Going with the Flow

A landlord and his tenant team up to save rainwater, money, and time.

By Shirley Remes

Photography by Bob Stefko

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Project 7: Gravel Grass
The final project involved replacing a conventional compacted-gravel parking space next to the garage with gravel grass, another type of porous pavement that is little used in the United States. The base consists of gravel mixed with sandy soil (1 part sand to 5 parts soil), which provides good infiltration and is stable enough to bear the weight of a vehicle but does not compact so much that it cannot sustain plant growth. On it, de la Fleur planted a mixture of buffalograss, sideoats grama, fescue, and clover. Besides absorbing water, the advantage of gravel grass is that, when it is not being used, it looks like an extension of the yard because it is green.

Spreading the Word
By the time the men had finished their projects, they had spent about $2,500 in total. People in the community were starting to notice, and the two were asked to show the yard on a local garden tour. De la Fleur realized visitors would have many questions, so he organized the projects into seven stations with handouts explaining what each did and how they put it together. He also created a website, delafleur.com, that has these information sheets and explains every step of the projects and how to do them.

De la Fleur enjoys the teaching aspect: “It’s more persuasive to tangibly show people how they can make a difference.”

And Rush? Although he hasn’t calculated exactly how much money the Elm Avenue property has saved in water, lawn maintenance, and heating and cooling costs, he’s convinced enough to have since installed porous pavement at another of his rental properties and is looking to make the landscape around his own home more sustainable.

“Marcus is one of the extremely few people who wake up every morning thinking about what they can do for the planet,” Rush says. “I’m not that guy. I think I’m more like the typical American. I want to do the green thing but I favor a more practical approach. I want to be green and save money, as well.”

Lessons Learned from Elm Avenue

  • We pay to send water away through our storm-sewer systems and then pay again to bring it back for household uses and watering our lawns.
  • Areas of turfgrass absorb less runoff than a rain garden or bioswale.
  • Rain gardens require less care than lawns because they don’t have to be watered, fertilized, or mowed.
  • The enclosed front porch is now far more livable year-round because the green roof had the unexpected benefit of being a good temperature insulator, lowering heating and cooling bills.
  • Going green can actually cost less. The water in the cistern and rain barrels replaced buying water for irrigation.
  • One person can have an impact by reducing water usage and by demonstrating to others how it can be done.

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