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Creating a rain garden - a member's garden story.

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

This garden has a hidden secret, it is actually a rain garden. It has a dry-well and gravel channels fed by the downspouts and sump pump outlet from the house. I trained as a horticulturist in Vancouver and one of my interests was using greywater (wastewater) in gardening.


A construction site in front of a house with a hole dug by porch stairs
Rain Garden Before

During the pandemic lockdowns, I installed a French drain to solve a drainage problem in the backyard, it runs from the backyard along the east side of the house to a gravel dry-well about 5 feet down the slope from the Spruce tree, it partially follows the path of the ‘dry stream bed’ above ground (photo on right). As I began digging the trench, I realized the downspouts could be connected to this drain and all water redirected to the front garden. Off of this dry-well I dug a few ‘feeder’ trenches into the garden beds, parallel to the sidewalk, and filled them with leftover gravel and drain pipe. This enables the rain water to be directed further into the garden when the dry-well becomes overwhelmed in heavy downpours. On the west side of the house, there is only one downspout watering this side of the garden and it empties into a gravel channel that runs along the base of the largest granite boulders. There is a slight depression in the garden where three ‘Red Rooster’ Sedges are planted and this is to prevent excess rainwater running off the slope.


A rain garden in front of a house
Before

The garden itself was inspired by the gardens of Piet Oudolf, garden designer of the HighLine in New York. He uses an informal, naturalistic approach to his plant choices giving his gardens a prairie or meadow-like feel. I chose to use granite boulders in place of the original traditional retaining wall that was lost behind overgrown plantings and a narrow walkway (photo on right) to create a more natural open feel and to contrast with the soft texture of the plants. I chose plants based on foliage (because of the slope I don’t have to worry about the plants being waterlogged as you might on a flat grade giving more freedom for plant choices). I prefer plants that look great in every season based on their foliage or structure, such as warm season grasses; Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’), Fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) and Silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis). I also chose plants with bold leaves, such as Hosta or Hellebore, that would contrast well with delicate textured plants such as Sweet Woodruff (Galium odorata) and the Dwarf Birch ‘Cesky Gold’ at the bottom corner of the slope . The next steps for the garden are to finish filling in the area around the ‘dry stream bed’ with plants that can compete with the Spruce tree. I plan to replace the Periwinkle (Vinca Minor) I have used as a spot filler throughout the garden with less invasive plants. And possibly replace the turf on the boulevard with a lower maintenance ground cover.


This was the end result!


Thank you for visiting and if you ever see me out gardening stop and say hello! The garden is located at 64 Allen Street East, Waterloo.

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