Sweet April Showers Do Bring May Flowers

Thomas Tusser


April, April,

Laugh thy girlish laaughter,

Then the moment after,

Weep thy girlish tears.

Sir William Watson

I had planned to continue to write about woodland wildflowers this week, but no new ones have started to bloom, so let’s talk about what is happening almost every day–RAIN.

The old paradigm was to convey water through drainage ditches, swales, culverts, and storm sewers into streams, rivers, and lakes as fast and efficiently as possible.  Now we realize we should retain water where it falls, drawing it into the earth and the shallow aquifer.

Here are ways to do just that.

Everyone is excited about Rain Gardens and they are, indeed, a good first step, but there are other things we can do, as well.

    • James S. Patchett and Gerould S. Wilhelm
    • The Ecology and Culture of Water



Doesn’t the lawn absorb rain water?


If it did, there would be no need to put a drain in the lawn to carry water away.












See the little fringe on the far left?  That’s Kentucky Bluegrass.  Its roots penetrate the ground as deeply at the blades grow tall.  To the right are native prairie plants–some of the roots grow as deep as 15’.   (Roots poster courtesy of the Conservation Institute.)




1. Therefore, reduce lawn to what you need. This is my side yard in early June.




A lovely sitting area, end of June.  Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) Full sun.



2. Add deep and densely rooted native landscaping to draw rainwater into the earth, eliminating watering.  June bloom–White Wild Indigo (Baptisia leucantha) Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) Full Sun, mesic soil.



  • Capture rainwater that you can use to water your vegetable garden.



    4. Install permeable walks and driveways to allow for rainwater penetration.







    An old fashioned ribbon driveway allows for maximum rain penetration.





    5. Build rain channels to direct water into decorative pools, waterfalls , or fountains.




    6. Use bioswales to slow down, capture, and absorb rainwater.  (Design by Kerry Leigh)

    7. Add rain garden to hold and infiltrate water.


    Rain Garden at my house at the end of a downspout in June.  Blue Flag (Iris virginica var. shrevei), Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), Fowl Meadow Grass (Glyceria striata), and Crested Oval Sedge (Carex cristatella) Partial shade, wet-mesic soil


    Client’s rain garden–1 year old.  In bloom: Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya) and Tall Water Parsnip (Sium suave). Rain runs along a vegetated swale to depression at the end of the garden.  Full sun, wet-mesic soil.



    Client’s Rain Garden that infiltrates rain water from the driveway. Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewii) in bloom.


    You can read more about Water, Rain Gardens, Rain Channels, Vegetated Swales, and Ponds in my book, Design Your Natural Midwest Garden, in Chapter 7, beginning on page 161. There are designs to emulate and many more photos and descriptions of plants that grow in wet or wet-mesic situations.


    I also have a Power Point Presentation called Rain Gardens that I give to Garden clubs or other organizations.  You can contact me through my web site.







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