There's so much to learn about gardening that it can be daunting. Witness the class I attended this week on how to size, design and install my very own rain garden. Up until this week I had never even heard of a rain garden, but I bet a lot of you are a shovel or two ahead of me on the subject.
A rain garden is a shallow depression planted with native plants and grasses. You then direct water that would normally run off your property into downspouts and over driveways into this specially designed garden where it has time to sit for awhile and seep back into the ground, thus stopping the water from ending up in your storm or sewer systems. Around here that is good news as we have cities and towns which are flood prone, and have suffered huge damage from recent floods.
Jim Bonner illustrates a rain water retrieval system. The green barrel behind him catches the rain from the downspout, and a hose in the bottom of the barrel drains the water directly into the rain garden, located in front of Jim, at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve, Pittsburgh, PA.
Creating a rain garden or two is a small thing, really, but one that can make a big difference if more people do it, according to Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.
I will warn you there is some math involved in setting up a rain garden. The size of your structure will decide the size of rain garden you need, but for avid gardeners who are already designing beds, this should not be a deterrent. These people-made beds replicate nature's own system for dealing with water runoff, which is now challenged because of so much development which includes impervious surfaces like driveways, roads and parking lots. That means, at least here, that a lot of water ends up in the rivers, instead of increasing the ground water supply. Rain gardens also result in, as mentioned, reduced flooding and the reduction of water to storm and sanitary systems and also clean waterways, an increase in the habitat and food sources for wildlife and the enhancement of our yards and communities.
On the other hand, if you are concerned, a rain garden is NOT a pond, marsh, bog or mosquito habitat. It is not for summer only, hard to maintain or expensive, Jim says.
There's a lot to learn about this fascinating subject. For more information, visit the Rain Garden Alliance. To see some photos of installed rain gardens, click here.