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.

In an op-ed piece for the Seattle Times, Curt Moulton of the WSU Extension Snohomish County Puget Sound Rain Gardens program and David Burger, executive director of Stewardship Partners, write:

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.

To help reach the 12,000 rain gardens by 2016 goal, Stewardship Partners and WSU have launched an informative, easy-to-navigate website that details the 12,000 Rain Gardens campaign itself, posts rain garden-related events and workshops, and gives pointers on rain garden design and construction basics.

The website also lists rain garden incentive programs for homeowners, profile locals rain garden champions, and describes the campaign’s cluster program, piloted in the towns of Puyallup and Eatonville, in which interested clusters of six to eight adjacent homeowners are eligible for free rain garden installation with the help of Stewardship Partners (and the funding of the Boeing Charitable Trust). And then there’s the robust FAQ section …

Having been born and raised in the Puget Sound, I never realized rain gardens were even a “thing” (Mom and Dad, do you have one?). And although 12,000 new rain gardens by 2016 may seem daunting (that’s about 45 new rain gardens per week give or take for the next five years) the public awareness aspect of the campaign will hopefully resonate. As of today, 678 rain gardens have been registered with 12,000 Rain Gardens website. Not too shabby of a start ...

Puget Sound-based readers: Do you think you’ll participate in the 12,000 Rain Gardens campaign? Or do you already have a rain garden or two on your property? Non-Puget Sounders: Do you have a rain garden? What local resources did you consult when constructing it? Any seasoned rain garden builders have any tips and tidbits to share?

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Needed: A deluge of rain gardens in the Puget Sound by 2016
In an unprecedented effort to reduce polluted runoff and beautify neighborhoods, a Seattle-based nonprofit and a university extension program