What exactly is a rain garden? You may have seen an article here or there about them, or seen one planted near a new building accompanied by a sign about the benefits of native plants.
Rain gardens can be planted by large companies next to new buildings as a part of the company’s promise to be “green”; by regular people in their yards who either pay for one on their own or get a grant from their local watershed district; they are often planted by city and county park districts to enhance public parks. But really, what’s the deal with rain gardens?
Many recent studies have shown that rain gardens, once established (depending on care this can take 3-5 years), have many benefits. The deep roots of the flowers and grasses break up and aerate the soil, allowing more rain water to be absorbed in the local aquifer. They provide water purification, removing over 90 percent of common contaminants such as lawn herbicides and fertilizers before they reach a major body of water.
The flowers and grasses provide shelter and food for a variety of birds and insects, and depending on the size of the garden mammals as well. Rain gardens also make rain through transpiration, which is a plant’s way of cooling off and adds moisture to the atmosphere.
There are many places to look for more information on how to install a raingarden in your own yard. Metroblooms has a good website with information to get you started and they can also be hired to install one. Prairie Restorations Inc., the oldest landscaping company that focuses on native plants in Minnesota, can provide high-quality plantings and weed management to help the garden become established. Or for less money you can buy the plants from their nursery and make it a do-it-yourself project.
Rain gardens in the Twin Cities area include a few around Como Lake (including an impressive shoreline restoration), a sizable raingarden and shoreline restoration at Lake Phalen, and a multitude of other examples. Rain gardens have become nearly as numerous as parks, and they along with shoreline restoration work are helping to purify our waters, and are bringing back wildlife to the cities.