Thursday, April 22, 2010

Swale Gardening

I am doing a couple of coaching jobs, one being the typical blank slate landscaping job and the other can you believe is a swale.  Unbeknown to most gardeners, swale gardening is a whole other area of expertise.  I am certainly not an expert but I did have a swale in my last home. 

Just because there is a graduated dip so the water will flow into this area and away does not mean it is always wet.  The banks of the swale can be quite dry, but eventually the roots from these fringe plants will reach down into where the water flows.   I had three River Birches which loved the wet conditions, banks planted in day lilies which will also tolerate some wetness, some Red Barbary, Claveys Dwarf Honeysuckle and Cranberry Viburnums.  They all did very well with the only planting at the bottom of the swale being the River Birch.

The garden I have looked at had to do a swale because water was leaking into their windrow wells and subsequently their foundation and basement.  I am thinking just because of the size of our lots, River Birch trees will not be an option.  So we  talked about some plantings, Carex Ice Fountains (for the shady, wet area overshadowed by large arborvitaes), Viburnum Autumn Jazz in the sunnier area with plantings of daylilies below.  In the front area of the swale it is also sunny (with three Green Mountain Boxwood already planted), so I suggested coneflowers White Swan and Kim's Knee High.  At the back end leading into the back garden where the swale has ended, it would be nice to end the walk with Viburnum Carlesi Compactum.  All of the large fieldstones will need to be relaid because they are on a slant.  Not all of the plantings will be "in" the swale but will border it on top and bottom. 

The main goal with a swale is to hold the soil on the sides.  My present yard had a really dangerous swale when we moved in: whereas; you had to step down from the patio to walk to the front of the yard, there was no gradual descent.  We had a raised bed built and a paver walkway put from back to front gradually maintaining the swale.  In most cases you cannot remove this swale without impacting neighboring property or your own.


Dave@TheHomeGarden said...

Sounds like a challenge! I like the plant selections - especially the viburnum.

LC said...

I saw 'Autumn Jazz' for the first time last fall. It carried a 'sold' sign at a nursery and was the only plant they had... its fall foliage color was fantastic! Larry

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Dave, I really like viburnums in the landscape. There are so many varieties to pick from for just about every location.

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Yes Larry, Autumn Jazz is not an easy one to find bbut I believe it is an offshoot of the older Arrowwood Viburnum. My odaughter-in-law has it, and as you said the fall color is great.


allanbecker-gardenguru said...

Thanks for introducing me to a niche area of landscaping. I had never heard of swale gardening before.

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Hi Allan,

I never had either, but my last house had a huge grassy swale on the side of the house that just begged for some landscaping. It looked so good through the years and still did it's job redirecting the water.


Linda said...

Viburnums have become fast favorites of mine. Love the Anemone Sylvistris also. The white flowers are so pure and fresh.

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Thanks Linda, I really like Viburnums also but I do not have room for the really tall ones.