of the top layer of potting soil at some point, but it hasn’t gotten nasty yet. It’s been two years now without problems, and the plants have been really happy; the canna blooms nine months of the year and the fuchsia year round, partly, I think, because of all the phosphates in the laundry soap.

Our washer was probably easier than most because it is already outside of our house, but we’ve helped a couple of other people hook up their washing machines, and it’s usually not complicated or technical. Getting the hose outside of the house is usually most complicated part, but, otherwise, it’s a simple process. You want to keep it gravity fed, so just pick a section of your yard that’s lower than the washer, and it’s best to give the water to plants like cannas or sedges that are generally not too fussy about water quality or quantity; our Calycanthus occidentalis (western spicebush) probably has its roots under the planter by now, an example of a California native that seems to do well with graywater. Avoid anything edible, Australian plants that don’t like phosphorus, and the more drought-tolerant/fussy-about-drainage California natives.

Probably, the best rule of using graywater is to keep it very simple. Pumps, storage, moving parts, and anything not easily accessible are all likely to cause future headaches. Oasis Design is a good source of online info. They seem to approach all systems and most internet sources of info (including probably this blog post) with a healthy skepticism, and that’s probably the best attitude to start with. Our system was pretty unambitious and involved less than $20 worth of parts, and partly because of that we’re really happy with it. I stuck a photo of our outdoor laundry hutch below. Our landlord built it from materials we used in our display garden for the flower and garden show this past spring.

our laundry hutch

our laundry hutch

ryan 12/11

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4 Responses to “Canna & Fuchsia Graywater Planter”

  1. April 17th, 2009 at 2:14 am

    jo says:

    Hiya Ryan,

    I wonder if you have considered going one step further and totally forego the usage of detergents and fabric softeners in said laundry.
    Your plants will benefit and so will you and those who have to smell your clothes laden with heavy artifical scent and the dangerous funes emanating therefrom.
    You will be amazed how soft and delicious your clothes and towels will be.
    I know it will take as long for people to take this on board as it took to clean the air of cigaret smoke.
    But you may want to look into the many dangerous chemicals that go into producing ‘sweetsmelling” laundry.

  2. April 26th, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Nan Ondra says:

    Hi Ryan! Sorry it took me so long to get here, but I really do appreciate you sharing a link to this post for this month’s GGW Design Workshop. I especially like the idea of using a open-bottom container so the plants can root directly into the ground if they want to.

  3. April 29th, 2009 at 12:11 am

    GBDW - Water-Wise Gardening Wrap-Up says:

    […] Canna & Fuchsia Graywater Planter (Ryan at DryStoneGarden): Using graywater in the garden isn’t something I’d thought of when I originally proposed this topic, but I’m glad someone brought it up. Ryan discusses uses a simple system for using washing-machine water to irrigate a container planting. […]

  4. June 19th, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    DryStoneGarden » Blog Archive » June Bloom Day — Spicebush Edition says:

    […] Brodiaeas look and the big spicebush in the back is really happy and the purple leaved canna in our gray water container is about to start blooming, but all of the spring bloomers still need to be deadheaded and there […]

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