No Challenge (or front yard) too Small

 

I want to do my part for our city’s water retention problem. The house that I bought has cement over the tiny strip of land available for front yard planting. I would like to plant bushes, ground cover, or a tree there instead. Our block has a few young trees, but eventually, I would like us to have more shade in general.

– Rhonda, FYI intake form

 

For this interview, we spoke with Rhonda Broussard, a homeowner in Central City, and Peteh Haroon of We Can Dig It, a contractor native to New Orleans. I walked up to find Peteh and Rhonda discussing the importance of ADA accessibility in front of her home. They were also planting varieties of angelonia, hibiscus, and lily in one of her two new garden beds. 

Originally from Lafayette, Rhonda has traveled for much of her life. In 2016, she moved to New Orleans, in 2017 she founded Beloved Community with an aim to provide organizations with the necessary tools to build diversity, inclusion, and equity. In 2018 she became a New Orleans homeowner.           

Once Rhonda’s father reminded her of the fact that “New Orleans is going to flood,” Rhonda felt more than ever the risks that stormwater can pose. Before the start of her project, Rhonda wondered, “as someone who doesn’t know anything about stormwater management, it’s not my area of expertise… what else can I do as an individual?”As a native to the Gulf Coast and now a new homeowner in New Orleans, she wanted to know what she could do on her own property to improve her relationship with water, the lives of those in her neighborhood, and the lives of those living in the Greater New Orleans community.

Rhonda’s journey to the Front Yard Initiative involved more than a little luck. Rhonda met her contractor Peteh Haroon of We Can Dig It through a mutual friend to clear out a number of invasive weeds that had taken over her backyard. During that project, Rhonda asked Peteh if he had any ideas about what she could do about all the concrete in her front yard.

 

Coincidentally that same day, Peteh spoke with FYI project manager Felice Lavergne, so pavement removal was fresh in his mind. Peteh had also recently been connected to Launch NOLA Green, a business and green sector training program, and was eager to implement a ‘green’ project. And so, Rhonda and Peteh turned their attention to her front yard.

Rhonda and Peteh had to work creatively to come up with a design that would manage water in a space that was less than 150 square feet. They also needed to honor the maintenance needs of a homeowner who travels a lot. This led to the compromise of a planter box outfitted with an innovative self-watering system.

The system is composed of an overflow drain in the surface of the bed that connects to a perforated hose. This hose collects rainwater and distributes it over time to plants as they need it. Plant choice is also important to a low maintenance, water loving garden. The Front Yard Initiative always encourages the use of native plants. Native plants are true to our specific environmental conditions and the critters that live here.

To find plants listed on the FYI Plant List, Peteh took Rhonda and her children to a Pelican Greenhouse monthly plant sale. They’re one of the best local sources for native plants and located near Grow Dat in City Park. The outing resulted in a photo-op as well: Peteh taking a photo with the “Native Plants” sign while wearing his “Native” hat.

 

Once the designs were in place and the plantschosen, it was time for the concrete removal.  As often happens in New Orleans, there were multiple layers of concrete to remove.

Once people pave land that used to absorb water, the clay soils underneath start to dry out and shrink, causing the area to sink, crack, and subside. To correct for this, people often lay down layer after layer of concrete, not knowing that the solution to the problem lies in removing it and recharging the dry soil with water. This is a common challenge FYIers have to face. Extra layers of concrete always increase a project’s budget and timeline. Planning for surprises and adding a bit of contingency to your budget can help keep your FYI project on track.

With all the paving removed, a plastic-grid and gravel permeable pavement system (Gravalock) was installed for the walkway and sidewalk. The duo also installed two raised garden beds on each side of the walkway to provide a gardening space.

Peteh works with two team members at his company We Can Dig It, Jahlil, Peteh’s son, and Jahi. Peteh has always been interested in rainwater retention, sustainable horticulture and green contracting, and employing practices with similar philosophies, but he voiced appreciation for the opportunities that connected him to Front Yard Initiative and LaunchNOLA Green. He‘s “thankful to be meeting people who have similar interests” in preserving our unique ecosystem and being dedicated to living with water.

Rhonda, like many FYIers, wants to continue incorporating lessons learned from her project in her neighborhood and beyond. Moving forward, Rhonda would love to plant trees in her backyard and around the neighborhood. “It hurts my heart how the sun beats down so hot in our neighborhood,” said Rhonda.

Peteh shares Rhonda’s optimism that the people of her Central City neighborhood are inspired, from her neighbors to the kids walking home from school, by Rhonda, Peteh, and their friends and family working together on her front yard. Both the team at FYI and Rhonda are glad that she put her trust in a local contractor, who is also a native of New Orleans, to cater to the unique needs of our city and be an example for the present and future of sustainable, green contracting.

Story and interview by Blake Allen.

Interested in going gray to green? Learn how here.