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More Ornamental Laundry

Patio with Laundry

Patio with Laundry

My bloom day photo of what Daffodil Planter called ‘the vine with multi-colored blooms’ reminds me that I took a photo of it in full bloom back in May. We hang-dry our laundry for a variety of practical reasons — it doesn’t use fossil fuels (clothes driers account for 5.8% of residential energy use), line-dried clothing lasts longer, it makes sense in our climate, and, well, we don’t own a dryer — but also I sometimes like the look of it. I remember when I was in Italy I thought the laundry lines between the apartment buildings were very charming, and now looking at two shots of our patio this past spring, I prefer the one with the laundry.

Patio without Laundry

Patio lacking Laundry

I know at least some garden bloggers use a line. Daffodil Planter said she has one. Townmouse has a variety of drying contraptions. It’s getting more fashionable, and there’s, of course, even a blog devoted to the topic.


  map of a compact community, walkability within 1 mile, from sightline.org 

map of a compact community, walkability within 1 mile, from sightline.org

In the planning world, one mile is considered walkable and one quarter of a mile is the gold standard. WalkScore.com takes that standard and gives a rating from 1-100 for an address, giving high points for things like stores, libraries, and schools within a quarter mile and diminishing points for up to a mile. The ratings seem fairly accurate, my current address gets an 83, very walkable, while the house where I grew up gets a 27, very unwalkable. That matches with my experience at both places.

Making Hellstrips

Harrison Street Greenway 2007 Harrison Street Greenway, plantsf.org

We went to a planting party in the Mission this weekend. I hadn’t noticed before, but many parts of San Francisco don’t have hellstrips, the strips of dirt between the sidewalk and the street. Whole neighborhoods are wall to wall concrete with only an occasional little cutout for a street tree. It’s not good; all that concrete causes various problems, especially with stormwater management. Stormwater has nowhere to infiltrate during a storm, so it ends up in the city sewer system where it sometimes overloads the system and causes sewage to dump into the streets and the bay. Yuck. Much better to have a hellstrip, which allows the water to infiltrate instead of running straight into the sewers.

Plantsf.org is a non-profit in the city that encourages and helps people to remove concrete and create planted areas on their streets. Their website has demonstration photos and information about the process; there’s a permit to apply for and grant money is sometimes available to help pay for materials. If I live in SF and had a sidewalk seven feet wide or wider, I would go to their website immediately.

Thirty different homes were getting plantings at the project we helped with, enough to to make a big difference in the neighborhood. A lot of volunteers showed up, the weather was great, and I got a free ice-cream cone.

ryan 1/14


sustainable sites test case  

sustainable sites native garden case study

Sustainable Sites Initiative has a collection of case studies that illustrate green building practices. The most interesting to us is Garden/Garden:A Comparison in Santa Monica, where the city installed a traditional front yard lawn garden and a low-water, native, sustainable design garden on adjacent lots so that people could see the side by side comparison. 

The native garden cost about one third more to install, $16,700 vs. $12,400; that cost difference came from the installation of a DG walkway to replace the existing concrete walkway and installation of rain gutters and a stormwater infiltration pit.

The native garden used 77% less water, 283,981 gallons/year vs. 64,396 gallons/year.

The native garden generated 66% less green waste, 219 pounds/year vs. 647.5 pounds/year.

The house and yard of the traditional garden look like relics from the sixties. I sure wouldn’t want my front yard to look like that, so I salute the owners taking a hit for science.

sustainable sites traditional garden test case

sustainable sites traditional garden case study

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. (more…)

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