Guest post by Donna Donabella, of Gardens Eye View
Children of a culture born in a water-rich environment, we have never really learned how important water is to us. We understand it, but we do not respect it.
~William Ashworth, Nor Any Drop to Drink, 1982
As I have learned over the years about climate change, going green and being environmental friendly it made sense to do some things differently 5 years ago when starting a new garden from a blank slate.
The house is your typical 2000 ft colonial in the NE United States. We average 120 inches of snow annually and we generally have lots of rain in the spring and fall and most summers. No water worries here except we tend to get too much water in the yard especially in spring.
The French Drain Rain Garden
We have a steep pitch in the landscape on one side of the house. I decided to have a mason friend build a long, winding wall that changed its height with the slope. The biggest challenge was how to deal with the 2 down spouts on both ends of the house gutters.
I had heard about French drains, but was not quite sure what they entailed. Basically you bury the down spouts and let the water from the gutters spread throughout the garden. Of course you have to be careful that you are not too close to the house or basement when doing this.
The wall garden gave me enough space to safely create French drains. For each French drain, the down spout is taken off and replaced with a perforated flexible extension. A 6 inch wide, 2 foot deep hole or trench is dug and filled some with gravel. The flexible extension is placed in the hole, and the entire thing is back-filled with the gravel to the top.
Make sure the extension is facing away from the house so the water disperses away from the foundation. The extension is then buried with dirt. Mine are just buried below the soil line and I know exactly where they are so I never dig them up. You may want to mark them just in case.
I finished off the wall garden by filling it with good soil and compost and proceeded to plant. Of course at this point I had not been introduced to native plants, invasives or had any concept what all the water running off the roof into the gutters and then into this garden would do to the garden….can you guess?
Yes it makes for a very moist garden, but never flooded or overly wet. But wet enough. So any plant that requires drier conditions needless to say did not make it. What I finally realized was that the native plants fared the best in this rain type of rain garden.
Mine is not totally native plants, but the majority of plants there are native. I made one big mistake and planted one tiny spearmint plant. It has taken over the area closest to one of the drains, but I have accepted it, and actually like it.
I tried planting other mints there, but kept them in containers. That doesn’t work either. They jump the pots and take root. Also planted with the mint is monarda, heliopsis, helianthus, yarrow, lupine, spiderwort, polemonium, hydrangea, columbine, hardy geranium and honeysuckle. Most of these are less invasive than some other natives that would take over this moist garden.
I definitely stayed away from Obedient plant and Joe Pye here, but should add some lobelia, native echinacea, phlox and liatris which love this moist environment. We have had such good luck with this type of rain garden that we also French drained the garden bed on the other side of the house.
Trench Rain Garden
We frequently have water sitting in large puddles in our yards because of the way the land is graded, and because we have very dense clay for soil. I continue to have whole areas in the back gardens on both sides of the yard flood out and I lose plants every year.
Last year I dabbled with regrading an area to drain into a ditch we dug. It seemed to work come spring, but it was not deep or wide enough to take all the water. And then on the other side of the yard, we had a similar problem.
So this year we dug 2 trench or ditch style rain gardens. Digging through clay, even wet clay, is hard. We look for how and where the water is draining and start at about 8 inches to a foot deep. Then as we dig the trench, we slope it back to about a foot and a half or more. It takes some trial and error, but I think we are off to a good start.
We are not lining ours with gravel or fabric at this point. We are waiting to see how the plants grow in to absorb the water. The plants that seem to be doing the best in these very wet to almost pond like areas are native iris, native juncus grasses and native hardy hibiscus.
I have not had any luck with any other plants (native and non-native) at this point although the Obedient plants on the sides are creeping into the one rain garden and certainly would take over after the iris are done blooming. I plan to experiment with other plants that love the boggy conditions. One word of warning.
If you have mosquitoes, you need to use mosquito dunks and replace them often because of the standing water. Also, once the water dries up and we hit a dry summer like this year, the plants have to be versatile enough to take the changing conditions. I think the plants I am using, once they are established, should fare well.
If there is magic on the planet, it is contained in the water.
~ Loren Eisley
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