Last week Beckie and I attended a workshop on rain gardens sponsored by the Prairie Rivers Network, a not-for-profit organization concerned with conservation and protecting our rivers, and a state affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation. I've been wanting to learn more about rain gardens for some time and to see if one would be feasible in my own yard. We live in a low-lying area where flooding is common in the spring time when the combination of melting snow and spring rains fill up creeks and drainage ditches to overflowing in a short time. Flooded front yards in one section of town are a common sight, and residents of one subdivision have indeed had to resort to rowboats some years to reach their homes.
|Local scene after heavy rains in June '08|
Last fall a group of volunteers planted several rain gardens in the front yards of some residential areas in nearby Champaign-Urbana that experience frequent flooding problems. It will be interesting to see what effects they might have during the next rainy season.
Basically, a rain garden is a shallow depression in the landscape that is specifically designed to capture rainwater and melted snow and filter it into the soil. Downspouts can be diverted towards the rain garden, eliminating runoff onto sidewalks and driveways or seeping into basements. The garden absorbs more water than traditional lawns, which means flooding and water damage are reduced. The plants also filter contaminants from the water, thereby reducing the number of pollutants deposited into ground water and overflowing storm drains. Another extra benefit is that most of the plants recommended for these types of gardens are attractive to wildlife, including birds and beneficial insects.
Rain gardens are relatively easy to create, but several factors should be considered before deciding on a location, such as avoiding ultility lines or septic fields. Do a little research before you dig in an unsuitable place or in soil that is not permeable enough.
One of the questions I had before the workshop was what happens to a rain garden during a drought? Last June was very rainy, and my roadside garden turned into a bog garden for a week or more. But from July through October it became more like a desert. What plants can survive both conditions? The answer is an obvious one--and one I should have known before the class---native plants. Native plants, with their deep roots, are already adapted to local conditions and thus are the best choice for a rain garden.
Virginia bluebells Mertensia virginica, Blue flag iris Iris virginica, and Cardinal flower Lobelia cardinalis are just a few of the many native plant choices suitable for a rain garden.
Familiar natives like purple coneflowers and Joe Pye Weed are not only beautiful,
but also work well in a rain garden.
Native grasses and sedges also are good additions, like this Prairie dropseed grass
I admired last fall at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
A rain garden can be created at minimal cost, especially if you already have a self-seeder like the pretty Susans, Rudbeckia hirta, and can transplant some of the seedlings.
Or the hardy and prolific Obedient plant, Physotegia virginiana.
The workshop covered the basics of a rain garden and certainly piqued my interest. A second workshop will be held here in April where participants will receive individual help in actually designing their own rain gardens, but I won't be able to attend that session. My plate is pretty full already for this year, but I intend to consider creating a rain garden here sometime in the near future. A rain garden is a great way to combine beauty with functionality and good environmental practices.
If you would like to know more about rain gardens, you can check out the Prairie Rivers Networks website or go to the Rain Garden Network for general information to get you started.
I'm a few days late, but I'm also linking this post to Wildflower Wednesday, a monthly posting hosted by Gail at Clay and Limestone, since almost all the plants recommended for a rain garden are wildflowers or natives. Check out other entries on wildflowers at Gail's for some excellent recommendations for your area. Even if you have no need for a rain garden, native plants have so many other advantages, not the least of which is attracting all those helpful pollinators.
Mr. Bumble and his friends will thank you for planting more natives!