A little extra rain may not seem like a big deal for Seattleites, but stormwater runoff can collect pollutants and be harmful to the environment, contaminating streams, wetlands, lakes and marine waters. Rain gardens, which help to absorb and purify the water before it makes its way into underground aquifers, are an aesthetically pleasing solution, says Marilyn Jacobs co-owner of Rain Dog Designs (Gig Harbor, 253.459.3539; raindogdesigns.com), a landscaping company with extensive rain garden installation experience.
Creating a rain garden and maintaining one hardly require a green thumb. Jacobs suggests planting it with native, sustainable plants, such as evergreen huckleberry or boxwood honeysuckle, for the easiest maintenance and the most ecological benefits. Those who want their garden to stand out can bring in plants with brighter blooms. For example, Rain Dog designed a colorful, residential garden for a homeowner in Puyallup with a mix of small trees and plants that includes an Acer “Fireglow”maple, yellow twig dogwood, dwarf pines, Autumn Joy sedum, Russian sage, red Echinacea, black-eyed Susans and daisies.
With some teamwork, Rain Dog also helped transform that same residence’s neighborhood (along Eighth Avenue NW). The Puyallup residents applied for and received a grant to redo their street with pervious concrete and asphalt, and Jacobs was brought in to design 13 rain gardens lining the new sidewalks. She determined which plants would be used for each garden, based on the level of maintenance respective to the interests of the homeowner. “For those who really needed low maintenance [rain gardens], we used various sizes of river rock and grasses, like Elijah Blue fescue grass,” says Jacobs.
“On planting day, 90 volunteers came out to plant the 2,782 plants that I had placed. It started raining that afternoon right after we finished planting, and there was no standing water anywhere,” says Jacobs—mission accomplished. Round up your neighbors and get digging!
Photgraphs by Rain Dog Designs. Rain Dog Designs installed a number of gardens along Eighth Avenue NW in Puyallup (funded by a grant) including one at the neighborhood school; dwarf dogwood, Russian sage and dwarf mugo pines are among the plants in rain gardens that line the community’s sidewalks
Rain Dog Designs helps clients through the whole process of rain garden design, from picking a spot to planting. But if you want to create your own, Marilyn Jacobs suggests these steps:
1. Pick a spot for your rain garden by testing your soil; a good place for a rain garden should have soil that’s moist, crumbles easily and has the texture of sand rather than clay.
2. Large roots will soak up the moisture your garden needs, so avoid creating the garden near a big tree, like a Douglas fir.
3. Dig your garden in either fall or spring for the perfect amount of soil moisture.
4. Once you excavate at least a 24-inch-deep area, lay a base of either compost (if your soil passes the test) or a rain garden soil mix.
5. Add some mulch and plant away!
For the full rain garden rundown, download the Rain Garden Handbook of Western Washington. Go to access.wa.gov and search “rain gardens.” You can also find more information about rain gardens, and incentives that many communities are offering to homeowners interested in installing them, at 12000raingardens.org.