Accurate rain measurement crucial to gardening

06/06/2014 11:39 AM

08/06/2014 11:47 AM

Earlier this spring, as rain showers skipped around Wichita, hitting some areas and leaving others high and dry, the need for rain gauges was more apparent than usual.

You may be at work downtown during the day, for example, enjoying a downpour, and assuming your garden in northwest Wichita is enjoying the same benefits. But is it getting the same amount of rain, or less, or more, or, worst of all, none?

In addition to answering the did-it-rain-here question, rain gauges can save water, assuring you the lawn got its inch of rain for the week, so you don’t have to worry about turning the sprinklers on.

I was due for a new rain gauge this spring. They are one of those old-fashioned items that I relish buying, playing into my love of the weather, and reminding me of the farm I never grew up on (must have been the books I read as a kid).

As I contemplated my rain-gauge options at the garden centers and hardware stores — glass test tubes hanging from decorative garden stakes, unfancy plastic vials for attaching to a deck (which I don’t have) — I saw a possible answer as I previewed the garden tour that is this weekend in Newton and North Newton.

One of the beneficial side effects of garden tours, as I’ve said before, is the drive or walk between stops. In this particular case, I was on my way to one house when I spotted a galvanized tub serving as a container garden near the curb of a house in the same cul-de-sac. The container held a small arched trellis as a backdrop for flowers, and a rain gauge was attached to the trellis. I love seeing this kind of simple but creative thinking, which always reminds me of my favorite way to kill bugs on plants: Remove and squash.

The Newton tour is one of two in the area this weekend, the other being the North Riverside tour, on Saturday only, in Wichita.

Three houses are on the Newton/North Newton tour, along with a community garden at Bethel College. The Sand Creek Community Gardens on East 29th overlook open land on one side and a red barn on the other. The gardens feature rose and flower beds, and the rented plots, which are tended by families in town alongside students in school, are full of asparagus and onions and other vegetables, some of them growing in nice raised beds.

Nearby, Ruth and Sam Wellman live in a house at 200 E. 24th that used to belong to Bethel College. The backyard is bordered mainly in perennials, which are marked with their names, and there is also a rose border, and an arbor where a hummingbird feeder, fountain and red honeysuckle vines draw hummingbirds.

Just to the south in Newton, Betty and Dewayne Pauls at 6 Hickory Court have a large backyard with raised beds, a rose garden, a pool and colorful birdhouses that Dewayne and his grandsons have made. Nearby, Mark and Linda Frazier, at 4 Hawthorne Court, have what their grandchildren call the “Quiet Forest” (from a “Dora the Explorer” episode) between the front courtyard wall and the house. The yard has five varieties of spruce, the backyard with a pool, restrooms (brilliant!) and a cozy covered seating area.

Ruth Wellman has some secrets for keeping the garden lively.

“I like to intersperse yellow because it catches the sun and is eye-catching,” Ruth Wellman told me. “When other things aren’t in bloom, something yellow is in bloom.” A large swath of lime-green creeping Jenny also brightens up a shade border. Ruth also hangs colorful birdhouses where the garden needs some pop.

She always uses a couple of different kinds of mulch for contrast — and cost savings — in her yard. She uses fluffy Grade A cedar mulch from Stone Creek Nursery of Hesston around her perennials and roses. It protects her plants, and she likes the look of it. “It’s more refined,” Ruth said. It’s also more expensive than the lighter-colored cypress mulch that she uses on the walkways. She gets on her hands and knees and scratches around with a hand rake each spring before putting down new mulch.

“It lets me know the amount of mulch that’s here, and I can add to it.” Some years the mulch decomposes faster than in others. Ruth starts it off fresh in the spring at a depth of about 3 inches.

Last weekend, I failed to get my new mulch put down, but I did finally settle on a rain gauge. It’s a pretty basic but hefty plastic gauge with stake attached that would not have met my former must-be-cute standards but does meet my current feels-like-home requirement. I plunged it into the ground in front of a hedge of spurge right before the sky opened Sunday night. I felt confident the next morning when I poured out .65 inch of water. It’s so nice not to have to guess anymore.

Garden tour talks

The Newton-North Newton tour will feature talks at each of the gardens on both days. Here’s the schedule:

• Landscape using water-wise principles by Gary Moore, at 10:15 and 10:45 a.m. Saturday and 2:45 and 3:15 p.m. Sunday, 4 Hawthorne Ct., Newton
• Heritage gardens by Rosie Goering Brandt, at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and 1:45 p.m. Sunday, 6 Hickory Ct., Newton
• Backyard birding by Rod Wedel, at 10 a.m. Saturday and 2:15 p.m. Sunday, 6 Hickory Ct., Newton
• Selecting the best genetics for Kansas by Ben Miller of Stutzman’s Greenhouse & Garden Center, 11 and 11:30 a.m. Saturday, 200 E. 24th, North Newton
• Community gardening by Duane Friesen, 9:30 and 10 a.m. Saturday and 3:30 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Sand Creek Community Gardens at Bethel College, North Newton

About Annie Calovich

Annie writes about home and garden, including her Bit of Earth column on Saturdays. She has been at The Eagle since 1985, working as a copy editor, a nation/world editor and a reporter. She’s a KU graduate who started out at The Coffeyville Journal.

Contact Annie at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com

Follow Annie on Twitter: @AnnieCalovich

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