Ponds and Waterfalls of Earth Retreat Gardens
Category: Water Features, Ponds & Aquatics
Garden Design Project: WTFDFI001
Ponds, cascading waterfalls, swimming pools, stone walls and terraced beds with an extraordinary array of plant life can be found in the Earth Retreat Center. This project has created the perfect garden to go to relax and enjoy the natural wildlife at its best.
Captured and reused rainwater cascades down a 60 foot waterfall between terraced beds filled with vegetables, herbs and native ferns. A series of bridges cross the waterfalls between terraces. The waterfall empties into one of seven biological ponds which are swimmable and home to native frogs and salamanders. Native iris douglasiana and other plants which were removed during construction were recycled to new locations on site.
Earth Retreat is a corporation and retreat center located in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. The deeper intention of Earth Retreat is to provide experiences which open and connect people to the natural world. Located on the property is a lodge as well as cabins and campsites. What was lacking was outdoor usable space. The terrain for the most part is very steep and had been previously logged, deterring visitors from using and exploring the central space. There was also limited opportunity to expand planting or incorporate water features due to the poor water producing well on the property. The challenge was to make the central seven acre area usable and beautiful and provide a source of water for irrigation. Everything was to be done organically and with local materials whenever possible.
We began by locating sites for seven large swimming pool sized catchment ponds, and estimating the roof water to deliver more than 120,000 gallons of water a year, in addition to rain water we could gather on site. Because of the tremendous elevation changes we also incorporated biological waterfalls and streams from pool to pool, with the first fall travelling down a steep 100 foot hillside. We linked all the ponds with a common biological filtration system and incorporated solar to power the pumps. Now the ponds are homes to thousands of native frogs and salamanders.
We built terraced vegetable and flower beds with bridges to cross the hundred foot waterfall. We also began to see people feeling free to wander the spaces as they were created. The next step was grading for the ponds, and building more dry stone walls and steps. We laid out sitting areas for small and large groups as well as meditation spaces, and began developing planting areas for edibles, natives and Mediterranean plants. We used organic materials such as compost and mulch from trees on site to begin building the soil. We seeded native meadow barley, clover and lupin for nitrogen, and California poppies and daffodils for sheer joy. We planted orchards of fruit trees, hillside groves of citrus, and installed drip irrigation. Underneath the shade of the fruit trees we planted berries and other edibles. Below the native oaks we planted ribes sanguineum and rhamnus californica, as well as native ferns and aquilegia formosa. We made use of the natural seep areas for native sedges and iris, both douglasiana and ensata. The hillside grasses are mowed several times a year, continuing to support the native grasses and banish the annual invasives.
By the lodge a gathering space for groups was created with a stone seat wall and a spiral meditation walk through low water meadow grasses. Adjacent to the circle is a bridge which leads to a biologically balanced cool dip pond. After a cool dip plunge visitors can enjoy the nearby wood fired hot tub, and a shower that is built into a gigantic eight foot redwood stump. This space is especially used for relaxation after group sessions.
Now when visiting Earth Retreat one can experience the garden changes that occur daily on the way to exploring many different destinations. Visitors can stop to eat fruit and vegetables along the way, swim in the pools, relax by the waterfalls, listen to the thousands of native frogs (and salamanders) who inhabit the ponds, and open to a sense of wonder.
Submitted By: Rebecca J. Dye - Landscape Architect