Rain Garden Tips: Design


So far in our video series we have talked about winter rain gardens, where to put your rain garden, and evaluating your soil. Today’s post will focus on designing your rain garden. Patricia Pennell of the West Michigan Environmental Council (home to Rain Gardens of West Michigan) wrote a little bit to accompany her video (see below video):

The other day Gary talked about how to locate and shape your rain garden so rain can get into it more easily than it can get into the storm drains. The rain garden he was standing in was beautiful, with river birch (Betula nigra) in the background. But how did the garden designer know that tree would be a good choice? How did they select the right plants? Well, they did some very good homework.

And winter is the very time to do this kind of homework, the kind of thing I call “Green Dreaming”. There are books that can help you choose beautiful native plants that will thrive in your rain garden location. One of my favorites for the Midwest is Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality, by Carrol Henderson, Carolyn Dindorf, and Fred Rozumalski and the Minnesota DNR.

Garden design by a professional is a big help. There are many rules of thumb for rain gardens, such as “one plant per square foot”, but we have discovered that is not always a good idea; spacing depends on the size the plant will be when mature. If a plant will take up a space three feet by three feet in two years, the garden can get very crowded. We try to create rain gardens that have a pleasing design, a good progression of bloom, and look intentionally designed since that is what most of our beholders prefer to see. Watch the video for more handy tips and tools for designing rain gardens.