Last week, Ask Mother Nature advice columnist Chanie Kirschner tackled a topic that seems to be on the minds of a lot of folks lately: “What is a rain garden and where can I get one?”
In the column, Chanie chats with New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection watershed ambassador Etan Hindin about the environmental perks of attractive, native plant-filled landscape features that trap and filter rainwater and their importance in relation to CSOs (combined sewer overflow systems), a topic that I’ve broached recently. Chanie also talks about how to “get one” which basically involves designing and constructing one — you can’t buy a rain garden at your local Home Depot — according to the topography of your yard.
This got me thinking about the presence of rain gardens in cities where there’s both a constant drizzle and a constant threat of polluted runoff. Naturally, Seattle came to mind. Just recently, Seattle-based environmental nonprofit Stewardship Partners and Washington State University Extension teamed up to launch 12,000 Rain Gardens, an audacious, first-of-its-kind campaign urging residents across the Puget Sound, not just in Seattle proper, to construct a rain garden within the next five years. According to campaign organizers, the presence of 12,000 new rain gardens across Puget Sound neighborhoods by 2016 can help to soak up of 160 million gallons of polluted runoff each year.
Picture this: Correctly installed, a rain garden looks like a leafy cluster of plants and clean soil. Rain garden sizes are flexible depending on the location. The whole idea is to use the right landscaping to do the job nature has done for millennia — reducing our dependence on expensive pipe and drain systems to carry away storm water. In addition, you don't need a green thumb or have to invest long hours to maintain an attractive rain garden.