Friday, March 24, 2023

A Jelly Bean Pallette

It's spring blossom time on the west coast! Colour is fact, a riot of colour. Although I could show an array of flower and blossom photos, I'm choosing in this post to show off the repertoire of human-made colour.

I love the funkiness of this oceanside community, where colour is splashed on doors and buildings fearlessly. "What will the neighbours think" is of little importance here. Sometimes I wonder if the plenitude of colour has developed as an antidote to the grey skies of Canada's "wet coast". 

There's another oceanside community, on the other coast, that is also known for its fog-shrouded days and colourful houses -- St. John's, Newfoundland. There are so many colours visible along its streets, that people say St. John's has been painted with a "Jelly Bean Pallette". Perhaps that term could equally be used here in Victoria!

The jumble of colour of Fishermen's Wharf, against the grey skies of a wintry day. A "Jelly Bean Pallette"?
Here are some examples of the bold and striking colours of Fishermen's Wharf. 
Fishermen's Wharf Floating Home. Orange and blue -- complementary colours on the colour wheel!

Another Fishermen's Wharf doorway. Complementary colours continued.
And one more house painted with complementary colours, Fishermen's Wharf

Three primary colours of red, yellow and blue, also at Fishermen's Wharf.

Moving along the shoreline: The muted colours of the sky, seen at Clover Point, are offset by the brilliant chairs.
Here's another example of bright colour to counter drab skies:
Part of a mosaic at South Park Elementary. I liked the promotion of school values, as well as the way the mosaic tiles, created by children, contribute to a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.

The South Park elementary mosaic, continued.

I've mentioned before the bright reds and yellows of Chinatown which always help cheer up a drab space. Here's an example, again using tile, but smaller size squares: 
I liked the creative way that concrete was dressed up with colourful tile. The photo is from last fall.

And now, back to the Jelly Bean Pallette of house colours. I don't have to walk far to find examples. Here's a few photos I've taken just in the past couple of days, all within a short walk from my apartment.

This house was repainted last fall; no one can recall what colour it was before.

And this house has also been repainted in the last year. It used to be white.

Blue is a frequent theme in houses here, perhaps associated with the setting by the ocean. Note the porous paving to help the ground absorb rainwater (my last post was about rain gardens).

These colours, helped along by the sun theme to the right of the door, create an American South-west adobe feel. 

Oops...One blossom picture snuck in....

A bold statement of colour for this house!

Another house painted in strong blue. Again, note the porous paving. 

This blue house stands adjacent to the green house which follows. Together, they make a striking visual on the street.

This house was green when I first discovered it several years ago, and has been repainted with the contrasting bright trim.

A splash of brilliant yellow against the bold pink
This photo, from last fall, shows what the colour wheel describes are "analogous" -- two colours beside each other on the colour wheel. I liked how the spinning yard decoration (to the right of the stairs) brought together the blues and purples, and how the Little Library, partially seen on the left, has been painted to match.

This is a front window of a care facility on Parry Street. Just as children participated in building the mosaic wall, so have the residents of this facility participated in creating this window.

I will finish my Jelly Bean Pallette tour with an image of a new infill house being built on historic Lewis Street. Ken and I have been interested to follow the progress of this house, as we can see it from our dining room window. Initially the upper fascia was painted in the same magenta as the porch. For some unknown reason, the owners decided it was too much, and covered it over.

The porch at the back of the house is also painted in the bright purple magenta. Note the efforts that have been required to manage drainage on this property. The vacuum truck was here multiple times pumping out the excavation during construction.

There you have it... a quick tour of the funky colours of oceanside James Bay.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

In Praise of Rain Gardens

I've blogged in the past about rain gardens and runoff. Plus, some of my columns in Friday AM have been on the same subject. Bear with me; it's an important topic!

The best rain gardens are nature's intact ecosystems, created over decades, with minimal human intervention. 

Natural area in the Shuswap, in the BC interior

A rain garden is an area that has the ability to absorb rainfall, and then filter it before it gradually is discharged either as surface runoff, or into groundwater.

As leaves and woody debris decompose over the years, the organic material is converted to humus-rich soil able to absorb water. The deeper the humus-containing soil layer, the more water which can be absorbed.

When rain falls over an undisturbed area that has not been cleared, much of the water stays in place. Wetlands often hold overflow, and the amount of overland runoff is minimal.

The image above, from the Shuswap, shows a natural area that would have a good ability to keep rainwater in place. Here are two more images.

Rainforest, Victoria
Despite the fact that grasslands usually have less annual rainfall than forested areas, they too have a good ability to absorb rainwater.  As with forest ecosystems, the organic matter in a grassland builds up over decades, and creates a deep soil layer capable of absorbing rainfall.
Garry Oak meadow, Victoria. Victoria's dry summers lead to brown grasses by the early fall. The soil underlying Garry Oak meadows is deep and filled with humus, helping retain water so that the trees -- which have adapted to summer droughts -- can survive.

Urban Development

Urban development usually results in the clearing of native soil and vegetation, and replacing these natural areas with hard surfaces. Creating hard surfaces (think paved roads and parking lots, and the roofs of buildings) increases runoff. Here are some impacts:

  • The more hard surfaces, the greater the runoff when it rains.
  • Increased runoff means less water is absorbed by the ground. 
  • With increased runoff comes the potential for floods. 
  • Runoff picks up pollutants, and through the storm drainage system polluted water may end up in streams or ocean inlets.

This diagram illustrates the impact of urban development.

The diagram shows the increase in runoff in an urban area, compared with that of a forested area. Also note the differences in the permeable layer of topsoil, and the depth of the water table. The word "transpiration" means the direct evaporation of water from a plant -- e.g. through its leaves. Source: (Melbourne, Australia)

In new suburbs, "stormwater retention ponds" are a common way of handling runoff. They help stormwater drainage systems from being overloaded, but they don't mimic nature as well as the rain garden. 

Some years ago I worked with the City of Edmonton to prepare a manual for living beside stormwater ponds. The City has embarked on a program to "naturalize" vegetation around some of its stormwater facilities. I was happy to see that perhaps some of my work had an impact.

Naturalized stormwater pond in Edmonton. Source:

Creating Human-Made Rain Gardens

Rain gardens are aimed at offsetting the impact of urban development. I first learned about them many years ago, when I attended a lecture about a pilot project in Seattle. This pilot project had a goal of zero runoff -- in rainy Seattle! The idea was to copy nature's way of handling rain. 

Now, there is a goal to create 12,000 rain gardens in the Puget Sound area! See

I researched rain gardens in Victoria, and learned that the City is promoting them here. It has a website devoted to rain gardens and lists several examples of places where residents can find rain gardens (

Rain garden at Fishermen's Wharf Park, during winter. Notice the diversity, and thickness, of vegetation which has grown around this wet area. It was full of birds when I visited it.

The rain garden from a different angle (also in winter), showing overflow drainage.

This Fishermen's Wharf rain garden is quite large, and as the photo shows it is also at a lower grade than the surrounding area, with a retaining wall surrounding it. 

Benefits of the Rain Garden

Rain gardens are slightly depressed areas of deep porous soil, which can absorb rainfall runoff from surrounding land. The idea is to keep water near the place where it fell as rain, rather than culverting it away in storm sewers, or even to stormwater retention ponds. 

If we had rain gardens dotting our neighbourhoods, we'd see reduced flood risk in heavy rainfall times. I'd like to see every property have an area where water can be absorbed into the ground. The more widespread are rain gardens, the more they can do their job and keep water near where it fell, as nature would have done.

With climate change, and the risk of extreme rainfall events, rain gardens are going to become essential to reduce flood risk.

There are other benefits. A rain garden can protect the foundation of a house during rainfalls, by receiving roof runoff diverted away from downspouts. And, during drought conditions, the water that has been absorbed may be available for nearby vegetation, thus reducing the stress of the drought. The rain garden helps filter and purify water, so when it is discharged, it does not pollute creeks.

Small rain garden along Blanshard Street

Victoria's Incentive Program for Rain Gardens

The City has an incentive program to encourage more rain gardens throughout Victoria. See

The Capital Regional District also has information:

I'd like to see more education about rain gardens, to help people learn their benefits. Although a home rain garden most likely will not require the amount of engineering of the Fisherman's Wharf or Blanshard Street rain gardens, building one does require planning.I found various resources on the internet. Here's one:

I've found some evidence of home rain gardens in my walks, although it's always a bit of a guess. Is this a planned rain garden, or just an elegant and functional landscaping job?

Here are a couple of examples I've found:

The way the rock has been used here suggests it might be a planned rain garden.

This yard has porous paving (to the left). Again, might it be planned to receive rainfall?

One more example of a yard that has an area of drain rock; sometimes, a downspout from a nearby building is a clue that it's a rain garden.

Rain gardens can by attractive, and the vegetation around them will provide homes for birds and other wildlife, like amphibians (e.g. frogs). They're important additions to our urban environment.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Colour: Antidote to January Grey

The moist west coast winters can be a little grey, so I've been looking for colour on my walks. Here are a few images to counter the dull skies. These are from two walks -- one downtown and then over to  Fernwood, and the other walking home from a knee x-ray at the Royal Jubilee. I decided my knee can't be too bad if it can get me home!

Part of a mural on a building on North Park Street
Part of an intricate mural on a building in Fernwood, off Cook Street

Continuation of the mural in the above photo.

Another mural in the vicinity of the foregoing one. This one, in North Park, has simpler lines but still stands out with its bold colours.

North Park mural continued
Off Cook Street near Yates. A bold design for a muralled door.

Street mural, corner of Richardson and Gonzales Streets. This was designed by Brianna Bear, and installed by Jesse Campbell, as part of the Greater Victoria Placemaking Initiative. I posted about a similar installation on Vancouver Street in July. See

The same street painting, from a different angle. I love how the bright colours seemed to glow in the dull light.

Outside a health practitioner clinic on Richmond Street 

And, a second image from the same health practitioner clinic. I enjoyed how the purple complements the yellow of the first figure, and the way the figures are articulated in their various joints to emphasize the message of movement.

I can always count on finding some bright colour when I go through Chinatown.
Off Centennial Square, transitioning to Chinatown.

In June Victoria celebrated the Year of the Tiger by painting the Chinese zodiac animals on a downtown crosswalk (see image below). Later this month, Chinese New Year welcomes the Year of the Rabbit.

Crosswalk on Government Street at Fisgard

This building always brightens my spirits. (Note the photo is older, from September.)

Mural in the Wharf Street area of downtown. For some reason this makes me think hot sun and Mexico!

While the skies might be dull, nature still has bright colours, even in winter; they are just not so obvious. Here are a few hidden examples.

Mossy stone wall reminding me how bright green can be! The brightest mosses on this wall were low down in the moistest, shadiest spots, out of the reach of the sun.

Yellow lichen growing on a rock wall. Lichen is an amazing life form, composed of layers of both fungus and algae.They grow in harsh environments that are too limiting for other life forms, and use air and rain to obtain their nutrients from their immediate environment. They can shut down their metabolisms during times of extreme drought, heat, and cold and are one of the oldest living organisms on earth. I've seen a rainbow of lichen colours -- red to orange to white and grey-green.

This moss covered boulder is tucked deep in a treed area of Beacon Hill Park, and provided a surprising contrast to the muted tones of the dried leaves.

I hope my brief tour of colour has brightened your day in this time of limited light.