Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rain Gardens

Like I friend of mine said, 'I installed a rain garden in my yard before I even know what a rain garden was'. Essentially, I had an area on the top of my driveway that collected and held water after it rained. One option was to install a French Drain which would have run about $500. That was a definite no-go. The other was to find plants whose roots love to get and stay wet (and tolerate shade) and create a new garden. Bingo! In my search, I acquired Elephant Ears, Black-Stemmed Elephant Ears, perennialized Ferns and Louisiana Iris, all from friends happy to get rid of them.

Subsequently I heard about the ACES' interest in installing a rain garden at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama (PMAL), where I also volunteer. I decided this would be a great opportunity to learn exactly what a rain garden is, what it does and how to correctly install one.

Very simply put, a rain garden is a depressed flower bed (about two feet in the ground), placed at least ten feet from a building structure, to collect rain water runoff, thereby:
  1. preventing the runoff from contaminating nearby water sources
  2. enabling the water to reabsorbed into the ground, which acts as a natural filtration system
  3. preventing erosion
It must be filled with native plants because these are pre-conditioned to deal with very wet and very dry conditions. The bed should be heavily composted (during) and mulched (immediately after) to provide nutrients and preserve moisture.

After an extensive calculation to determine the ideal spot and size, a 250 sq/ft rain garden was installed at the PMAL on a rainy and very cold morning. It is filled with Coreopsis, Agarista, Stokes' Aster and Echinacea. It needs some time to grow in, but should be promising in the spring.

Obviously I unknowingly skipped a few steps in my personal installation, particularly the two-feet excavation, but mine does just about the same thing. Bear in mind, this isn't anywhere close to 250 sq/ft. Of course, most of it has now died back with the frost. But I'm looking forward to enjoying it in spring.

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