Friday, 19 August 2022

Water Worries and Drought Tolerant Plants - A Summer Update from Shipka

This summer has been incredibly hot and dry, and even some of the older and more established trees have looked under strain. With increasing periods of hot and dry weather and pressure on both the mains water supply and our perennial source from the river, designing our gardens to be as resilient as possible seems the best way forward. During this post, we'll be looking at the challenges we've faced this season with our usual water supply and take a look at some useful drought tolerant plants that have faired well in dry and hot conditions.



Our project is located in the town of Shipka on the foothills of the Balkan mountains in central Bulgaria. As such our gardens have a gradient that means we can benefit from a gravity-fed perennial water source, a local mountain steam.  The stream water can be diverted into purpose-built cement channels that run down the sides of many of the streets and under roads, making this water accessible for many households. It can also be diverted into the fields. It's an incredible system although somewhat neglected. All of our gardens were designed to take advantage of this resource.  In the image below you can see the main path of the stream through the mountain, and then the diversion created. The highlighted plot here is one of our gardens, Phronesis. There is approximately a 3m drop from the north to the south of the plot and the slope is more or less even from east to west. 


The mountain stream can be diverted into the site from the north

We then bring the water directly into the site using gravity to distribute it across the areas to passively irrigate the site via water channels that are convex and hand dug with a mattock and spade. These channels need maintenance and redefining at the start of the season, and clearing out the debris more regularly, ideally before each irrigation. Fallen fruit, leaves, and twigs often cause localized blockages that need clearing.

This year there has been an increase in demand for the water with the appearance of corn fields in the valley, a lower flow generally due to less precipitation, and general disorganization in terms of whose turn it actually is to irrigate. A lot of time is wasted on the latter, as it takes at least an hour for the water to reach the gardens sometimes, by which point someone else diverts it into their own garden and the flow stops. We have actually been unable to get the water into Aponia, the forest garden this year, due to a poor flow caused by a channel blocked by building rubble.  A digger and permission are now required to excavate it. However, the established plants in the forest garden are coping remarkably well, evidence that these systems seem to be pretty resilient. This is because collectively plant communities such as woodland influence the environment in their favour by constantly improving the nutrient content of soils, creating humic substances via decomposition of biomass that helps store more water in the soils, and by provisioning for their non-plant allies. 


The established trees growing on the berms in the forest garden are doing quite well despite the intense heat and long periods without rain 

More isolated trees such as this Pyrus communis - Pear are doing less well without the support of neighboring plants


Sorbus aucuparia - Rowan full of  berries this year


Despite all the challenges, when the system is working well it's a beautiful thing indeed :)



With water being such a hot topic it seems sensible to start including more drought tolerant plants in our designs. Here are a few plants that we have found to stand up to dry conditions incredibly well.

Tansy - Tanecetum vulgare

Tansy provides a number of benefits in the garden. We have the plant scattered around the garden on sunny edges and within gaps in the trees to take full advantage of these benefits. The plant accumulates potassium and is very useful to fruit trees. Its strong scent confuses pests masking the smell of food plants that they find attractive and an insecticidal spray can be made from the plant biomass. These photos were taken after a couple of months of no rain, although these plants were watered every 2 weeks, they still remain remarkably resilient to drought.


Autumn Olive - Elaeagnus umbellata

The Autumn Olive is  fast growing has Nitrogen Fixing capabilities and when planted with fruit trees is said to increase the overall yield of the orchard by 10% whilst themselves producing a yield of delicious berries.  We have used this plant as an under story shrub on a south facing edge in our forest garden and within an edible hedge. For more on some of the Elaeagnus species see our previous post here.


Elaeagnus Umbellata - Autumn Olive. This particular plant was planted out last Autumn by the ESC volunteers and has coped well with considerable neglect and dry conditions this year.

Silk tree - Albizia julibrissin

The silk tree is a welcome edition to the ecological garden as it is both highly ornamental and multi functional.  It produces beautiful pink rose blooms which remain for much of the summer and are then replaced by striking seed pods that hang on the tree for much of the winter.  It is easily grown in well-drained but moist soils in the full sun to light shade, although the best flowering result occurs in full sun.  The silk tree is a nitrogen fixer and tolerates a high pH, saline soils, high winds and drought. This year we have seen several specimens in cities throughout Bulgaria and all have looked healthy and happy in the relentless heat and long periods without rain. 



Golden Rain Tree - Koelreuteria paniculata

Koelreuteria paniculata, commonly called Golden Raintree, is a small, open-branching, irregularly-shaped, deciduous tree with a rounded crown which is often grown as an attractive small shade tree. It does not like to grow in the shade, so is best suited to a site which receives full sun for long periods. It also tolerates drought and can withstand hot summer temperatures, making it an excellent choice for low-water gardens. We have successfully planted it at the top of our street, where several other trees have failed. It receives no attention at all yet looks incredibly healthy.




This summer we've had some friends of Dylan and Archie's from Wales staying for a couple of weeks. Nothing like a group of young men to help out with some of the heavier garden work in between their social activities, including digging out the water channels on both sides of Shipka. Thanks guys!

Louie doing some pruning 

Tristan weeding the Asparagus bed

Louie, Osian and Susannah helping to water

Iker shaping the canopy


Some of you may remember last year during the ESC volunteer project that the group helped to design an amenity planting polyculture for the central park area. We decided on a 'Butterfly Paradise' Polyculture, in which all the plants selected were to have the primary function of attracting butterflies to the park. The plants we selected were:


Almost one year on and the plants are settling into the polyculture. The Echinacea is the only plant that didn't make it and a new one will be planted out this autumn. The location has worked well, as it is right next to a tap where other plants are irrigated regularly and so receives fairly regular irrigation.




Here's a few shots from the gardens and around :)


L. macaronius - Owlfly (thanks Danka Dragomir for the ID)

Typha latifolia - Common Bulrush

The ducks in the home garden enjoy foraging for worms when the water comes in


One of the trial gardens, Phronesis. The young plants and trees were predated upon by local goats and horses, but fortunately this year we were able to fence the area. In autumn we will complete some Advance Planting Preparation (APP) and also plant out some young trees.


Ataraxia garden which has also fallen prey to grazing animals, however this year not, and many of the plants have put on decent growth. The main stress for the plants this year has been a lack of water with a poor flow in the mountain stream 


Поздрави от Шипка!

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Want to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes?  Join us for our Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course from May 1st to Sep 13th, 2023. 

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and right now we have a 20% discount on the full enrollment fees. Just use the promo code
 RLD2023 in the section of the registration form to receive your discount. 

We are looking forward to providing you with this unique online learning experience - as far as we know, the very first of its kind. If you are thinking of reasons why you should do this course and whether this course is suitable for you, take a look here where we lay it all out. Looking forward to it!

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We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture, forest gardens, and regenerative landscapes including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. - Give a happy plant a happy home :)


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Thursday, 14 July 2022

Street Plants of Barcelona and Park Güell - Spain - Summer 2022

Coming at it from a floraphile's perspective, one of the most striking things about Barcelona is the diversity of street trees and under-plantings within the city, especially so in the newer developed areas. During this post, we'll take a look at some of the street plants in the marvelous city of Barcelona and one of the most unusual parks you're likely to visit, Gaudi's, Park Güell.



Avenue plantings are common across the city streets with La Rambla (more of a very long plaza than an actual street) (left photo) probably being the most famous, planted with Platanus orientalis. In fact, La Rambla was one of the first areas of the city with a record of being planted with trees. In 1702 and 1703, 280 poplars were planted, which were cut down shortly after and replaced with alternating poplars and elms which were eventually replaced by the Planes. 


Magnolia grandiflora - Southern Magnolia is used frequently and sometimes interplanted with Prunus cerisifera  'Nigra' - Purple Plum. These evergreen trees originally from the southeastern United States look right at home in the city and are utilized by bikers to keep their bikes out of the high summer sun.
 

While digging around for some info on Barcelona's street trees I found this image that shows that wide roads with multiple rows of trees have been a feature of the city since the earliest designs.

Cross-section of fifty-metre-wide streets. Historical Archive of Barcelona

Although many of the streets are not quite this wide, spaces have been allocated for plants more often than not and this makes the majority of the city very pleasant to stroll around, even during the heat of summer.  I usually feel like a rat in a maze in cities that are predominantly laid out on a grid but the green spaces within the roads and the many small parks and leafy plazas work really well. Here you can see an example of the polyculture plantings in beds.,  beside the road. Ficus carica cv. - Fig under Stone Pine in the image of the right and Yucca under Prunus cerisifera  'Nigra' - Purple Plum on the left. A non-fruiting Morus alba - White Mulberry features heavily around the plazas and parks too.


Hackberry - Celtis occidentalis is a very popular street tree in Barcelona. Here you can see them lining the streets of Casa Milà. The fruits of these plants are edible and have a very sweet tasting black/dark brown shell when fully ripe but are mostly composed of a large round seed  



Sant Martí


The district of Sant Martí has some of the best street plantings I've seen in a city. A lot of the planting is probably no more than 10 years old as the area has developed from old industrial to modern residential.    


The planting schemes in Provençals del Poblenou include a diversity of herbaceous perennials arranged in sunken beds and graded to capture rainwater runoff from the surrounding area. The result is both functional and beautiful     


My favorite example is the pavement planting around an Industrial section of the neighborhood.  A succession of flowering herbaceous perennials many of which look great even after flowering during the senescence phase. The herbs are planted between thorn-less Gleditsia triacanthos Honey Locust trees 8 m apart.   


I did not have time to identify all of the plants but at a glance, they appear to be native Mediterranean herbaceous perennials and selected for wildlife-attracting properties.   


It really is amazing how transformative plants can be. Most people would probably not even notice the plant diversity but almost certainly they will feel the comfort of this planting scheme that softens the concrete grids and rectangular high rise blocks  


I spent a considerable amount of the time in the narrow streets of Gràcia, where I was staying. Even within these narrow streets, you can find trees planted, mostly Prunus cerisifera  'Nigra' - Purple Plum, Ligustrum lucidum, and Citrus spp.  Along with the majority of balcony plants and street planters,  it's quite charming.    




Many streets have planters, most planted with Ruscus aculeatus - Butcher's-broom or Asparagus spp. but a few of them are populated with polycultures.  


There is an excellent list of trees suitable for growing in Barcelona, from Street Tree Management in Barcelona (pg 49). Although the list is specifically for guiding street tree selection it will probably be useful for all growers in and around the coastal areas of Cataluña.  The table lists the Latin nomenclature, the common name in Catalan, Spanish, and English, the size of the tree, its preferred placement (street, open area, or park), the permanence of the leaves (evergreen or deciduous), and its suitability in Barcelona as a street tree planted in tree pits. The tree form and cultivars are also provided. 


Park Guell 


I cannot think of a place on earth where one person's art is so prolifically on display, all the time, everywhere as Barcelona, the artist being Antonio Gaudi of course. Even as you fly into the city La Sagrada Familia stands proudly, clearly visible.  Above Gracia, on the mountainside, you can find a park designed by Gaudi and where he eventually lived. Nowadays it's teeming with tourists but vast enough to escape the city and enjoy the plants and view from the high ground. 


There are a wide variety of plant species in the gardens, including olive trees, oaks, pine trees, carob trees, brooms, magnolias, wisteria, and aromatic plants, such as rosemary and lavender. The park's woodland is predominantly dense areas of Aleppo pines, sometimes mixed with stone pines.


Agapanthus and Pistacia lentiscus are used for ground cover under the Olives and Pines. The Pistacia lentiscus, when coppiced and kept trimmed,  does a great job at ground cover especially so on dry slopes, and probably produces a good deal of biomass too.   


Woven into the garden are various buildings and structures that give the place a theme park vibe. Musicians set up around the structures, some solo, some in bands. There was a fantastic flamenco band playing in the shade under the arches during my visit.   


Gaudí's pioneered hallmark mosaic design technique, called Trencar is evident throughout the garden. Trencar, equivalent to “to break” in Catalan, creates mosaic forms and shapes by putting together broken ceramic tiles, plates, and cups. It was first used by Gaudí, for decorating Park Güell. 




In 1906, Gaudi moved into the house in Park Güell with his elderly father and niece. The house on the mountainside has a great view of the city, overlooking La Sagrada Familia, another of Gaudi's masterpieces, started in19 March 1882, and is due to be completed in 2026.  


A very important part of any garden is spaces where organic matter can be accumulated, composted, and reapplied back onto the soil as a mulch. Having these deposit areas spaced evenly across a site and, strategically placed to reduce the distance traveling back and forth, will make it much more comfortable to manage the garden. Making areas big enough to comfortably move around with whatever machinery is required and, large enough to store over the maximum quantity of expected biomass,  is a good design. Park Guell has a few of these spacious deposit areas with various piles of organic matter and mulches in different stages of decomposition.


In the next post, I'll introduce some Gardens of Montjuic Mountain - and a permaculture community garden in Porta.
 

Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course 


Want to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes?  Join us for our Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course from May 1st to Sep 13th, 2023. 

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and right now we have a 20% discount on the full enrollment fees. Just use the promo code
 RLD2023 in the section of the registration form to receive your discount. 

We are looking forward to providing you with this unique online learning experience - as far as we know, the very first of its kind. If you are thinking of reasons why you should do this course and whether this course is suitable for you, take a look here where we lay it all out. Looking forward to it!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture, forest gardens, and regenerative landscapes including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. - Give a happy plant a happy home :)


Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Support Our Project 




If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

  • Comment, like, and share our content on social media.
  • Donate directly via PayPal to balkanecologyproject@gmail.com or via FTX Pay