Are you tired of soggy spots where rain collects and plants struggle? Where the runoff from your neighbor’s yard streams into yours? Where you end up with street flooding because so much water hits the pavement?
When your landscaper suggests filling it with some of that notoriously weedy “sandy loam” and putting a couple of shrubs on top, think again. A rain garden could be a great solution.
What’s a rain garden? On their “Soak Up the Rain” [https://www.epa.gov/soakuptherain/rain-gardens] section of their website, the Environmental Protection Agency says, “A rain garden is a depressed area in the landscape that collects rain water from a roof, driveway or street and allows it to soak into the ground. Planted with grasses and flowering perennials, rain gardens can be a cost effective and beautiful way to reduce runoff from your property. Rain gardens can also help filter out pollutants in runoff and provide food and shelter for butterflies, song birds and other wildlife.”
Hmmm, you think. Sounds good. Capture that water and do something good for the environment.
In his book, Gardening Success with Difficult Soils, Scott Ogden writes about solutions for gardening with mbuga, a dark heavy alkaline clay soil that is seasonally wet and dry. While the word comes from east Africa, the soils and weather conditions are similar in some parts of the US.
With the careful design of your garden to get the right plants in the right place, irrigated and fertilized right, you may not know that some plants love, love, love soggy feet. Or they are happy to grow in mbuga-like conditions, very wet sometimes and very dry sometimes.
The key to successful rain gardens is to find these plants and match them to your garden situation, whether always wet or sometimes seasonally dry.
Your best plants for rain gardens will be natives, from prairies to swamps. Learn about wetland plants in your local botanic garden or native plant society chapter. You’ll want to consider whether your low spot is in sun or shade as you choose the plants.
Of course, natives are not the only option for butterflies, songbirds and wildlife, but many of the hybrid plants in the nurseries are more finicky about their care. Cultivated varieties are often finicky about nicer conditions, so start with natives.
Naturally, you’ll want to follow Elderyarding® principles, planting masses of one kind of plant for easier maintenance, using shrubs rather than perennials if possible, and adding contract with leaf texture and color. Make your rain garden attractive from the porch or windows at all seasons.
If you don’t have a good low spot yet and want to create one, plotting water flow in your yard when it’s raining is a good way to start, as I’ve written earlier in this post on using rain to create a true low maintenance landscape.
Want to learn more about rain gardens? Here's a brochure from the Environmenal Protection Agency