Yesterday at Desert Rain under a sultry, cloud filled sky, I met with Yvonne Babb and Dorothy Freudenberg. I went to talk about on-site weeds and landscape clean-up. The conversation quickly traveled to education, art, and gardening as the three of us discovered common ground.
Desert Rain and the Living Building Challenge promote education as an element of the project. Yvonne’s business, Your Garden Companion, combines her two passions, education and gardening. She works with her clients to create productive, beautiful landscapes that grow in harmony with the unique Central Oregon climate and soil. Yvonne’s gardening philosophy is a good fit for Desert Rain and the goals of the Living Building Challenge. Yvonne has been gardening with Barb and Tom at their current residence. Her husband, Geoff Babb, from his personal experience in a wheelchair, has been consulting the Desert Rain team on ADA issues. Yvonne came on to the site last year to help with the ‘secret terrace’ garden clean-up, weeding the rye grass, cheat grass, and mustard that are the 3 worst culprits, and start some plantings on the steep, rocky terrain on the west side of the site. Yvonne has started to replace the rye grass with plantings of native Idaho fescue to help stabilize the disturbed soil on the steep terrain. The rocky outcropping is home to some native Rugosa rose, Oregon grape, sage, and bitterbrush, as well as a few rockchucks.
Weed removal is strictly mechanical, pulling by hand to eliminate the use of any harsh or toxic chemicals that would be harmful to the health of humans and existing wildlife. The work is physically demanding but working in crews lightens the load. Dorothy Freudenberg was part of the crew yesterday. Dorothy, a friend of Barb’s, is a photographer, artist, Master Gardener, and today – a weed puller. Part of Dorothy’s artist’s statement on her website (Dorothy Freudenberg Art ) declares she is ‘continually engaging in experimenting and expanding her expressive capabilities’. She appears to be embracing that philosophy with her involvement with Desert Rain as she takes on various tasks to help as needed.
Like every aspect of the Desert Rain project, the landscaping is very much a team effort. Chris Hart-Henderson and Ani Cahill with Heartsprings Design, are the landscape designers for the project. Chris has been involved with the project since the very beginning – advising on existing vegetation, site orientation, and exploring possibilities as the original house design was scrapped and the new design for the Living Building Challenge was embraced. One of the landscape requirements of the LBC is that 35% of the vegetation must be edible to either humans or wildlife. Chris and Ani have incorporated that into the overall plans. On her website, Yvonne states that she ‘integrates native plants and/or vegetables into her projects that encourage wildlife to serve as pollinators, pest control agents, predators and workers in the soil, creating a healthy place for life. Gardening this way on a regular basis is not only a beneficial physical activity, it is a journey of cooperation and learning about what plants and gardening strategies will sustain us into the future.’
A favorite aspect of my job is meeting the people who comprise the Desert Rain Team. With my background in organic gardening, farming, art, and outdoor education, I have found kindred spirits in Chris, Ani, Yvonne and Dorothy. Among gardeners there is often sharing, encouragement, and lending of hands. This is most evident at Desert Rain as many hands and minds collaborate for the good of the project toward the goal of meeting the Living Building Challenge and a sustainable lifestyle. To borrow from Yvonne’s statement: ‘it is a journey of cooperation and learning about what will sustain us into the future’.