Saturday, May 26, 2012

Roses and Riverbeds: The Accidental Rain Garden

I once read an article about a garden that banned the colors pink, yellow, orange, and red. Every plant was chosen for its foliage and white, blue, or purple flowers. Despite its limited palette, the garden was beautiful and well designed but it seemed odd to me that only certain colors were allowed. I had recently extended my garden just to include a Graham Thomas climbing rose, a vigorous yellow climber I had been lusting after for years. I imagined its rich golden blooms draping gracefully over my fence and was determined to find a spot for it despite the obvious lack of available space.

All winter the same ridiculous conversation played itself out in my head, "I have nowhere to put this rose, so where am I going to put it?" With no space available, the only solution was to rip up a swath of grass and extend the garden. The only problem with my solution to the previous problem lay in the fact that my newly proposed bed lay at the edge of the swale that directed rain water away from my basement and towards the storm drain at the front of my property. I was hoping to create a mostly moist, sunny bed that would water my rose and give my dry, shady garden more light-filled planting space. 

To deal with the occasional gully washer, I added a dry riverbed through the new bed, bisecting it into two halves that would help absorb excess water while also watering the plants.  I'm not sure if it was the sheer will driving me to finish the project before spring break ended or the emotional release of physical labor directing my thoughts away from the recent death of one of my dogs, but it never occurred to me as I created the new bed that I was creating a rain garden. The more I dug, hauled compost and rocks, and planted, the less I openly grieved. The function of the garden became less important than the process of creating it.

Tropical Storm Alberto dropped almost 5 1/2 inches of rain on the casa this week, the mulch pounded with such force grooves like waves appeared over night, odd grassy corners filling with detritus. The riverbed flooded, the French well at the end filled, and the compost absorbed the rest. I was able to minimize the amount of water gushing though my storm drain and into the Chesapeake completely by accident. It was wonderful!


Digging up the sod

I used bricks leftover from my neighbors patio to help create the riverbed. Composted leaves and thatch removed from the lawn were used to build the raised berms.


I added a barrier to the area between the fence and the garden to help slow down the invasion of grass from our neighbors lawn.


I used a weed barrier made from recycled plastic bottles to form the bottom of the riverbed. I held it in place with salvaged bricks. 


The bulk of the riverbed was filled with
 cheap bags of pond rocks from Lowe's.


The first riverbed was too short and the soil level wasn't high enough.


I extended the riverbed to the fence and raised the soil level. I dug a French well, which is an intelligent way of saying " a big deep hole full of rocks" at the end of the riverbed to keep my water from rushing into my neighbor's yard. I took this picture after Alberto hit and the water had drained. The riverbed is still full of mulch.



Small boulders were strategically placed to slow down the force of the water. 


A trumpet creeper vine grows along the fence behind the rain garden.


Granite mini- boulders


Trailing lantana attracts butterflies


I love this pot and wanted to find a use for it after it started to fall apart. I sunk it into the garden to function as a toad house. 


Because this garden will be dry more often than wet, I added plants that  could withstand dry conditions. Dwarf gaura only grows to about 16". 


I love the new red foliage. 


Pennisetum 'Piglet' and a red creeping sedum were planted near the gaura. The pennisetum is on the side closest to the riverbed to take advantage of all available moisture.


'Peter's Purple', a xeric monarda, is planted near the fence. One of the plants was butt-pruned by one of my dogs. Pink coneflower seedlings grow between the monarda and the birdbath. I added a water wiggler to the birdbath to discourage mosquitoes.


A 'Graham Thomas' climbing rose and a 'Happy Chappy' ground cover rose grow along the fence. This area is close to the hose and a rain barrel and will be easy to keep watered. 'Pink Grapefruit' yarrow and a dwarf agastache grow between the roses and the gaura.



I couldn't resist a rose with yellow, apricot, and pink roses all on one small bush anymore than I could resist its cheerful name.



Sedum 'Atumn Joy' divisions as well as Persian cornflower seedlings and a yellow yarrow fill in the gap between the mums and the riverbed. I was worried the sedum would rot in so much rain, but they're thriving.


I love the curving path the new bed helped create. The deutzia is almost done flowering. 


Flax (linum 'Appar'), dwarf rue, and prairie dropseed grass are also planted in the rain garden.

52 comments:

  1. Wow! It looks amazing and really functional.

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    1. Thanks! It is functional, which is so satisfying. I was so happy to see it channel the rain from Alberto away from my storm drain.

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  2. That is really impressive what you managed to get done and it looks wonderful. Love to see follow up with things in bloom.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. I'm really looking forward to seeing what it looks like in a few years when the plants are bigger, especially the grasses.

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  3. Very well thought out. I like your toad home too. I was wondering about it leading right to the neighbors and you already had it solved.

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    1. Thanks! I was worried I'd just be diverting my water to their yard so the French well worked out quite efficiently. Needless to say, me neighbors were relieved.

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  4. What a major project. It came out really nice, and I know it was therapeutic for you to work on it. Now it has been rain tested, and you know it can handle all conditions! I love that Happy Chappy rose, and your golden climber as well. They will brighten and dress up the new bed, making a fully functional rain area look ornamental and eye catching. Isn't it fun to work with rocks and boulders?

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    1. This project was really therapeutic. I started it the night we put Chance to sleep. I was so hurt and angry and just digging and ripping up grass was calming. If any more of my dogs die suddenly, I can kiss the grass goodbye.

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  5. Good grief you did a lot! Makes me hot just thinking about it!

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    1. Fortunately, it was the first week of April so it was really cool. It was an excellent workout. Who needs a gym when you have a garden? :o)

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  6. I really like seeing gardens being created. Your new garden is beautiful and hurray that it is a rain garden.

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    1. Hopefully, it will inspire more people to create rain gardens, which are so necessary to protect our watersheds and water supplies.

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  7. Your new area you've developed looks really good, I like the shape of it. Quite a lot of work but that's always the fun part... well the outcome is probably the most rewarding! Thanks for your advice on my ornamental cherry tree. All the best, Kelli, Northern Ireland.

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    1. Thanks! I'm excited about the curved path. I've always wanted a curved path in my garden. I'm easy to please!

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  8. I loved reading this. Think we will have to do something along this line to help with the washout we have in our back garden. Great tutorial. Not sure if I will do it quite like yours as mine will have to be 125 feet long...which is a lot of stone!!!
    Love Happy Chappy colors, what a pretty rose!

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    1. Our soil is heavy clay, west of Columbia. The volume of rock we need will have to be by the truck load...bags wouldn't cut it. Because the washout river forked a few times, I need to figure out the best pathway to cut and direct the water. oy.

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    2. Just think of how fun it will be to plan a new garden. :o) After gardening in both sand and clay, I'd rather have clay. There's less erosion.

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  9. Whoa! What a fabulous, textured rain garden; your variety and quantity make mine look more like a thimble garden. Great project.

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    1. A thimble garden? That cracks me up! Now I'm going to imagine some little creature using thimbles as planters. :o)

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  10. Casa Mariposa, your Rain Garden looks very, very nice. Great job, it must have been a lot of hard physical labor. I can imagine that the roses will enhance it even more. I know that "Graham Thomas" is an outstandingly beautiful rose. But maybe the best of this garden is that it helped you overcome your grief over the death of your dog! I always have believed that gardens and gardening can heal our wounds!
    Christina

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    1. It was a ton of hard work but my husband helped dig up about half the sod, which helped a lot. Gardens and gardening are very healing. I totally agree!

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  11. I didn't know there was drought tolerant monarda. Thanks for sharing and for explaining the reason for using a French drain (well). Looks great!

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    1. French well sounds so much more sophisticated than "big deep hole full of rocks". :o) Happy shopping for the monarda!

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  12. Oh, wow - that was a lot of work, but so beautiful! I agree that gardening really helps in times of grief. Perhaps it's the perfect combination of doing some physical exercise, but allowing the mind to be free to wander and sort things out. How satisfying it must be to know that this bed will hold up well to a tropical storm and fierce rain! And I love that you did it all because you wanted a rose in your garden! :)

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    1. Plant lust can drive a normally sane person to concoct all kids of reasons for expanding or changing the garden! It was a ton of work. But it was worth it. :o)

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  13. Wow, that was a lot of work to make a home for Graham Thomas. It was the first English Rose that I purchased, but I only had to dig a hole for it.

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    1. I've been flirting with Graham for years. Time to finally bring him home to meet the rest of the family. ;o)

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  14. The sculptural quality of the trumpet vine is so striking along the fence. So nice when something works out so well and is beautiful too. I'm trying the Peter's purple this year too. It's doing great and already 3 feet tall flowering. I'm hoping to add more if it performs well through the summer. Hope you're having a nice Memorial Day Weekend.

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    1. Peter's Purple is definitely one tough cookie. I really love it and haven't even seen it bloom yet. I love the sinuous quality of the trumpet vine, too. I just wish it's roots were as cooperative. I'll be ripping them out til I die!

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  15. A lot of work, but looks great. I love the Graham Thomas rose, and the lantana which I had lots of when I lived in the desert. Thanks for visiting my blog.

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    1. You're welcome! Welcome back to noVA! Have fun battling the deer. :o)

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  16. Hi, nice blog, pls look-up true-shapherd.blogspot.in

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  17. What a GREAT solution.

    Also, want to thank you for your comment and YES, I feel special when butterflies and bugs, lizards and other critters call my garden home. I'm with you on the ground squirrels though, they're not really welcome. Sorry Ground Squirrels.

    Peaceable Memorial Day to you and yours,

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

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    1. The squirrels keep me entertained and my dogs well exercised. But I hate it when they chew the buds off my roses. Argh!!

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  18. I'm so sorry you recently lost one of your dogs. You did a fantastic job with the area for your climbing rose and I bet, it'll be happy there.

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    1. I like to think his spirit is still here, wandering the garden with me. It's a soothing thought.

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  19. Wow! I'm impressed! That is such a nice rain garden and you picked some excellent plants. I JUST found out about Peter's Purple Monarda myself and have one in the front bed now. Be sure and take pictures in a month. I do hope we will still be able to see the rocky river bed, but with your green thumb, we may only see foliage! :0)
    David/

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    1. Thanks! The Peter's Purple has shot out so much growth already. I'm really impressed with it. I wish the prairie dropseed grass grew as quickly. It's really tiny.

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  20. That is some serious work that went into your new Rain Garden! Not for the 'faint of heart' by any means. I love the design; 'form following function' can truly be beautiful.

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    1. I rarely think of the amount of work involved. It's all just fun to me. I'm a bit twisted that way. :o)

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  21. That is an incredible amount of work, and the end results are beautiful! Cool evolution in the design and function of your newest garden. It's inspirational!

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    1. Removing the sod and hauling all the rocks was the most physically demanding. I really loved planning it. I can hardly wait to see what it looks like when it matures.

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  22. Beautiful! I am sure that all the wildlife will flock and scurry to your "river bed". I looks very inviting.

    Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy gardening days to leave a comment on my Table for Rue blog! I have thoroughly enjoyed my visit to yours.

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    1. I saved your post in my recipes file. :o)

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  23. You amaze me with how many projects you are able to complete. This looks absolutely wonderful, excellent job. I agree that gardening can be great therapy. Sometimes after a hard day at work all I want is a shovel in my hands.

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    1. I have a lot of energy and a pig-headed determination to finish what I start. Thanks to the rain garden, the new bed I dug out and planted last fall, the frog pond, the nonstop redesigning I did last fall, the heavy ceramic pots I moved into the garden, and the landscaping I did for a friend, I also have rotator cuff tendinitis and a standing date with a physical therapist. However, I'm very grateful my shoulder didn't fall apart until all my current projects were done. :o)

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  24. Ty to jesteś pomysłowy i dlatego masz efekty. To jest śliczny kawałek ogródka. Wykorzystałeś nawet stary garnek ;-). Przykro mi z powodu utraty psa, to bardzo smutne jak straci się przyjaciela. Pozdrawiam.
    You're a resourceful and therefore have effects. This is a lovely piece of garden. You used up old pot;-). I'm sorry about the loss of a dog, it's very sad to lose a friend. Yours.

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  25. Don't you just hate removing sod! It is my least favourite garden task; worse than weeding if you ask me and on par with removing goutweed. You make this new bed and rainwater stream sound like an easy project, but a lot of work went into your rain garden. It looks good though. Can't wait to see the roses!
    P.S. What is a water wiggler and were can I get one? We have lots of pesky mosquitoes!

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  26. That's fantastic! You've inspired me to take on a similar project in an area of the garden I've been neglecting. So sorry about the loss of your dog.

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  27. I missed your blog. I have been away due to bad health and an operation; now, I am hopefully back. Ah! I love your idea of that sinking pot - such a brilliant idea to create a toad house. I need to implement it. I am sorry about the loss of your dog :-( - I have two and can't imagine losing them :-(.

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  28. What a beautiful addition to your yard and garden! I love the pot in the ground. And as things fill in it will be interesting to see it filled in.

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