June 13, 2013

You don’t seem to give much thought to the matter at hand,” I said at last, interrupting Holmes musical disquisition.

No data yet,” he answered.  “It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence.  It biases the judgment.”

And so one of the great stories of detective fiction, Sherlock Holmes,  develops.  So, how much of our landscaping practices theorize before we have all the evidence?  Judging from a recent experience with a landscape contractor and developer, quite a lot!   sherlock holmes



I’ve talked about our Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance in previous articles but this time I have some first hand experience “in the field” that I think is of some interest.  Does implementing this ordinance cost money? – sure it does.  It’s a bloody lot of work come right down to it.  And it needs to be justified, both for the client and, I would think, for ourselves.  After all, if we don’t understand it and can’t explain it then we’re going to have a hard time selling the benefits.  I imagine this won’t be particularly new to many reading this, but still, here is my little story…..

First off, not all communities in California enforce the ordinance and that makes it frustrating for clients who work over larger geographical regions where WELO may be adhered too within City limits but not within the County that the City is in.  Still, it is what it is.

So I was approached by a contractor who needed some help with a planting plan – it needed some water use calcs. and I was able to complete that for him.  What I didn’t know at the time was that a full WELO package was going to be needed and neither did the contractor.  Apparently the developer didn’t know either.  The plan was a bit sketchy as to quantity of individual plant species, it had a bit of a ‘shotgun’ approach that, as it turned out, needed to be refined.

With commercial projects a landscape architect needs to sign off on the WELO package and that is how I got involved.  It came down to doing an entirely new planting plan with plant list and specs (what should have been done to begin with) and an irrigation plan zoned so that would complement the water use needs of the plants selected.  The planting plan needs to delineate hydrozone boundaries.  A soil analysis needed to be completed as well, and this involves taking samples at the site and having a soil lab do the required tests – fertility, texture and infiltration rates.  I found all of this to be pretty darned interesting myself, but he developers were scratching their heads a bit.

soil triangle

They’d had a soils test done by their engineer – but this was for structural purposes – not landscaping.  They’d paid for a landscape plan (from the contractor) that needed to be scrapped and re-done.  They needed to pay for another soils test (not much, $62.00 + my fee for doing the leg work).  Costs were slowly adding up.

Now back to the statement by Sherlock Holmes at the beginning of this piece.

No data yet,” he answered.  “It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence.  It biases the judgment.”

Without the soil report the installing contractor would be applying fertilizer and amendments in a ‘shotgun’ approach without having any concrete data as to what the soil actually needed.  Without knowledge of an infiltration rate scheduling would not be accurate and water would very probably be wasted.  Without adhering to plants being grouped into hydrozones then over and/or under watering would undoubtedly occur.   soil report

When I started in this business the scenario went like this – 6 cubic yards of nitrified wood mulch rototilled into the soil (generally after the irrigation went in, thus keeping a deep till from happening) and a handful of granular fertilizer tossed into each planting hole and that was it.  Sometimes no general tilling – just dig a hole in compacted soil and throw in a shovel full of mulch and a handful of fertilizer – hole not quite deep enough?  Hack the roots off.  This is how it was always done and it wasn’t going to change.  No data to go on, but what the heck, we made good time.

The Ordinance can be justified – it builds the tilth of the soil (feed the soil, not the plant); it deliberately groups plants together based on water use needs; it requires irrigation scheduling based on ETo, soils and through the use of smart controllers.  It saves water, energy and money.

Once I explained (justified) the Ordinance to the developer they agreed.  Education is the key, education with a solid explanation as to why something works.

Ok, enough.

Next time I hope to have a few more photos of the transformation of my back lawn into a native plant garden with water, host plants for caterpillars and nectar plants for butterflies and bees – and bird feed tables here and there.






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