What is a Rain Garden?

Rain gardens are like a tiny wetland within sight of your home.

If you've ever been to a wetland you would be familiar with the sorts of plants that grow there and wildlife that frequent them, such as butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, hummingbirds, turtles and a whole host of song and marsh birds. Of course your garden may be too small to lure in Great Blue Herons, but butterflies, hummingbirds, dragonflies, frogs and turtles are a delight to people of all ages.

How are rain gardens different from a standard garden?

Well firstly rain gardens are comprised of a variety of vegetation found growing wild in the area, rather than exotic species, like roses, marigolds, pansies and others.

For most people this translates into wildflowers, but some may choose to add grasses, sedges, ferns and perhaps even some bushes or trees. These plants are specifically chosen for their ability to uptake and store water and to withstand drought. They are also extremely good at cleaning water of the nutrients and poisons that fill our lawns and gardens. A rain garden captures the run-off from major storms and stops it from flooding our already strained storm drains and sewage systems.

How do I build a rain garden?

It's really a very simple process, just be prepared to get dirty and do some digging. Firstly there's location. You'll need a spot downhill from your waterspout, at least ten feet from your home. Estimate the size of your garden by figuring one third the square footage of your roof. This is for standard, black dirt, but if you have sandy soil your garden may be smaller and if you have clay soil it'll need to be a bit larger. If you've chosen a low spot in your yard where water collects, size won't matter, just fill the depression. Dig down 6-8 inches in the center of your garden and slope the sides to run water down into the center, being sure to create a birm on the downhill side to capture the runoff before it gushes into the drains. Simply fill the floor of the garden with the wildflowers, grasses, sedges, bushes or even trees that you've chosen throughout the rest of this website. Be sure and check for height on your flowers. Some can get rather tall. Mulching will help stop weeds, hold moisture and spruce up your rain garden. You may alo consider digging a shallow channel from your downspout to your rain garden and lining it with river rock to help guide rain where you want it to go. You can find additional information and instructions on building rain gardens at the Rain Garden Network.

How do Rain Gardens help?

If you chose to build a rain garden instead of a standard garden you should be proud. You have taken the first step to helping to improve the environment and the quality of water for yourself, your neighbors and the native wildlife. As I'm sure many of you are aware urban sprawl has reduced our natural landscapes to paved roads, homes and acres of lawn. Unfortunately, these surfaces do nothing to stop the run-off in major storms. As discussed in organic supplies this run-off carries all of the industrial pesticides, herbicides and nutrient rich fertilizers into the drains and into the rivers and even into the water treatment plants. A rain garden filled with marsh loving native plants will capture and hold this water, before slowly releasing it into the soil, clean and fresh.

If you live in Kansas City

I'm sure you're aware of the Mayor's initiative to fill our city and neighborhoods with rain gardens. She spent this winter filling the airwaves, spreading the word, teaching people and encouraging everyone to join in the program. If you do live in Kansas City learn about 10,000 Rain Gardens yourself and join one of the workshops. also has a rain garden initiative and website filled with instructions and plans, histories and pictures.

Look for even more garden design ideas at Landscape Design Garden Plans. Or if you're looking for more water designs try Water Features.