Our Mission:

Our Mission: To enable individuals and communities to take an active part in the cultivation of systems that provide the highest quality fruits, vegetables, herbs and other yields, in a way that benefits themselves, cares for the land and environment, and provides a surplus to use, share and reinvest into the system.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Epic Backyard Permaculture Retreat p1

Not many projects bring in so many elements onto one property.  This was an ambitious project and one that checks a lot of boxes by integrating stormwater management and permaculture guilds with traditional landscaping elements!

Permaculture design provides a wonderful toolbox to integrate all of these elements into one cohesive design.

In the first part of this project summary, we'll focus on the slope and stormwater issues.

Overlooking this new productive and relaxing backyard space

The site had a very challenging slope that was difficult to enjoy and dangerous to mow.  Also, poor soil quality and grading caused erosion issues and soggy areas in the yard.  Discussions started last fall, and we were able to finish this amazing residential project earlier this year.

Enhanced rain garden near the top of the watershed captures runoff from
the homeowners' roof as well as the problematic runoff from the neighboring
yard which is captured and routed by the dry stream.
A water feature was a must have, with the sound of flowing water the space becomes a feast for all the senses.  Although actually separate from the stormwater solution, the waterfall is situated to appear as part of the stream system that includes the rain garden and final swale.  Bordering the patio, it muffles traffic noise and provides visual and audible appeal.

Pondless waterfall with prairie planting behind

Moving down the slope, the stream separates the lawn from the surrounding plantings.

The swale running along the center path above the apple guild
and last-minute addition of footbridge on the top right

The apple guild includes this swale on contour, which captures runoff from above hydrating the plants below; and will also act as a pathway for excess runoff during major rain events.  The access paths (dark mulch) also follow the contour preventing erosion.  Also keeping them on contour makes them easier to navigate.

Final spillway for the rain garden, stream and swale system

The other side of the house was even steeper and more dangerous to mow.  It got a native planting makeover with more pollinator habitat and less mowing on the steep grade.  Boulder retaining walls with limestone stairs make accessing the backyard easy from this side, too.

#fruitguilds #raingarden #prairie #pollinator

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

How Much Rain Did We Get?

I've determined that recent rainfall accumulation is a difficult thing to find on the internet. 

It might be too dark or far to see your rain gauge from the house, or you didn't notice the crack in it before... (or you might not want to go check it with your PJs on and sneak back to bed!) 

Many otherwise great weather apps are filled with current conditions and 7/10-day forecasts. Unfortunately, this isn't helpful when trying to determine watering schedules or if a site is going to be too muddy for work.

This website has been great!

You can zoom in to your home or jobsite location and select rainfall totals for up to three days back.

The site uses Doppler radar technology to provide very accurate estimates of accumulated precipitation.  Their maps will display on almost all smartphones, tablets and computers.  I've had great comparisons with my own and customers' rain gauges.


Monday, October 24, 2022

Backyard Food Forest - Polk City

We do a fair amount of landscaping focusing on a specific problem such as erosion, pollinator gardens or stormwater management. But...

Permaculture is our passion!

Permaculture is an ethics-based design science rooted in observation of natural ecosystems and mimicking those in productive landscapes.  Food forests and diverse backyard orchards are a big part of that, while also offering opportunities for stormwater management, pollinator habitat and valuing and protecting resources, like topsoil and water.

Mixed orchard with productive & beneficial understory

This project was one of our bigger residential installs last year and included a small orchard.  
A lot of wood chips were spread,
many hands make light work

Young Hazel and Aronia hedge
behind the pollinator garden loop

A bird friendly pollinator garden was located near the house for visibility, and near enough to support the mixed orchard plantings.  A native hedge provides privacy and habitat, with hazelnuts and aronia - the latter a nutritional powerhouse with great fall color as well.  


River birch, dogwoods and grasses
On the other side, a strawberry patch was included expanding the garden, and privacy was enhanced in this perennial wet spot with native trees and prairie plants.

Before - wet

We even got a first-hand look at the standing water there during the install!
"Dash Cam" screenshot

Standing water, potted plants waiting to go in

Before - struggling grass
In the narrow woodland along the back the grass was thin, hard to maintain and also required lots of trimming around the trees.

We added in native understory plantings like columbine, woodland phlox and ferns, as well as some raspberries and blackberries. A wood chip nature path provides access and recreation.

From the orchard into "the woods" on the mulch path

I am excited to share more projects, including permaculture inspired yards from this season, in upcoming posts!

For now, I'll leave you an image from a past presentation with Bill Mollison's definition of Permaculture.  Bill Mollison is the co-founder, along with David Holmgren, of the Permaculture movement.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Dappled Shade Refuge

A whole new look

These Urbandale homeowners really wanted their backyard to be a relaxing, usable space that felt natural and serene.  With a rambunctious young dog, and a large Ash tree shading most of the yard, grass was really a struggle to grow here, and they were beyond frustrated with the mud.

Before pics

The fence was also really in disrepair and with more dogs next door, they needed something better for a safety barrier and peace of mind.  You can also see the downspout pipe temporarily helping with the mud and drainage issues.  Several neighboring yards had rainwater runoff directed along the rear property line as well.

Our solution was to use a dry stream bed to direct water through the low spot, keeping the water in a designated place.  Functional, yet decorative, stone and boulders armored the channel.  Native plants were used along the stream and in the terminal rain garden to mimic the natural appearance of an intermittent stream and vernal pond. 

Although shaded, this area does get some sun, so our palette was limited but not terribly so.  Turtlehead, purple coneflower, blazingstar and sedges were included.  The rain garden will hold and sink most rains, keeping stormwater runoff from other yards and the sewer system or local streams.

Plants waiting to go in

You can see the new cedar privacy fence going in at this stage too.  It matches the one on the other side that we put in several years ago.  Cedar is naturally decay resistant and smells great!

Plantings allow the stream to meander, yet keep the turf edge
straight for ease of care

Finally, the remaining yard was sodded with fescue for quick coverage with a more shade tolerant turfgrass.  We also over seeded with an additional fescue/bluegrass seed blend for resiliency.  Overseeding each Fall with a blend of fescues, some perennial ryegrass, and one that also includes new shade tolerant bluegrass varieties, like Sabre III™, will help maintain this lawn long term.

Native woodland plants were used in the shadier foundation plantings to tie the space together with the woodland edge theme.  Plants included woodland phlox, wild ginger, columbine and ferns.  Corners were softened to make mowing quick and easy.

Stream close-up with echinacea color popping 

Another angle

Rain Garden in the corner, dappled shade

Saturday, June 4, 2022

It's Sunday!

I've long been an advocate for healthier people, cleaner water and protecting our soil!

That's why I'm super excited to partner with and share Sunday, a newer lawn care company that helps empower everyone to grow better, healthier, greener spaces today, and for generations to come. 

Sunday is dedicated to changing the world one yard at a time!

Each Sunday product is created to support the entire lawn ecosystem - by working with nature, not against it, and using leading-edge science to get back to how nature is supposed to work.

Sunday lawn care products use better, simpler ingredients (with names you can pronounce) to boost active grass growth and cultivate rich, living soil for a healthy, more self sustaining lawn.

Sunday also has effective and easy to use products for weed and pest control that use carefully selected ingredients with your family in mind.

Go to getsunday.com now, use code


and you'll get 20% off your cart!

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Slope fix, No retaining wall

This project started with a call from the homeowner who had a dangerous slope to mow with potential for erosion issues.  Although the last few years were very busy, we were able to fit this mid-summer project in when we happened to be working nearby.

The homeowner wanted something to hold the bank stable, without a retaining wall and pollinator friendly if possible.  But not something too wild looking...

Little Bluestem to the rescue!  This hardy native grass has a nice blue-green color in summer and will spread to hold the bank in place.  It grows to about three feet tall with a fibrous root system.  A selection of native wildflowers, lower diversity for a 'tidy' appearance, will give the bees and butterflies something to enjoy as well.

For this one, we stripped the existing sod, evened out the grade across the slope, added in prairie grasses & wildflowers, mulched and also tried a new trick (similar to these products at Amazon affiliate link) to hold the mulch in place until the plants fill in.  

This new little patch of 'prairie' with Little Bluestem's fall colors of copper to crimson, and wildflower blooms will give this space year long interest to the homeowners and passing traffic on this somewhat busy intersection (which made for an interesting installation).

Before - not too bad on this end, but...

I wouldn't want to mow that either!

Monday, April 25, 2022

Save Money, Secure Food, Start a Garden

This is a great year to start that garden you've always thought about!

Bill Mollison, co-founder of Permaculture

With rising inflation, due to a multitude of issues - supply chain problems, lost productivity during the pandemic catching up, and efforts to stimulate a lagging economy - growing a garden can help reduce food costs.

Sure, brand new stylish cedar raised beds will cost a lot to get started, especially with current lumber prices.  Wood scraps can also be found if you know where to look, or build one out of used pallets.  Look for the "HT" stamp which means Heat-Treated for durability instead of chemically treated.  The gardens built with these may not last as long, but they will get you started and can be replaced easily after a few seasons.

But also skipping that step and adding new in ground garden, or adding soil on top of cardboard can be a great lower cost option.

Lasagna Beds in Beaverdale

Upcycled garage doors used in raised beds

Increasingly bare shelves, with a seemingly random rotation of available products, eggs and chicken (even before the bird flu) to fresh fruit and vegetables, are causing some to think of new/old ways to get through temporary, but increasingly longer, grocery shortages.  This can definitely can be alleviated with some homegrown produce, neighborhood veggie swaps and farmers market items.

Also, with a stressed food supply, every calorie you grow and consume, is one less calorie this system has to provide. The more people do this, the more pressure it takes off the food system and supply chains - our friends the farmers, truck drivers and retail workers.  Even if you live in an apartment a few herbs or tomatoes growing on a sunny deck or patio makes a difference.

A few dollars in seeds can yield many, many times that in food savings!

You can take pride in what you've helped provide, get the health benefits of soil & being outside with dirt on your hands, and you may even pick up a new hobby!

Raised beds in Windsor Heights

Geoff Lawton Online

Friday, April 22, 2022

Happy Earth Day 2022

Happy Earth Day!

It's a 'soggy' one out there today!

One way to help care for the planet is by putting in a Rain Garden like this one in Johnston.
They capture stormwater and soak runoff into the ground, instead of letting it rush into the storm sewers.
Full Rain Garden in Early Spring

That helps prevent chocolate milk looking streams (below) that pollute rivers downstream with sediment.
Sediment laden suburban stream

For more Earth Day posts from previous years, click

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Happy Easter 2022

 Happy Easter everyone!

These are such a fun plant to grow, and due to the loss of shortgrass prairie ecosystems, the population of Pulsatilla patens, or Pasque Flower, is declining.  Growing some in our yards can help support the native insects that rely on them.

Pasque flower on our sidewalk prairie

Blooming early makes it a nice addition of color to somewhat drab, early native landscapes.  

The Pasque Flowers common name is derived from the Hebrew word for Passover, "pasakh", and refers to it's Easter flowering period.

I hope you have a blessed week!