Mother Earth Living

In the Garden

Get down and dirty in the garden

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There's nothing quite like the feeling of taking in a beautiful garden. All of your hard work and energy spent caring for your plants pays off when everything is in bloom and looking its best. A well-maintained garden is the perfect complement to any house — it definitely spruces up your home's outdoor image.

Unfortunately, runoff from your garden can undo all of your work. What's worse, it can combine with pollutants and end up ruining not only your garden, but also the areas around your house, like creeks and streams. While your local municipality probably has implemented processes such as street sweeping to reduce the runoff entering our waterways, making a conscious effort to control runoff in your lawn or garden can help even more.

Stopping polluted runoff is the only way to keep your garden looking fresh and prevent it from causing unintended environmental damage.

Here's a few ways to keep that runoff at bay:

Block the Runoff With a Swale

A swale is a ditch designed to intercept water. It's shallow with gradually sloping sides that allow rainwater and runoff water to collect at the bottom of the ditch.

The swale can fit into your property's style better if you add some rocks. Not only will it look nice, but the rocks also slow down the runoff, filter it and keep the soil stabilized.

This is a project not suited for manual labor, however — you'll need a machine to help dig the hole.

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A Berm Keeps Runoff out for Good

Think quickly back to your history lessons in high school. How did the greatest empires survive? They built their palaces and castles on high ground, surrounded by protection like walls and moats to keep intruders out. A berm acts the same way. It's a fortress for your garden!

It's a hill covered in grass and plants designed to divert runoff away from your most important plants. One of the first things to consider is where you want the runoff to go. Think about what plants should receive the runoff and build them around the berm. That way, most of the runoff is used up by all the plants surrounding the berm.

Collect Runoff With a Drywell

Drywells are exactly what their name suggests — they're a hole in the ground that stays dry often. That is, until flowing water is directed to the well. It collects the water, but the water doesn't just sit there. It gets filtered into the soil at a better pace through geotextile fabric, a permeable fabric.

Photo by Fotolia

Collect Runoff With a Barrel

All of the rainwater that falls on your house ends up in your garden or lawn through your gutter system. The quick stream of water coming from a gutter can easily sweep up soil and nutrients that you painstakingly placed there. Don't let all that hard work go to waste — a rain barrel can solve this problem!

Just purchase a special rain barrel and place it right under the gutter stream. Be sure to put it on a slab of concrete to make sure it's completely level. You can use the collected water for anything you choose — washing the car, rinsing off tools or filling up a watering can, for example — without raising your water bill.

Get Rid of Your Impermeable Surfaces

Asphalt, stone, concrete — these are culprits for increased runoff. Why?

Their hard, impermeable surfaces make it easy for runoff to run over them without any trouble. This can lead to major flooding in some areas!

If you can, consider replacing these surfaces with materials that allow runoff to be filtered or absorbed. Flagstone and gravel are good choices because the small spaces in between each stone allow runoff flow to be slowed down.

Make Sure You're Not Doing More Harm Than Good

Are you aware of what you're putting on your lawn and soil? Many lawn care products contain chemicals that may be useful for your lawn, but can be harmful when it turns to runoff.

Make sure to use fertilizer responsibly and if possible seek natural alternatives. You can also follow these quick tips to properly care for your lawn.

Runoff is a pain to any gardener. It can suck the moisture out of your garden and it can also cause environmental concerns in the areas surrounding your home. By taking advantage of these tips, your garden will be healthier, safer and less expensive.

Megan Wild is a gardener who is the process of cultivating her first succulent garden. She loves visiting local floral nurseries and picking out plants that she struggles to fit into her yard. Find her tweeting home and garden inspiration @Megan_Wild.


There is something about the gentle flow of water that is soothing to the soul. If you’ve been thinking about adding a water garden to your yard this summer, you can’t go wrong with a small pond and even a waterfall.

water garden 

Photo by Pawel Bukowski

However, if you’re trying to create an eco-friendly environment, which most gardeners are, then you’ll want to follow these tips to conserve water and energy — as well as to make sure your plants are fed naturally, and algae and weeds are kept out without harsh chemicals or poisons.

Solar Energy Savings

One easy way to create a more eco-friendly water garden is to use solar power for things like landscaping lights, pumps and other equipment. Although you might pay a little more for the solar equipment up front, over time it will pay for itself in energy savings.

You’ll also know you’re doing something positive to reduce your carbon footprint. While you will have to replace batteries occasionally, overall, you’ll see a significant savings in energy costs required to run water garden equipment — and you’ll be doing the environment a favor by using a clean energy source.

Consider the Ecosystem

An eco-friendly water garden also pays attention to the plants and animals in the area. Everything in nature works together to create a thriving place for plants and animals to live.

However, if you throw something out of balance, then your ecosystem becomes unbalanced and will require a lot more care than you probably want to give it. One of the most important parts of this equation is a circulation system that is efficient. This will keep oxygen levels at the proper level for both plants and animals. The last thing you want to do is add a water feature that only works to attract mosquitoes or harms plants you would like to see do well.

Consider Your Current Layout

Unless you just finished building a new house and have a blank canvas of a yard, you’re going to have to consider the current landscaping design of your home. Think about how you can integrate water into your garden in a smart way.

For example, if there is a dry area in your garden, adding a small waterfall can create an oasis for thirsty plants and butterflies. If you’d like to add fish to your water feature, you’ll want to plan ahead for placement of pumps and aerators as well. Well-aerated ponds are healthier for fish, but the aesthetic of your garden is also important. You want to be sure you can tuck things away behind plants and in a dark corner of a water pond so equipment isn’t obvious.

Avoid Unnatural Treatments

It is tempting when your water needs freshened or you suddenly have a pond full of dead fish to start adding chemicals and additives in an effort to “fix” things. However, this may only create a bigger problem down the line as it impacts other animals and plants, and even the environment of the pond itself.

Instead, look to natural solutions, such as adding a fish that eats algae or specific aquatic plants. Your local garden center should have an aquatic expert who can help with these types of issues.

Small Changes

Once you have the water garden in place and everything is working together, make any changes very slowly. For example, if you wish to add goldfish and a few water plants, do your research, and then add just a few fish and a plant or two at first. You can always add more to your water garden later. It’s always best to proceed slowly if you want to keep things as eco-friendly as possible.

Creating a water garden gives you the ability to create an oasis in your yard that is truly unique. Not only will you enjoy sitting by your own bubbling brook, but you’ll know you’ve added something to your garden that helps plants and animals as well as adds beauty.

Kayla Matthews is a health and wellness blogger who loves jogging, yoga and hiking. Follow Kayla on Google+ and Twitter to read all of her latest posts.


Rooftop Growing Guide

Learn how to start your own rooftop garden with Annie Novak in The Rooftop Gardening Guide (Ten Speed Press, 2016). Sample plans, interviews with other rooftop gardeners, and case studies round out this enthusiastic guide to creating urban farms in every possible space, no matter how small or city-bound.

You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: The Rooftop Growing Guide.

At the age of twenty, when I was a very susceptible young thinker, I read Wendell Berry’s “The Pleasures of Eating.” To this day, it remains the most powerful essay I’ve ever read about food.

Beginning with the simple assertion that “Eating is an agricultural act,” Berry deftly unfolds the tragedy of the modern American food system, then lays out a short charter of actions for the ecological eater. He ties our good health to food sovereignty: the ability to grow our own food, or at least understand where it comes from. He links high quality food to healthy soil, healthy soil to good farming, and better farming stewardship to the sustainability of our watersheds, our country, and our planet. To eat well, he says, is as simple as maintaining a healthy curiosity about the connection between dirt and dinner. The essay concludes with a list of common sense ways an eater can do this. He asks that we cook for ourselves, try to grow our own food, make friends with farmers, and investigate the stories of our favorite plants. I can remember exactly what I did when I finished the article: everything, precisely as he suggested.


John Stoddard and Courtney Hennessay were experienced ground-level farmers before they took to the roofs.

Now it is your turn. You’ll find that rooftop gardening, urban farming, and farming and gardening in general are challenging tasks. But the word Berry uses — “pleasure” — is an apt counterbalance to this effort. Farming and gardening present opportunities to reengage with a deeply entrenched part of our humanity that goes beyond simply eating well or getting outside. People need plants. In 2005, in the same spring season I started my career at the New York Botanical Garden at its beautiful two-acre family-friendly vegetable gardening site, The Edible Academy, Richard Louv published Last Child in the Woods, a call to arms in the face of the rise in obesity, attention deficit disorder, and depression. Regular exposure to nature, Louv suggests, is essential to the health and cognitive development of children and adults alike.


Inexpensive plastic crates lined with geotextile fabric and filled with organic soil mix make for an easily portable rooftop farm setup.

Our personal health and the ecological health of our chosen living environment depends on maintaining and creating new green spaces. This is particularly true as inter­nationally we become a more urban people. All rooftops — in and outside of cities — could be greener, but markedly in the density of an urban landscape, rooftop gardens and green roofs have transformative power. In 2009, the year we founded the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, an abandoned elevated train track in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood opened in renewed use as the High Line. It quickly became one of the most popular public parks of the last century, welcoming five million visitors a year.

Rooftop farming is a thread in a larger woven landscape we’ve spent a long time unraveling but can yet stitch back together. Whether it’s food, pleasure, entrepreneurship, health, community, or necessity that brings you up to the roof, your efforts are a note in a long-sung song. Indeed, when looking at the landscape of empty rooftops around you and wondering where to begin, it’s important to remem­ber the stubbornness of nature below and above our archi­tecture. In New York City, I see it in the weeds prying up through sidewalk cracks, or in the red-tailed hawks circling their way back into an ecosystem by nesting in the stone facades of turn-of-the-century buildings. In the years the High Line sat fallow, wildflowers grew up through the train trusses. There’s a necessity to green spaces, which in his poem In a Country Once Forested Berry gently reminds us is as inevitable as we allow it to be:

… the soil under the grass
is dreaming of a young forest,
and under the pavement the soil
is dreaming of grass.

Reprinted with permission from The Rooftop Gardening Guide by Annie Novak and published by Ten Speed Press, 2016. Buy this book from our store: The Rooftop Growing Guide.


A burning bush is an invasive plant native to Asia, whose branches make for beautiful foliage year round. In 1860 they were introduced to the U.S. for decorative use. They are versatile and can provide cooling shade to your home, reducing upcoming summer energy bills. And of course, the obvious benefit of adding more plants to your yard is the good they do for the environment. If that isn't reason enough to pull out the shovel and work gloves, you will just have to keep reading!

burning bush in flower bed

1. Strong and Versatile
During a drought, it will probably be one of the last things standing in a once lush landscape. Burning bushes can withstand a variety of climates and soil. That is great, because I have red clay in my yard...not fertile, loose dirt. If you want the boldest fall colors, the plant needs full sun. However, it can be placed in semi shady areas, but its fall colors will be stunted to a pale pink or yellow.

2. Multifunctional
With a little pruning, the bush can be shaped and kept to the size of your liking. A compact burning bush can grow to be 10 to 15 feet tall, or it can be kept as a small, ornamental bush. The bottom branches can be removed to create a treelike appearance too, wonderful for lining a driveway.

3. Beautiful Year Round
Not only known for their breathtaking fall color, these bushes add something to your yard year round. In the summer, its green leaves and small blooms look like any other landscaping accent, then in the fall it bursts into fiery red color. After the leaves fall for the winter, they expose an interesting and beautiful branch structure.

4. Little Maintenance
It can be overwhelming to care for a garden and a yard full of decorative shrubs and trees. A little watering, and some occasional pruning are the main things you will have to do. Depending on where you live, there may be some addition care steps.

5. Disease and Pest Resistant
Bugs and fungi seem to shy away from burning bushes. Although, they are still at risk for some infestations such as coral spot nectria canker, which is a fungal disease that can kill the plant. Extreme weather can be the cause and avoiding pruning during the hot months is a great way to prevent this. Aphids and the Black Vine Weevil like to feed on the leaves, but can be warded off by natural pesticides. Mineral oil, citrus oil/cayenne mix, eucalyptus oil, onion/garlic spray and tobacco can all be useful in discouraging destructive pests.

Things You Need to Know

Don't plant burning bushes near forests or wooded areas, as they are an invasive, foreign species that will spread wildly. Plant them near your house, or in a separated area of your yard to keep it under control.

Burning bushes need good drainage. If you have hard packed soil like mine, some tilling and loose soil may be in order.

My bushes came from Nature Hills Nursery, since I couldn't find them at my local gardening stores. Prices are very reasonable and my plants arrived well packed and healthy. The representatives can help guide you through the planting process if you're new to gardening and landscaping.

I placed three burning bushes along the barren backside of my home. I hope that when they grow to my preferred size, they will reduce the mid-day Georgia heat. And in the fall, I look forward to sitting on my back porch to enjoy the view.

Karyn WoffordKaryn Wofford is a type 1 diabetic, EMT and Certified Wellness Specialist. For years she has educated herself on wellness and natural, wholesome living. Karyn’s goal is to help people be the healthiest they can be while living fun, happy lives.


Prisoners, seniors, veterans, hospital patients and at-risk youth are just a few of the populations benefiting from horticulture therapy programs and therapeutic gardens throughout the country and world. Here are a few examples of healing landscapes and how they are helping people live happier, healthier and more meaningful lives. To discover more resources for healing gardens, visit Healing Landscapes.

Warrior and Family Support Center
Photo courtesy of Warrior and Family Support Center

Warrior and Family Support Center (WFSC): Therapeutic gardens help soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health issues and physical injuries. Located at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, the WFSC (pictured above) provides a safe environment for wounded service members to rehabilitate with their families following treatment at the Brooke Army Medical Center. The center’s therapeutic gardens include recreational areas that are smaller in scale to create a sense of security and resemble a homelike environment. Plenty of shade, seating and lush plantings promote rest and relaxation, while an outdoor kitchen and children’s play areas encourage socialization. The grounds also provide opportunities for physical therapy and exercise with a fitness trail, putting green and volleyball court.

Rikers Island GreenHouse program: Founded in 1989 on Rikers Island, one of the largest jail complexes in the world, GreenHouse was the first program to use horticulture therapy to help prisoners. Today, the program thrives, encompassing a greenhouse, a classroom and more than two and a half acres of gardens, all designed, built and tended by inmates. Through horticulture, prisoners work through various antisocial behaviors and mental disorders, as well as develop important job skills that can help them find employment when they re-enter their communities, reducing the rate at which former inmates return to prison.

Norma's Garden at the Gathering Place
Photo courtesy of Norma's Garden

Norma’s Garden at The Gathering Place: Therapeutic gardens are also found in health-care settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes. Located in Beachwood, Ohio, Norma’s Garden (pictured above) is part of The Gathering Place, an organization that provides free programs and services to address the emotional, physical, spiritual and social needs of people touched by cancer, whether as a patient, family member or caregiver. The grounds feature winding paths to private gardens used for meditation and individual counseling sessions, as well as a large, open swath of grass forw support group meetings and gentle exercise such as yoga and tai chi to help rebuild strength and reduce stress and anxiety. Calming water features, symbolic wind-driven sculptures and sensory plantings throughout engage all five senses.


Photo by Fotolia

There’s nothing that quite adds to the pride of homeownership than having the best lawn in the neighborhood.

At the same time, maintaining a big beautiful patch of grass is nowhere near as simple or as straightforward as most people make it out to be. Weeds are always trying to invade, pests ruin the color, and disease – yes, grass can become diseased – will do everything it can to undermine all of your lawn care efforts.

On top of that, it can be a bit of a challenge trying to reinvigorate a lawn that has been left to deteriorate by the previous homeowner. If you are trying to rehabilitate a lawn that is anything but picture-perfect, you may want to think about abandoning that rehab project and instead choosing to replace your old lawn with new sod.

Pay close attention to the information below and you’ll understand exactly what it takes to replace your old lawn with new sod – and how much it will cost you!

Break down your soil composition

Before you even think about resodding your lawn you’re going to want to make sure that you really understand the kind of soil composition that you are working with.

The overwhelming majority of homeowners have absolutely no idea what kind of soil they’ve got, and many of them are under the false impression that they have a heavy coating of topsoil to work with, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Over time, topsoil is going to erode away – especially if your lawn wasn’t well-kept by the previous homeowner – and it is going to need to be replaced with quality compost and top-notch topsoil so that you can give your new sod every opportunity to cement itself in place.

You’re also going to want to think about soil composition from a drainage standpoint. The soil that you use will have a big impact on how well your property is able to both retain and shed rainwater, and you want to make sure that it has just the right amount of retention properties without ever making your lawn wet or soggy.

This can all be pulled off with a quick soil test (many landscaping companies provide these services at inexpensive rates), or you can choose to tear up all of the old earth and then put down new topsoil to work with.

A lot of times, it’s more cost-effective – and a lot less of a headache – to simply put a new topcoat of topsoil over your currently existing soil and work from there. 

Always take advantage of locally grown sod

You are definitely going to have quite a few options to pick and choose from when it’s time to put down new sod on your new topsoil, but you need to be smart and savvy about this decision.

Many people want to purchase the cheapest sod possible from “big box” home-improvement stores. While this is definitely the most cost-effective way to go about reestablishing your lawn (at least upfront), it can be a total disaster – if only because this sod is usually not grown in the local area.

Sod that isn’t “farmed” from your local community isn’t going to be used to the kind of soil that it will be introduced to, won’t be used to the local climate, and is going to have a tough time re-acclimating unless you pay a lot of attention to it. Your brand-new green lawn may turn yellow in just a couple of days!

You might have to pay a little bit more to get your hands on sod that has been grown from a local landscaping company, but that cost is only going to be a little extra upfront. You won’t have to spend as much money re-acclimating your sod, or spend a ridiculous amount of time monitoring and fussing over your grass..It’ll just take to your soil the way that it was supposed to!

Get your hands on the heartiest sod you can find

You are certainly going to want to make sure that your new sod is able to thrive in its early stages, and you’ll want to ensure that it is able to set down solid roots just as quickly as possible.

The only way to make certain that this is possible is to get your hands on the heartiest sod you can find – which will add a bit to the final price – but it’s always going to be worth it.

Look for first-grade fescues or blended grass that offers you the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful, lush lawn and that is also very resilient and resistant to attacks from insects and animals, and can stand up to less than ideal weather conditions.

Pay attention to these critical details and you won’t have anything to worry about when you tackle a DIY sod project on your own!

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