Rain Gardens


Don’t fight storm water, use it!

It was a grey and cool Sunday morning, rain clouds looming, when a dozen neighbours and their young children cheerfully gathered for a group photo. They were proud new owners of rain gardens.


PHOTO: Martina Rowley

David Suzuki Foundation’s Homegrown National Park initiative led this neighborhood project providing a solution to their previously damp basements, puddles in their driveways, and plain front yards.

“It seemed like a no-brainer,” said Tara about why she wanted to be part of the pilot project. “It was a great opportunity to do something for the environment, and at the same time it’s really improved the aesthetics of our front yard.”

A rain garden is designed to catch and slow down – and even prevent – stormwater entering the sewer system. In the city, the water source typically is a disconnected downspout, which is redirected into the garden to allow slow infiltration. Its layers of mulch, sand, compost, and peat moss filter out pollutants, help recharge groundwater and aquifers, reduce local flooding and drainage problems, and lower the potential of overloading sewers.

Compared to a patch of lawn, a rain garden allows about 30 per cent more water to soak into the ground. A ‘soak-away’ pit in a rain garden helps direct the collected water towards the water table below, instead of allowing it to disperse and evaporate close to the surface.

The project’s landscape designer, Gillian Leitch of Alter Eden, said “the families are so wonderful and have an amazing sense of community.”

Entire families came with their young children to help dig, put in different layers, and place and plant from a list of 30 native, drought-resistant plants, to create habitats that provide pollen, nectar, and foraging materials for bees and butterflies.

Native Plants in Claremont provided the plants and created a “raingarden wildflower kit” to suit any combination of sun exposure. In addition to columbine, Solomon’s seal, trilliums, bloodroot, Joe pye-weed, swamp weed, milkweed, Cardinal flowers, and coreopsis – to name a few – each garden received 10 lobelias, which the bees seem to go crazy over. Catherine already had numerous milkweed plants in her garden, which self-seeded three summers ago and attract many butterflies and even hummingbirds. “Next year, I want to add more native plants.”

Native plants are drought-resistant and require no watering once they are established, yet can also handle being soaked for a few hours after a rainfall. Despite the gardens’ name, a rain garden does not stay wet nor create a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Typically it drains within two to four hours after heavy rain.

Even expert gardener and broadcaster Mark Cullen sings the praises of retaining stormwater. His permeable gravel driveway also fits the new design idea of Low Impact Development (LID), which can even help reduce home insurance rates with some providers.

For now, the new rain gardens in East York, with their signs proudly announcing participation in the project, are a good conversation starter for passersby. Now, Barb says, “One of my neighbours wants to participate in the next rain garden project”, and Tara’s mother, who lives in Barrie, wants her own to solve her flooding problems.

As several proud rain garden owners happily exclaim in unison: “And it’s no-maintenance!”

Martina Rowley is an environmental communicator  ~  martina@beachbusinesshub.ca  


– Beach Metro Community News – http://www.beachmetro.com –