this post was updated March 7, 2020
Rain gardens are growing in popularity as drainage solutions for environmentally-conscious property owners. These carefully-designed landscapes add more than beauty to their surroundings. They are proven to have a significant impact in reducing the flow of contaminated water from urban areas to wetlands, streams, lakes, and other natural waterways.
Installing a rain garden is a powerful way to directly contribute a positive impact on the environment surrounding your home or business.
Why Do Rain Gardens Matter?
As communities grow and develop, buildings, roads, and rooftops replace native habitats. During times of precipitation, the original flow of water through the enviroscape is disturbed. Instead of being naturally filtered through pre-existing forests and soil, stormwater now flows at a high rate over hard surfaces and carries man-made pollutants with it. Erosion and increased flooding become problematic.
Additionally, the higher flow rate of water and contaminants that result from development cause real problems for regional aquatic life and water resources. However, rain gardens offer an exciting array of solutions.
- Slow erosion and alleviate flooding
- Decrease pollution and waste
- Clean runoff naturally
- Reduce the workload for wastewater facilities
- Can be created in public and private spaces of any shape and size, including businesses, residences, or public spaces
What Is A Rain Garden?
Rain gardens are bowl-shaped depressions in a landscape that collect and clean rainwater runoff from hard surfaces nearby, like driveways, roofs, parking areas, and patios.
They are designed with special soil mixes that allow speedy absorption of water — usually a combination of sand, topsoil, and compost. This amended soil filters runoff and also supports a variety of plant growth.
Note: Rain gardens are not permanent ponds. They are sized to allow temporary pooling after rain. In a well-designed garden, all water passes through very quickly, typically from one to two hours (maximum of one to two days) after a storm. This prevents stagnation and mosquitoes.
Photo: WSU Extension
There are a number of ways water can be diverted to a rain garden through a landscape. It may be that one approach works well for a back yard/patio area, but a different one is more effective for dealing with runoff issues in the front.
Design Features of a Rain Garden
Soil is where it all begins. Reworking the ground to provide the right blend of soil, sand, and compost is critical to having a healthy rain garden. Absorption, drainage, and filtration all rests on getting this foundation prepared correctly.
There are three planting zones in a rain garden:
Zone 1 The wettest area, at the bottom of the rain garden. Important to install plants in this zone that can handle “wet feet” for several hours at a time.
Zone 2 The sloped sides of the garden, which may become wet from time to time. These plants provide stability and prevent erosion.
Zone 3 The perimeter of the rain garden, with the driest soil.
Since rain garden design is based on earth-friendly practice, using native plantings to fill out the three zones makes a lot of sense. Native plants create a nourishing habitat for local wildlife, birds, butterflies, and other important pollinators.
Photo: Washington State Department of Ecology
“Plants and soil work together in the rain garden. The plant roots and soil organisms build soil structure, create channels and pores to soak up and filter water, and improve nutrient and oxygen availability necessary to support an abundance of life. While plants help the rain garden absorb stormwater, they also create an attractive landscape for your yard and neighborhood.” — WSU Extension, Rain Garden Handbook for Western WA
How to Know If A Rain Garden Is Right For You
A rain garden may be a good fit for you if you answer “yes” to the following questions:
- Do you want to improve the landscaping and appearance of your property?
- Would you like to directly reduce the amount of pollutants reaching groundwater and storm drains in your community (as well as wetlands, streams, and other natural waters)?
- Would you like to reduce flooding, prevent sewer overflows, and erosion in streams by absorbing runoff from hard surfaces?
- Is providing habitat for beneficial insects and birds important to you?
- Would you like to be responsible for recharging local groundwater by increasing the amount of water that soaks into the ground on your property
Let’s Get To Work
Frontier Landscaping offers professional expertise and support for residential and commercial clients committed to environmentally-conscious landscaping. While the best time for testing soil drainage and groundwater levels is in late winter months, we are available to walk you through the planning process for a rain garden at any time of year:
- Site assessment & testing
- Garden location
- Soil amendment & excavation
- Planting requirements
- Design aesthetic
- Maintenance goals
- Compliance with city/county regulations
- Long-term success
Call (360) 574-8979 or contact us to get started on your path to a cleaner, greener future.
Additional Reading: Washington State Extension Rain Garden Guide
Did you know that interacting with nature provides healing benefits to your body and mind? It’s true. Research has shown that within minutes of moving outside, positive changes occur in the body, such as lower blood pressure, decreased heart rate, reduced stress, and improved mood.
A recent community project at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center has inspired us to revisit the specific elements that can bring a sense of rest and healing to a home landscape. Having a place to unwind, relax, and recharge is a gift, especially if you live a busy life on the go.
The Sanctuary Garden, by Christopher and Tricia McDowell, highlights seven design elements of a peaceful space. Whether it’s for just one corner in the yard or a whole property transformation, using these strategies makes it easy to refresh yourself with restful time outdoors.
Enhance Your Garden Entrance
Use a naturally-styled pathway, hedge, steps, or fence to make entering the sanctuary feel special. This boundary can be soft or firm, depending on the level of privacy desired.
Use Soothing Waters
A water feature doesn’t have to be elaborate to evoke a relaxing feel. Even a simple rock bubbler provides pleasing sounds and visual appeal. For larger spaces, a pond or waterfall puts nature’s beauty just steps away from your door.
Will you be spending time in your sanctuary in the early mornings or evenings? Use low-wattage or LED lighting to set off plants and decorative features to their best advantage when natural light is low. Create beautiful shadows and draw attention to subtle colors and textures of your flowers and plants with discreetly placed lights.
Provide a Resting Place
Whether it’s a single bench or a suite of comfortable garden furniture, pick a spot or two that invites visitors to sit down and stay a while. Consider adding an outdoor bookshelf or blanket box to make it easy to kick back and relax.
Mimic Mother Nature
There’s no better guide to design than Mother Nature for a sanctuary garden. Use natural materials in combination: rocks and boulders, ornamental grasses, wood, shrubs, and flowers. Have a favorite hiking spot or viewpoint? Bring a few elements home with you. You might pair trees and wildflowers, boulders and water, or rocks and ferns to create the feel you love.
Add Pleasure With Garden Art
Accent the natural beauty of your space with an art piece that enhances the mood you’d like to set. Consider colorful ceramic pots, a wind-powered sculpture, or a playful statue to complement the style of your home and continue it in the sanctuary.
Invite Beautiful Visitors
Provide habitat and features to attract birds and butterflies. Using native plants often pays rewards here, as they are conditioned to thrive in the local environment and offer a suitable home to your neighborhood birds. Add a birdbath or feeder to encourage visits from your favorites.
Not sure what to plant? Talk to our landscaping team. We have decades of local experience and will give you our best tips for plant materials that fit your level of interest and design aesthetic.
Following two, three, or all seven of the design principles above will bring you closer to having your own healing sanctuary. The Frontier Landscaping team would be happy to talk to you about the vision you have and how to effectively make it a reality.
“Getting away from it all” might be a lot closer than you think! Call (360) 574-8979 or send us an email to arrange a consultation today.
Investing in curb appeal is a triple win: it establishes beauty you can enjoy every day, creates an irresistible invitation to potential buyers, and adds tangible value to your home. Here are four of our best strategies for maximizing the impact of your home’s first impressions.
Get Green and Clean (and Stay There)
First things first: proper landscape maintenance works wonders. Green lawns, pruned shrubs, and weed-free flowerbeds surrounded by a fresh layer of bark dust are straightforward ways to create a manicured, attractive atmosphere.
If you’ve been complacent about keeping up the landscape, take another look at your reasons. It’s highly likely that the solution you need is simpler than you think.
Too short of time? Hire a maintenance crew to handle these regular tasks for you. Frontier’s maintenance agreements can be customized to offer support that’s tailored to the needs of your landscape.
Trying to save on water? Earth-friendly drip irrigation allows you to add water where it’s needed. Sprinkler systems with rain sensors keep the sprinklers quiet on the days Mother Nature takes care of watering the landscape.
Tired of overgrown or outdated plants? It’s hard to be motivated to maintain plants you don’t like. Upgrade to plantings that make sense for you and working with them becomes a treat instead of a burden. Consider fresh ornamentals to attract birds & butterflies, double-duty beds that are decorative and grow edibles, or native plantings that need little attention to look good.
Highlight with Hardscaping
Hardscaping refers to the non-living elements of your landscape design. Adding dramatic boulders, understated accent rockery, or a focal point like a dry creek bed brings contrast and texture – things that are fundamentally appealing to the eye.
Rocks and boulders will look sharp for the long haul and won’t die out, need pruning, or suffer from hot summers and cold winters. Dry creek beds do triple duty by reducing lawn care, providing excellent drainage, and looking gorgeous across all four seasons of the year.
Take Advantage of Native Plantings
Native plantings keep your property looking sharp without needing much tending at all. Because they are perfectly suited to the water, light, and soil conditions of the local environment, they can thrive on their own once established. Pick the right plants and you can even stop or reduce irrigation after the first two years–things will keep growing for you to enjoy, naturally.
Dwarf spirea ‘Golden elf’
One way to make upkeep even easier is to feature dwarf varieties of your favorite native plants. They’ll be beautiful but won’t cause headaches by sprawling out of control as they mature.
Light With Purpose
A few mindful changes in your front yard lighting go a long way to creating a ‘wow’ impact. Do you have an interesting front door, pathway, or stonework? Add fixtures that play up the uniqueness of your home and accentuate its curves and angles.
Mature trees become dramatic centerpieces with the addition of uplights to emphasize their structure and foliage.
Make the Call
Are you ready to update or reinvent your approach to curb appeal? We’d love to discuss your goals and can offer expert insights to help create a look you’ll love for years to come.
Call (360) 574-8979 or send us an email to arrange a consultation today.