Irises and rain barrels
Smoothing anecdote into narrative
With an umbrella held over my head, I walked around our yard making videos of puddles.
Like many houses in St. Louis, our house sits above the street. The erosion in our yard has been minor enough that we've been able to postpone addressing it to improve other aspects of our home, but last Thursday I finally set out to gather information to help me decide what to do.
Before taking my rainy walk, I had a notion of the trouble spots. I had seen water running from downspouts as I would dart into the house during storms. I have noticed a patch of bare soil transform into a patch of gravel over the years. I sit on our porch to watch water rustle through the crabapple leaves. And my partner has told me that it also sits under a rainspout on the far corner of our house, although I had never bothered to see it in person.
In total, these observations add up to a perhaps surprising amount of knowledge. I knew where water collected, and I had ideas for how to address it. We already agreed that we wanted to put in a rain barrel for the garden under the far spout. And of course, I knew we could install the downspout extenders that you can buy at any hardware store.
What really inspired my walk, though, was to find a place or two for irises transplanted from my grandmother's garden. Their spunky green leaves and showy purple flowers are supported by roots that thrive on plenty of water. Hers transformed the ditch along her driveway so significantly that it feels inadequate to call it a ditch.
I'm hoping that if I pick the right location for the transplants, they'll be just as happy in my home, and provide a reminder of her for years to come.
As I explored, I checked all the places I thought rainwater might gather. If it wasn't only gathering but also moving, I noticed where it was going. Along the way, I took a look at places I hadn't thought of before hand, but caught my attention.
I confirmed the sitting water under the downspout that my partner had described. I followed my ears to it sputtering down from the corner of a neighbor's roof, their gutters in need of cleaning. And I was surprised to find that the puddle that always gathers on the sidewalk in front of our other neighbor's house was primarily fed by one of our own porch's downspouts. That downspout is next to the hose on the front of our house—and it is one of the places I hoped would have enough water for irises.
This ten minute walk around my house was research. I had a question I wanted to answer—"Where does rainwater gather in our yard?"—so I could make a decision—"Where am I most likely to succeed with planting irises?"
Witnessing each place where rain gathered wasn't special. I had done that many times across storms and years. What was special was that I saw every place where rain gathered, in the same storm, only moments apart.
Research doesn't replace anecdote. Observing thoroughly and under comparable conditions smooths anecdote into a cohesive narrative. Our casual observations form the basis for the questions we ask, and by asking those questions in the right environment, we gather information that helps us make decisions. I could have made a choice based on what I already knew, but the decision I was making was important enough to justify a bit more effort.
My walk in the rain has helped me feel comfortable transplanting my grandmother's irises. I know they are likely to protect our soil, extend my memories of her love of the outdoors, and thrive in my yard with the water that the sky provides.