Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Rain Garden Update

I have been extremely busy the last couple of weeks - work, work, get togethers, landlording, and lots of gardening.

In particular, SSB and I have been working on the rain garden. We finally tracked down our contract which was approved two months ago but the DNR guy neglected to give to us. As our neighbor says, "Never trust the government."

What exactly is a rain garden? The idea of a rain garden is to make a place for the water that falls on your property to collect and be used up by plants rather than running into the storm drains. Rain gardens normally use native plants since they are the best adapted to your property's particular conditions. I really liked that idea and took it as a challenge. My plan is to take a garden that can look rather boring

that uses plants that can look rather weedy

both pictures from

and make it appealing to the average homeowner.

We were given a design for the garden which looked very much like the design you see in the first picture above. I'm not too big on all these doughnut or kidney shaped rain gardens. Every rain garden that was on the demonstration list we were given was either doughnut or kidney shaped - OR BOTH! They just end up looking so unnatural and boring; whereas I prefer more natural looking layouts with some excitement. -And spirals, apparently, as the design that I came up with will be the second spiral garden on our property.

This is a "Before". I already started a garden here that I had been expanding over the years. At least 2/3 of the material in the garden needed to be removed (I gave them all new homes).

Here we have begun the lay out. I like to study a site for a while, then just start digging. The site will guide me as to the shape the garden should be. It's more divining than designing.

Most of the rain garden guides that I read mentioned an option for over-flow. They suggested a drain of some kind. I decided that, since the whole purpose of the garden was to keep water from draining off my property into our river, a holding pit made more sense. This pit will house the marshier plants that we purchased. It is the spirally part of the garden.

There is SSB watering the plants that we just purchased and laid out in the design. We purchased small plants so we could afford to get more of them, and they tend to transplant better when they are small. These should fill in nicely in a couple of months.
Here you can see the river idea that I was going for. The basin will be filled in with layers of sand, pea gravel, and progressively larger rocks once the plants are dug in. Right now, the rocks are serving to keep the plant pots from tipping over while we lay them out.

Are you ready for the dramatic Before & After?

Nice change, huh? Some of the plants in this picture were ones left from the original bed. They were either wildflower volunteers (like buttercups, goldenrod and daisies) or they were wildflowers that I had planted there myself. SSB and I did all the design ourselves and we did almost all the work too (the DNR guy helped dig for about an hour one day).

We still have a little more to do, but I think we might reach my goal of having it done by July 4th!


Marie (FKA Piana Nanna) said...

I loved your post. I just found out what a rain garden is on Monday. While at the city hall I noticed a brochure about them and saving the Great Lakes, one garden at a time. I like the concept. Now to convince my husband, Duane, to let me dig some grass up. Won't be easy.

Zoey said...

Wow, what a difference.

I have never heard of a rain garden, but I can see you have been working hard and it looks great!

kris said...

Totally cool - I can picture what your rain garden will look like when it fills in a little - nice. I've read about the rain gardens before - but I like your design - and it's interesting seeing the process. Nice job!

Haddock said...

The rain garden is a great idea, and it looks really great as well! :)

Sylvana said...

Maria, welcome to my blog. Glad you like the garden. It's going to be fantastic!

Zoey, I first heard about rain gardens about two years ago when the schools here began installing them. I really didn't learn that much about them until this project was offered to us. The general idea is to direct water away from your house while keeping it on your property to reduce the run-off that goes into our lakes, streams and rivers. This is supposed to keep these bodies of water healthier. Also, even if your water does not go directly into one of these - keeping the water on your property reduces the cost to the city to process the water, and eventually the cost to you. If designed right, the water shouldn't sit on your property for very long (a few hours, a day at the most) as the plants will use up the water. The plants recommended for these gardens are also drought tolerant, so you should never have to water them. BONUS!

Haddock, I was really anxious to see what the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) guy would say. He LOVED it! He said it was different from all the other rain gardens that they have worked on. Yay!

Sylvana said...

Kris, I was right on top of everything with this project. I am still amazed that I remembered to get the BEFORE pictures! It's so hard to get excited enough about the "Before" to actually take a picture. After all, that's the reason you are changing it - it's not worthy.

KC MO Garden Guy said...

What a fantastic job you have done!! I have two rain gardens and when I talk to people about them they are like "what?". I have given up on talking about it to anyone. Kansas City'f former mayor promoted the rain gardens but not to much success. One of our garden club memebers said she wouldn't put one in because it doesn't rain here much. I really think it is because the mayor was a democrate and she was a republican but that is just an assumption.

Great work!!

Sylvana said...

KC MO Garden Guy, welcome to my blog! A rain garden could work in any yard; and sometimes the areas that don't get much rain end up with the worst run-off!

I have had a few people that I have talked to interested in putting in one, but they were very concerned about the "weediness" of them. I'm trying to come up with designs that would address those concerns - especially for all these new developments poping up along our waterways!

Susan said...

Love your site.

What information sources are you using? Would love it if you would post a bibliography and links page.

I garden in the Chicago area, and most of the information I am finding is directed to mediterranean climates--which we definitely don't have.

Sylvana said...

Susan, I used mostly the info that the DNR gave me (they gave me a list of plants I could chose from as well as the general requirements for the project), but I did do a little research on the web (to see what designs other people have used). I also went to a local native plant nursery and talked to the owner about different plants to get an idea about what would work in the area and how the plants could be expected to behave in our area.
Your questions are excellent. I think I will do a follow up post!