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The Prince of Swales

Our mission at Mezzacello is Grow, Maintain, Sustain, Explain. Having to water the formal garden constantly is a violation of at least three of these tenets. So to solve this, we have become the Prince of Swales.

While we were designing the gardens at Mezzacello we took the time to arrange the beds to maximize irrigation and water flow. We also dug trenches beneath the beds and lined them with straw, twigs, rocks and river gravel. The surface area of the rocks and twigs holds a large amount of water.

When it rains, the swales refill and release their water naturally. The soil at Mezzacello is heavy alluvial clay, so it holds water well, but when it dries it cracks quickly. The swale keeps all the plants capable of getting their roots to the swale green and healthy and minimizes the amount of watering required.

The Prince of Swales
An illustration of a swale.

On the edges of all the formal beds, mounds of mounding monkey grass (lariope) capture and redirect water to the interiors of the beds and towards the swales. These swales work in conjunction with other permaculture systems, like Hugelkultur and Lasagna Beds very well. And they save time and help to lock CO2 into the ground.

Secondary Benefits

The second benefit of the swale is that it favors plants that can regulate their water efficiently. Some plants just didn’t make it. We know better now.

We raise boxwoods, peonies, poppies, alliums, gladiolus, foxglove, lariope, knockout roses, quince, hornbeams, Lenten rose, pachysandra, lilac, and anemone. All of these plants have adapted well to the swale system at Mezzacello. That leaves us free to decorate the gardens with show pieces staged in pots with swale reservoirs built in.

Mounded monkey grass drives water towards the swales.

This makes the gardens appear more exotic and formal. It is also far more sustainable and enjoyable. Oh and much easier to maintain as well — so we can focus on the growing part!

Peace and Pride

There is no greater sense of peace and pride than living in a garden that matches your ambition and your ability. The pride of knowing the system you built is lush, functional, sustainable and manageable is fulfilling. The formal gardens at Mezzacello are an important part of the enclosed sustainable ecosystems that comprise the gardens.

These garden ecosystems provide us beauty and shade. They feed our souls with their serenity and privacy. Ultimately this ecosystem feeds our bodies with the compost and fruits, roots, and flowers.

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