217) Rainwater Harvest Waterfall Feature

by Gail on July 21, 2014


rainwater harvesting stream1

Whenever we tour new visitors around our house and yard (quite a common occurrence here), there’s a lot of interest in our water feature.

We have quite an elevation drop from the entry level to the back yard.before waterfall

So, to indulge ourselves myself with a luxury, we hired a rainwater harvesting contractor to build a waterfall and stone steps down to the lower level.

It’s not only pretty to hear and look at – it is practical, too. We harvest and store rainwater to flush toilets and to water the garden. The waterfall adds oxygen as it circulates the water through the system.waterfall pond.jpg

Although this post from four years ago gives a sketchy description of the cistern/waterfall set-up, I was never able to take pictures, because I was in Europe while it was being built.

But I have found some old photos taken by the builders (Endless Rain, no longer in business), and can now give a pictorial of how the water feature was built, and also how my plantings have matured – many tweaks four years in the making.

We chose heavy 24-gauge steel for our roof so that the rainwater would stay clean (and so the roof would last longer than we will!)house with metal roof.jpg

The eavestrough and downspouts drain into this filtered catchment basin. (I clean the filters by spraying with a hose twice a year.)catchment basin

From the basin, rain is carried to the pond, where it tumbles down the hill into our cistern.waterfall.jpg

This photo shows the excavation and hardscaping of the stream that preceded covering by a heavy-duty rubber pond liner, and more large stones on the edges.waterfall layout

Following is how the cistern was built. A large (11 feet square by 5 feet deep) depression was excavated.cistern excavation

Pump housing and a “centipede” were installed beside the cistern.tank and centipede

It houses a sump pump and a tank gauge to measure the water level.cistern guage

If the water level falls below 25%, there is a pump shutoff switch to turn the waterfall off to preserve the water for toilet flushing.pump shutoff switch

The cistern was lined with heavy-duty landscape felt, more of the pool liner, and more of the felt (we don’t want any sharp objects, like stones, to pierce the rubber.)

64 of these “Aquablox” (they remind me of dairy cases) were assembled and piled into the excavation, to hold the shape and size of the 2000-gallon cistern.Aquablox

Aquablox installedLandscape cloth, then 1″ gravel covered the Aquablox. The builders said the Aquablox were strong enough to drive a dumptruck on. I guess I will have to accept that claim, as I have no evidence to the contrary!covering cistern with gravel

This photo shows where the stream just disappears into the cistern, like magic.waterfall end

During the hot summers, when we have no rain for 3 weeks, the high demand for water for toilet flushing (more house guests) and garden irrigation will drain the cistern. Then, I have to put municipal tap water into the well. I think it would be better to have a second 2000-gallon cistern, because in the rainy winter months here, we could certainly fill both with rainwater. Any excess rainwater overflows into the storm water system.

From the cistern, a 1/2 horsepower pump pushes the water up the 12-foot elevation to the “Biofalls filter” behind the studio,

top of waterfall.jpg whence it falls back into the cistern, there to continue its endless journey, until it can be released into the garden or the toilets. After 3 years’ sporadic use (we don’t run the water feature full-time), that pump failed, and the manufacturer did not replace it (only 1 year warranty) nor give any concession for its poor service. But, because we knew it worked, we replaced it with the same model.

The on-demand pump and pressure tank for irrigation and toilets, housed in our crawl space,  pulls rainwater out of the cistern and into the house’s system.pond & toilet pump

Because it’s not potable/clean water, a separate plumbing system (using red pipes) had to be built during house construction, for the toilets.red and white plumbing

The original pump installed by Endless Rain (a Walrus TQ400 1/2 HP) was inadequate to lift the water 25 feet to all the toilets, so DHC Plumbing installed a different one that handles the task.

You can tell that this system has proven to be costly beyond expectations.

Here’s a “way” Before & After of the landscape:stream yard before & after

All in an effort to use less water in our Green home. No one ever said that building green would be cost efficient, that’s for sure!

After construction, but before any plantings:waterfall area from studio

Here’s a Before & After the plants have grown:before & after stream plantings

But at least we have this great waterfall as a real asset in our landscape. That’s nothing to sneeze at.waterfall2.jpg

rainwater harvesting stream.jpg

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216) Patio Plantings

by Gail on June 24, 2014

Our patio has been functional for a few months now, and we have even had a few pizza parties. I haven’t yet reported on the plantings around it, so this post outlines my rationale for the landscape design.

table centre flowersPatio before & afterIt’s a challenging slope – maybe 50 degrees. WWOOFers (WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and I have weeded, pulled, hacked, cut (ourselves and the weeds) broom, BLACKBERRY, grasses with great deep roots, horsetail, and other minor weeds (I wonder what the lesser weeds would think about that put-down?) more than once from the same notorious slope. We have unearthed a metal gate, broken-up pavement, whole rotting logs and construction wood, various garden pots, a couple of well-rusted carpenters’ tools, beer cans and bottles, and a partial pair of eyeglasses. We found the hydro pole box, which has been missing for years.

patio area before

We’re fortunate to have two healthy arbutus trees at the top of the slope, and a cedar part-way down. Their root systems will help to stabilize the soil where we have dug and battered it.patio planting

How to prevent weeds from taking over again? I have started by spiking heavy-duty landscape cloth over the slope and a combination of cardboard and landscape cloth over the flatter sections.lady's mantle ready to plant

In the landscaping fraternity/sorority, there appears to be a real bias against landscape weed barrier cloth. The common wisdom is that seeds come from above, not from below the cloth. I contend that the worst weeds (blackberry, grasses, and horsetail) DO come from below – their roots run laterally and deep and it’s quite impossible to get them all, even if your slope isn’t 50 degrees. Disturbed soil is particularly susceptible, because the broken roots/rhizomes react with a survival instinct, by sending out many new shoots at each break.

I actually enjoy weeding, contemplative but lonely a pursuit as it is. But, there is a limit to the amount of weeding (and the kind of weeding) that I want to do. I envision myself reading in the patio hammock some day, not weeding.patio spring

My plan is to plant mostly native species around the patio, to crowd out/shade out the invasive and introduced species. A year ago, I planted seeds of Oregon grape, and they have sprouted.oregon grape seedlings

I planted those and forest ferns such as sword fern – they stay green through the winter, and will help to stabilize the slope.

Thought has been given to where the sun sets – red Japanese maple will filter the evening light on that side of the patio.

maple in meditation garden

japanese maples

My colour theme for the front yard is red and white, so I have bought and been gifted red and white flowering shrubs (rhodies, a magnolia, peonies, some dahlias).


I must remind myself of the lessons I have learned about mature trees and shrubs, and try not to overcrowd my new plantings.

Thought has also been given to planting for privacy. The centre of the patio is visible from the street and from the neighbours’ house. We need those trees and shrubs to grow tall enough to provide some sense of enclosure.

I place the potted plants in likely spots to audition them for location. Lady’s mantle along the ramp – I love the way the leaves hold droplets of water.lady's mantel

front yard from patioThen get them out of their pots (not always easy – one or two we’ll have to break the pot) and plant them.

plant audition

A thick layer of mulch to a) cover up the ugly landscape cloth, b) replicate the forest floor, and c) keep weeds down.grape vine and maple

A male and female kiwi plant and two grapevines will grow up the posts and quickly fill in the top trellis to give us shade in the summer.patio after.jpg


This is the last post in the Patio Series. Here are the other posts in the series: Patio Preliminaries, Patio Progress, Patio Pour, Patio Posts, Patio Pierres, Patio Purniture, Patio Pinally Pinished, and Patio Pizza (you can see I got a little crazy on Palliteration!)

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