Slow it, Spread it, Sink it!

"We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one."
--Jacques Cousteau
Today we find sea levels rising, aquifers being depleted, snowpacks shrinking, and water supplies dwindling. We seem to be increasingly oscillating between periods of intense rain and drought. Many areas have been identified as places where surface and groundwater supplies won't be able to meet future demands. If only there were ways to harvest rainwater and save it for drier times or to make the ground better able to absorb the water when we get it...
Luckily, there are!
Traditional building and landscaping practices were designed to dispose of stormwater as quickly as possible. We now know this results in significant damage to land, structures, and our surrounding environment. Instead of rainwater disposal, we're advocates of the “slow it, sink it, spread it” approach. 
  • SLOW IT: Use land forms, berms, boulders, etc, to slow down rushing runoff
  • SPREAD IT: Reduce runoff volumes by distributing stormwater across gravel, swales, or permeable pavement
  • SINK IT: Increase retention of water by sinking it into the ground with thick mulch beds, earth basins, and more

San Luis Obispo Visiting Bioneer

Press Release from Central Coast Bioneers:


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE    September 06, 2011

International thought leader asks,"What if every act of design and construction made the world a better place?"

Public invited to attend.

Green building expert Jason McLennan to present in San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo—Jason McLennan will be in San Luis Obispo on Friday, October 14, 2011 to discuss concepts from his fascinating new book, “Zugunruhe,” and share powerful examples of ‘Living Buildings’ emerging around the US and Canada. Members of the public are invited to attend. The event is a benefit for California Central Coast Chapter U.S. Green Building Council and Central Coast Bioneers.

McLennan was recently named one of the top 40 under 40 most influential individuals in the design and construction field by Building Design and Construction magazine. He is presenting as a featured speaker at the annual Central Coast Bioneers conference, produced by local non-profit Ecologistics, Inc.

Location: SLO Vet's Hall (801 Grand Avenue, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401)

Sponsored by: Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards, the Hearst Lecture Series at Cal Poly, and Solarponics

Event Details:

  • Reception: 6pm - 7:30pm
  • Lecture: 7:30pm - 8:30pm
  • Book Signing: 8:30pm - 9pm (Mr. McLennan will sign two of his books, "Zugunruhe" and "The Philosophy of Sustainable Design".)


  • Reception and lecture $45 (benefit for California Central Coast Chapter U.S. Green Building Council and Central Coast Bioneers)
  • Lecture only, $20
  • Students: $4
  • Please register in advance
  • Free for Bioneers Conference Total Immersion Pass Holders

Register online at or call (805) 548-0597for mail-in/fax-in registration form.

"What if every act of design and construction made the world a better place?"

Contain Your Compost!

How to make your neighbors love you
Containers, containers, containers, so many to choose from. They’re usually designed either as an upright open bin box or closed container.  An open box design collects rainwater and makes it easy to add materials. However, it can attract rodents, bees and other insects, become too wet and potentially be an eyesore for the neighbors. Compost containers tend to be more aesthetically pleasing and many designs have rotating drums making them easy to mix and unload. You’ll also need a turning fork (unless you have a rotating bin) and a shovel to remove your garden goodness.
I’ve got my compost, now what? 
After cooking for several weeks, you’ll find wonderful rich ingredient ready for use.  It’s best to till your compost into the soil in fall and spring. You can also side dress compost into your garden throughout the season for a slow released fertilizer. If you sift your compost, it makes a great lawn fertilizer and will save you money and save the environment from chemical runoff. Compost can also adds a boost to potting soil making for happier and healthier plants.
Value added benefits...
Thirsty? Compost tea is yummy, for your plants that is! Just soak a bag of compost in a bucket of water for about an hour and you’ve got a supercharged plant food for your house plants or garden that will boost nutrient levels and help prevent plant diseases.
You can relax knowing that with a little effort you're compost will grow healthier plants, save you money, and help the environment. That's a lot of good!

Compost Part Two: Let It Rot, Let It Roll!

The great (digestible) outdoors! 
Outdoor composting includes both green and brown materials. Which is to say, all you really need is food, water, and air, and maybe a bin (if you want to impress your neighbors). Good compost is made of the stuff you’d usually just throw away: table scraps, yard waste, shredded paper, pruned branches, eggshells, and so forth. With the right mix, millions of microorganisms will convert your raw leftovers into rich, beneficial compost.
How can I be sure the composting has started?
The little mico friends that make compost possible need a balanced diet of green materials (high in nitrogen) for protein and brown materials (high in carbon) for energy.  Once these elements are in place, there's no stopping them! The best combination is three parts brown to one part green.
  • Fresh green grass clippings
  • Kitchen scraps (fruit, veggies, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, compostable plates and flatware)
  • Weeds and green leaves
  • Brown dry leaves
  • Dried grass
  • Cornstalks and straw
  • Excess mulch
  • Pruned branches
  • Pet droppings
  • Materials treated with herbicides and/or pesticides
  • Too much meat, especially if your pile is uncovered
When do I stop adding stuff?

Start with a minimum of a cubic foot of raw materials, and add as you go. More material is always better to generate the heat core necessary for rapid breakdown. Remember that compost needs time to cook down before you use it in your garden: Each time you add new material it’s like resetting the clock on harvesting your product. You wouldn’t buy a bag of potting soil with a rotting tomato inside, so don't do that to yourself at home!

By adding leaves and natural ingredients, you’ve got all the bacteria and fungi ready and waiting to help.  If you want to give them a little boost, add a shovel of good garden soil to the mix. By regularly turning your compost you help the decomposition along and speed up the process.


Compost: The Lifeblood of Your Central Coast Garden

Our mild climate here on the Central Coast makes it easy to overlook the changing of the seasons. With all the back-to-school commercials, however, it's clear that fall is right around the corner. One of the best parts of autumn is making use of all those leaves that Nature provides for us. Yes, we’re going to have to rake a little, but it's worth it for the leafy reward! Don’t put your pile in the yard waste container. Instead, add them to your compost pile and reuse them as nutritious supplement for your garden, lawn or houseplants.
No compost pile of your own? Do any of these lines sound familiar?
“I’ve been meaning to start composting, but I’m not sure how.”
“My neighbor composts and her house plants and garden are stunning.”
“I try to eat healthy and I’d like to save some money and not use fertilizers for my fruit trees and spring vegetable garden.” 
Not to worry, now is the perfect time to start your compost adventure! First, to talk about why. Simply put, compost is decomposing organic material. While that doesn’t sound too appetizing, think about it this way. Have you ever gone for a walk in the woods and enjoyed the soft, springy soil, or the way sounds seem muffled and softer? You've been surrounded by compost! As plants die, foragers of all sizes (from larger mammals, birds, and rodents to worms, insects, and microscopic organisms) consume them. The result of this natural cycle is compost, a combination of digested and undigested food that’s left on the forest floor to create rich, usually soft, sweet-smelling soil. Mother Nature knows her stuff!
We all have a variety of organic material that ends up at the local landfill. But if we compost our table scraps, lawn clippings, and fallen leaves, we avoid the messy garbage heaps of rotting food by choosing to manage--and reap the benefits of--the decomposition process. Compost also cuts down the need for fertilizers and potential chemical pollution.
Win, win, win!
Our local clay and sandy soil doesn’t always hold the right amounts of nutrients, air and moisture for healthy and productive plant growth.  Enter compost (imagine if Stan Lee had a garden comic strip hero)!  Compost improves the soils structure and gives virtually all the essential nutrients, and it releases those nutrients over time to give plants a steady, consistent amount essential for growth.  Compost will transform our sandy soil and grow stronger plants that are more resistant to diseases.
Soon to come, answers to: “How do I start?”  “Do I need worms?” “Can I compost everything??”

Lawn: Use It Or Lose It!

What a treat it was for those lucky enough to hear the esteemed David Fross (plant guru and part owner at Native Sons Nursery) talk recently at the SLO Botanical Gardens. His talk touched on conservation in a myriad of ways, and the one that stuck with me was about water--do you know where it comes from? I'm not talking "from the hose" or "from the tap" here, but back at the source, the Colorado River. This 1,450 mile-long lifeline sustains more than 30 million souls and 3.5 million acres of farmland in seven states, 34 tribal nations and Mexico. Unsurprisingly, it’s in decline. What can we do? Well, for starters, just knowing that when we water anything, we’re draining this mighty river is enough to get you thinking.
Also, that green water-gulping lawn is certainly an area where we can make improvements. Fross talked a lot about the pros and cons of lawn, but his main point wasn't to exterminate all flat green spaces. Instead, he challenged us to think about how they’re used. What about the public park where Scouts meet and kids play baseball all summer? Water those and keep them soft and friendly! What about the patches of grass whose only foot traffic is the lone landscaper? These are wasted space. Rip ‘em out and re-purpose the land into something beautiful for people to visit. Not only is this be good for our wallet, but also for the entire marine ecosystem of the Colorado River. Sound radical? Maybe so. But endlessly watering something that gets no use could be considered kinda nutty.
A recent post of ours wrote about Fross's book, "Reimagining the California Lawn," enumerating changes you, yourself, can make to your property to make it water-wise and lush. Check out your space and see if you're using your garden to its fullest potential for enjoyment, food production, and conservation of our precious resources.

(Colorado River facts found here.)

Turfgrass Is SO Last Century

We all know the hidden costs of manicured green grass ~ fertilizer, mowing, water, time... it's endless! But what choice do we have, right? WRONG! The Leave It To Beaver picket fence yard days are gone. A new generation of nutrient-rich, water-wise plant habitat-development is taking over.


Which means: It's time to reimagine your lawn! How better to start creating your home's new ambiance than with the vision of David Fross, co-founder of Arroyo Grande's Native Sons plant nursery, who will be speaking at the SLO Botanical Gardens tomorrow, Saturday June 11 from 1-3p.m. Besides lecturing on why lawn is a yawn, David is a leader in plant identification, a several-times-over published author, and in general is the bee's knees. Prepare yourself for an inspiring afternoon filled with endless planting possibilities!
P.S. Check out Reimagining the California Lawn, co-written by Native Sons owner and plant mogul David Fross, which educates the California garden owner about practical ways to replace their lawn with beautiful water-wise alternatives. Explore plants that are native to California, as well as those native to our Mediterranean counterparts within its pages.


Just A Cup Of Rain For Me, Thanks!

For much of the year, gardeners in our Mediterranean climate gaze at the dusty, golden hills dreaming of the first shower that will bring verdance back to the parched earth. During the summer months, irrigation from our public water supply keeps our plants from drying out, but it's difficult to mimic all the benefits of natural rainwater.

Watering isolated areas of your garden's soil with drip irrigation and sprinklers is good, but often the root zone isn't thoroughly saturated. After a while what the plants really crave is a good, penetrating soak. Whether we get 9 inches or 29 inches, nothing fully recharges the soil or revitalizes the plants like a good, solid rain.


Our garden, composed mostly of succulents, gets watered quarterly—that’s only four times a year. Compare that with your average fine fescue lawn, or Kentucky blue grass, that need a drink at least twice a week. The trick is establishing your plants' roots properly, right off the bat. The way to do that is this:

  • Make sure you have plenty of mulch on your garden for trapping moisture, wherever it comes from.
  • Water for longer periods of time, not in short, frequent bursts
  • Water less often.

This trains your plant to extend their roots far down into the soil, making them more efficient water-seekers. Plants whose roots are too near the surface are high-maintenance complainers!

Plant of the Month: California Carex

If you love the look of a lush green yard, look no further than California Field Sedge (Carex praegracilis). You've seen this beautiful grass or its cousins, perhaps without realizing it, dotting gardens throughout the Central Coast, contributing fresh, clean lines and structure.

Growth to its full height, for that truly native look, Carex praegracilis will reach around 18". With heavy foot traffic, or mown biannually (only!), your native grass can be kept at a comfortable 4-6", making it a beautiful place for friends to take an afternoon stroll or a playground for young feet or four-legged friends.

Plant 2" praegracilis plugs 6-8" apart. Contrast its soft texture with a meandering path made of edgy flagstone or smooth cobble.


A little shorter, a little bluer, and just as soft, is praegracilis's Carex European cousin, Carex glauca. While not native to California, we love the glauca's calming effect on the landscape, echoing the neighboring Pacific and calming the mind. The glauca is more compact, and more tolerant of foot traffic. In fact, gardeners throughout the county use it successfully in their plantings but also as their driveways. Replace your concrete with glauca and bring a grassy ocean to your doorstep. Plant either glauca or praegracilis to rid yourself of the heftier water bill that comes hand-in-hand with typical lawn grass.

Reimagine Your Lawn!

One of our favorite resources at Gardens by Gabriel is Native Sons Nursery in Arroyo Grande. Their plant material and their crew are oriented toward sustainability--and we're oriented toward them!

A recent publication, Reimagining the California Lawn, co-written by Native Sons owner and plant mogul David Fross, educates the California garden owner about practical ways to replace their lawn with beautiful water-wise alternatives.

Explore plants that are native to California, as well as those native to our Mediterranean counterparts within its pages.