Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Rain Garden Redesign

I think I'm one of those people that likes having a project. Hauling rocks, compost, and breaking out the shovels makes me happy. Spending all day in a shopping mall does not. After redesigning my shade garden, one side of my garden swooshed into a beautiful deep curve and one side of my garden did not. It tortured me. I need visual balance and wanted each side of my garden to curve inward like an embrace around an ellipse of grass. The only way to accomplish this was to expand my rain garden. 


My rain garden isn't a traditional sunken garden but a riverbed that fills with water when it rains. Raised berms on each side maintain moisture without permanent saturation. The purpose of a rain garden is to capture as much water as possible to reduce runoff. A giant trumpet creeper vine dominates the fence along the riverbed.



 Clematis grow well in the rich, moist soil. The handmade birdhouse is from Mike Merritt Art.


Staychs 'Hummelo' is a pollinator favorite.

Using the plant selection philosophy of "If it's already in my garden, I must really like it", I redesigned this bed with plants I'd liberated from other sections of the garden. While this seems resourceful, it was my only option after blowing my budget on my shade garden redesign. I purchased a small abelia 'Rose Creek' last fall but since I made the rules, I decided I could also break them. It's hard to resist an abelia.


A curving grass path leads to the gate. The patio to the right is slightly higher than the bed next to the grass allowing water to flow into the trench between the grass and the rain garden. Clover blurs the lines between the riverbed and the grass. A pot of variegated silene rescued from the sale table was just added.


Seashells are scattered along the rocks.

The riverbed is on a slight slope. The area at the front near the grass is the highest point and this area is the lowest. Swamp milkweed added this spring has been planted into the middle of the bed at it's deepest spot. My little abelia is next to the 'Pink Grapefruit' yarrow in a drier spot than the milkweed. Pink turtlehead (chelone 'Hot Lips'), blue mist flower (eupatorium coelestinum), and 'Piglet' fountain grass (pennisetum) thrive in the rich, moist soil. The big rock at the end acts as a dam. 


The rain garden sits at the bottom of a slight slope. The higher up the slope you go, the shadier it is. Malva 'Zebrina', day lilies, and monarda love moist soil. The closer you go to the mouth of the riverbed, the drier it is.


I know this picture is absurdly bright, but I love the contrast between the shady and sunny areas of my garden. This section of the rain garden provides moist but well drained soil.


This is the sunniest part of my garden.


I added 'Little Hennie' sedum to test how dry the soil is at the mouth of the riverbed. Planted in a pocket of pea gravel next to a few large rocks, it's thriving in moist but very well draining soil. 


Blue Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) has small blue flowers that bloom early. The happy frog hose guide keeps the dogs from using this area as a shortcut.

***

Creating the rain garden was a huge project. Begun in 2012, I worked on it steadily each spring and fall, making the process more manageable. Over 2,000 pounds of compost and 1,000 pounds of rocks were used. I did all the work myself.



 Spring 2012

I removed the sod with a shovel and slowly built the berms. Water permeable landscaping fabric lines the bottom of the riverbed. The initial rain garden was pretty small.


February 2013


May 2013

In a plot to replace grass with garden, I expanded the rain garden again last spring


October 2013

and again in the fall.


June 20, 2014

My latest expansion increased the depth of this bed, giving me more sunny spots in an ever shadier garden.


I hand picked the larger rocks at a local stone yard. Bags of river rocks form the base of the river bed.


Adding different sized rocks to the riverbed gave it an more authentic feel. After it rains, it's common to find butterflies licking the minerals from the wet stones. Do I have a photo of this fabulous event? Of course not.

74 comments:

  1. What a great rain garden. Thanks for including the photos of the process. It's always amazing how different climates can be created so near each other. Looking good!

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    1. Thanks! The opposite side of my garden has dry shade so it is a bit humorous at times to find plants for such different areas. My garden goes from one extreme to another!

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  2. Your gardens are beautiful - I love the balance you achieve between full and manicured! It was nice to see the process you've gone through in making and remaking your rain bed, too.

    Best of all, though, is "Wonder Woman"! :-)

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    1. Thanks! I found that Wonder Woman pic last year and have been waiting to use it. :o) If I don't keep my beds a bit tidy any plant that falls onto the grass ends up decapitated by the lawn mower, which makes me crazy. But I like the idea of controlled chaos, anyway. :o)

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  3. You don't "like" projects - you love them! An impressive effort with your usual attention to detail and a beautiful result (of course). I'd love to have a rain garden myself but, then, I guess that presupposes that one must actually live somewhere that gets rain...

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    1. I do love projects! I have a mini-project I'm working on tomorrow now that school's out. I don't think I could ever live in an arid climate again. I like the moist greenness of the east coast. :o)

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  4. What a lovely rain garden you have, Tammy. We're soul mates, I love projects as well. When one is finished, I start a new one ;O) Happy Sunday!

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  5. It's never ending with us, redoing are gardens trying for that perfection. Everything is looking lovely for yours.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. Thanks, Cher. :o) The garden is so satisfying this year. It finally feels like it fits the vision I had for it when we moved here.

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  6. Tammy .... you have created an absolutely stunning project here ... if I could have this I would be one very happy gardener ... it is such a work of art. I love your rocks girl !! ... all that work and all of the material you have used so carefully ... it is a work of true love ... you will enjoy this for years and years to come. Well done you !!
    Love all the pictures to see with how it looks and how it looked in the beginning ... thank you !
    Joy : )

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    1. Thanks, Joy! I loved picking out the rocks. Cleaning them off and seeing what they really looked like once the dust was gone was half the fun. :o)

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  7. I have really enjoyed reading about your rain garden. I have wanted to something similar in our front circle garden. It is divided in half with a path that meanders through it. I have the shade half finally under control. Now you have showed now to create a river bed. I suppose you get much more rain than we do here on the prairie, so thirsty plants are not always a very good choice; however, the garden does has a water system. I also lack a fence that gives a garden such nice infrastructure for climbing and rambling plants. Very nicely done.

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    1. Thanks, Ann! This is definitely a project that has evolved over time. But it's turned into one of my favorite spots in the garden. The rocks were actually really cheap because I bought them at a stone yard that sold by the pound. Yay! :o)

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  8. Tammy how big is that garden of yours? Looking at your pictures you get the impression that it is huge. You did an awful lot of work and it paid off. The result is beautiful.
    'Little Hennie' looks beautiful. I have never seen it before - there are so many sedums.

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    1. My garden and lot are wide but not tremendously deep. The whole area, including the house, is only a 1/4 acre, which converts to 1,012 square meters. I've just tried to maximize the garden space while also leaving grass for the dogs. 'Little Hennie" is just fabulous, but there do seem to be about a million sedum. I love it's blue color. :o)

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  9. Its true, our projects never seem to end. I think your river bed looks great! Isn't it that much more rewarding since you did it all yourself! I often see butterflies on our dry creek bed basking in the sun or getting minerals. Its also a place that frogs like to hide and the lizards like to play. I think river beds add so much to a garden. I love your choice of flowers too...that clematis is stunning!

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    1. I absolutely love the riverbed because of how unexpected but natural it feels. It also solved the problem of what to do with an area that stayed wet when it rained and created run off that flowed into our storm drain and out to the Chesapeake. But I had a so-called expert tell me once that my rain garden wasn't a "real" rain garden because it didn't feature a concrete dam and wasn't sunken. What a dope.

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  10. I've watched the growth of this garden bit by bit but I loved this post for putting all the pieces together and showing all the amazing work you've done. It looks gorgeous now, so loaded with plants and obviously working just as intended. Congratulations and great job!!

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    1. Thanks! Slow and steady won this race. :o)

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  11. The new rain garden area is impressive for both its beauty and function. I'm also impressed you did all this yourself plus you got rid of more lawn. Garden vs. lawn? No contest there.

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    1. The swale in our lawn runs straight into the riverbed so it just made sense to put a garden there. I've seen lots of complicated diagrams on how to build a rain garden but it was really so easy, although the part I didn't post about was how I had to rebuild the new section 3 times to get it right. Every time it rained, I'd go out and tweak it some more. Of course, it meant moving loads of rocks 3 times but it was a great work out. :o)

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  12. Wow, I'm exhausted just reading about it. I also like to have projects in the garden, but this is bigger than any one thing I've tackled. I do love the stone river bed. Have you thought of planting any cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) here? Beautiful hummingbird plant, loves wet and sun so hard to find good spots for it. The straight species has better flower color than the cultivars IMO.

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    1. Lobelia would be awesome here! I hadn't thought about adding it but it's a great idea, although the red might clash with all those pink flowers. :o) When I see you next month I'll be sure to show you my muscles hard earned by moving all those rocks. ;o)

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  13. I love this, such a great inspiring project to undertake, well done you for doing this yourself, very rewarding. I imagine you have more wildlife in your garden now, the planting and design is lovely.

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    1. Thanks!! I do find frogs and toads hopping about in that area and I've seen birds bathing in the river bed when it's full of water. It's wonderful!

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  15. You are a rock star...wanted to use another term but I am keeping it clean! Your rain garden is Outstanding! Pulling in that much compost and rocks is insane and awesome and perfect all rolled into one! And your sweeping beds are just gorgeous.....I am at a loss for words!!!!! I have to bookmark this as I need to create something in my back garden that can catch rain...we have been having some drainage issues and this might help us with some of it. Thank you for inspiring friend!! Wishing you a lovely week!! Nicole xo

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    1. Awww.... Thanks! You are so kind! I took a few years to get it done. If I had to move that much compost/rocks in a week, I'd lose my mind and probably break my back. But heavy manual labor is excellent justification for scarfing down pizza and cookies when I'm done. :o) The rain garden was the perfect solution for our soggy spot. If you're having drainage issues, give it a try! The river rock and compost was purchased in bags from the local big box hardware store since I had no clue how much I needed.

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  16. I love your rain garden project, and indeed it is so much better to have running projects in the garden than spending time in shopping malls, actually I hate shopping.

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    1. Thanks! I don't enjoy shopping, either. I go in, buy what I need, and leave. I'd rather garden, read, bake, travel or hang out with my friends.

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  17. I envy you the space you have to create different gardens which suit different plants and love the fact that you do all this heavy work yourself - muscles of steel you must have by now. Our garden is just the opposite very free draining holding no moisture - plants don't last long here I'm afraid - still, we all have our cross to bear.

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    1. My garden is wide and my lot is a bit bigger than many of the home lots I saw when I was in England. I have so many different climatic areas in my garden, from dry shade to moist sun, that it's fun to be able to switch gears and try new plants for all the different spots. I enjoy physical labor and exercise. I like feeling my body work. Although when it starts to ache, my opinion may change for a few hours. :o)

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  18. You are truly incredible. I can't get over how great it all looks, and that you did it all yourself! Can I have your autograph?

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    1. Thanks! But really, I'm just a stubborn cuss who refuses to give up. If I were a dog, I'd be a terrier/lab mix. I'd keep going until I passed out and it would never occur to me to stop. If you scratch me behind the ears, I kick my back leg and drool. :o)

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  19. My gawd, you are a force to be reckoned with! How do you keep track of all those plants? I bought my first non-bland plants this spring and already I've forgotten what they are. All two of them.

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    1. That cracks me up! I assure you for every plant name I remember, I brain-dump something else. Imagine your plants are animals and you'll remember their names no problemo! :o)

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  20. Gorgeous, and certainly worth the work. Time to relax with a mojito now. :)

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    1. Thanks! Now off to mix a mojito.... :o)

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  21. Awesome!!!!! My back aches for you just looking at all the rock. It is beautiful and you did a fantastic job, I love all your pics and inspiration you provide for us other gardeners.

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    1. Thanks! I hauled the rocks very slowly and with the help of a wheelbarrow. But my back would argue that I did not haul them slowly enough. :o)

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  22. Wow! You do get stuck in to these huge projects and pull off a masterpiece don't you! It really is lovely and so interesting, I could do with having you around here. The cartoon had me in stitches laughing....fab post....as usual!xxx

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    1. If were a superhero, that's exactly the kind I'd be: I'd forget my costume and would be running around in my underwear. :o)

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  23. Too bad you forgot your SuperGardener suit! You have created a beautiful solution to a common type of drainage problem. I love your rock selection and your plantings. Hard work, but surely a labor of love!

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    1. Thanks, Deb! I think everything we do in the garden is a labor of love, some are just more laborious than others. :o)

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  24. Very cool to see the process--you worked your fanny off Miss T. Too bad about the superwoman suit, might have come in handy. I LOVE your river rocks. That was a really fine idea. Brava. (The spell check is having a fit, but it doesn't know that I speak Italian and that you are female, hence the "a" at the end. Phooey to you spell checker.

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    1. You speak Italian? Very impressive. I speak fluent American on bad days and actual English on good days. :o) Without different sized rocks, the riverbed looked weird.

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  25. Wow what a terrific project, and as a woman around whom NO lawn is safe if I can find the shovel I must say you are my kind of do it yourself gardener. I love seeing the project grow in the photos, and I love the rocks-- there is just something particularly perfect about rocks with plants.

    p.s.I know what you do. You work for hours, collapse in the evening, then sneak back just before dark to admire the progress. That's what I do.

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    1. I've done that, too! I've done quite a bit of flashlight gardening. :o)

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  26. I'm with you all the way...you go girl! Farewell lawn....slowly but surely.
    What an amazing challenge & doubly amazing result. Fancy a job in the UK? :)

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    1. A job in the UK would create a very long commute! But aren't all British gardens rain gardens? ;o)

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  27. Lovely! I want to do this but hit looks like so much work!

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    1. Just start slow. It took me 2 years to get it to look the way I wanted.

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  28. Yowsa! You're one impressive super hero, costume or not!

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    1. Thanks! But it took two years so if I ever had to rescue someone as a superhero, I hope they're patient. :o)

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  29. Casa M. I am in total agreement on calling the "President" Madame President .. as you suggested ! ... I am still in utter awe of this project you have accomplished ... amazing and so beautiful ! I love your sense of humor too ... note to self "must interject more humor in blog posts !!" LOL
    Joy : )

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    1. I'm tired of a political establishment run by old white guys so The President will always be known as Madame President in my garden. :o) I have a pretty wacky sense of humor. I'm convinced one of my sempervivums looks like a sea monster. My family just smiles and nods.

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  30. The end result is fabulous and the photos show it looking fantastic. It does often take time to get an area just right and you've done a super job over the months and years. I have an area I designed last summer and it will be the first area I change this autumn - I enjoy the work too!

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    1. Thanks! I've already identified a few spots that need some work this fall, too. I like the challenge of keeping up with the garden and don't feel like a failure when something doesn't work out as I planned. It's just another opportunity to learn more about my garden and myself. :o)

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  31. What a great project! And your yard looks so nice, with all the variety of different areas and all the different flowers you have. All your hard work (working with stone is indeed very hard work) has yielded amazing results! And thanks for visiting my blog and especially for so generously featuring it in your Blogger Spotlight! I'll look forward to your future posts. -Beth

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  32. amazing job, Im not sure I could accomplish all that but your garden looks wonderful I love the large rocks...I just joined your blog. please come by and visit.. with love Janice

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  33. Hi Tammy, I love how the border expands over the years, that's exactly what I did with mine. It starts with a straight line narrow border, then I bring it out, then add curves, then make them more voluptuous and by the end, a narrow strip has turned into a wide, undulating border many feet wide. Then I wonder how I'm going to get to the back of it! Great to see the progress pictures over the years, it's good to occasionally look back to see what you started with and how it came to be the way it is today. The dancing frog is classic too, and of course the clematis...!

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    1. The whole rain garden started because I wanted more space to plant a rose and then a friend suggested I add some rocks to avoid erosion. The project just kept growing larger as I realized I'd actually created a rain garden. There was absolutely no master plan!

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  34. Great job with your rain garden Tammy....loved it a whole lot....now if only we could get some rain here, I could perhaps have a rain garden of my own.

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  35. Wow! What an amazing project. You really are superwoman even if you haven' t got the costume. I love the idea of the river bed with different sized rocks and stone. It looks fantastic. I love stone and as we live in a stoneless area I got a huge one for my birthday some years ago. The trouble is I had to leave it behind when I started a new life. I still dream about that beautiful rock. I shall never have such a big one again but maybe I may copy your riverbed idea. But 2 years to do? Perhaps not.

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    1. It took my two years because I had no master plan. It all started as means to add a rose to the garden and just evolved from there. If I'd had a plan to guide me, I could have finished it in one season.

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  37. You must be so proud. All that hard work has paid off and your rain garden looks super Tammy!

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    1. I am proud! I feels good to see it functioning as intended. Plus, I just love an excuse to add rocks to the garden.

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  38. Tammy you are my hero...Wonder Woman. I need to redo my rain gardens and you have given me so many ideas...thanks!!

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