Saturday, July 17, the First Floor hosted “Gardening for Water Conservation.” Juliette Jones, Education Specialist of Sustainable Programs at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, delivered a smart, engaging presentation about water in home landscapes.
Her timely talk reminded me of a chore I need to complete. Last month a plumber removed a broken cast iron pipe that one of my downspouts drained into. The clogged pipe froze last winter and cracked. Now instead of sending rain from the roof into the city sewer, I have the opportunity to direct it into a rain barrel.
As soon as I get a barrel, I’ll use collected rain to hand water nearby pots and raised beds. Since a rain storm will likely supply more liquid than one barrel can contain, Juliette Jones suggested using the barrel’s overflow to grow a rain garden.
A rain garden is dug more deeply than a conventional garden, usually four to eight inches, forming a shallow pool. Full of deep rooted plants, during a rainstorm the garden quickly fills with water that slowly filters into the ground.
Phipps Conservatory is a member of The Three Rivers Rain Garden Alliance, whose Web site explains why rain gardens are valuable elements of sustainable landscapes.
On the surface, a rain garden is the same wild flowers and other native plants you’d expect to see in any garden. But the difference runs deep. During a storm or shower, the rain garden soaks up a few inches of water runoff from a roof, driveway, or other paved surface. That water slowly seeps into the ground instead of heading for the nearest storm drain.
Why does that matter?
It’s all about runoff. As our region’s forests, farmland and other green spaces are paved over for highways, housing developments and shopping centers, the amount of impervious surface continues to grow. All this “progress” paves over the ground’s natural ability to absorb rainwater.
In many local communities, sewage and storm water systems are still connected underground. It takes as little as a tenth of an inch of rainfall to overload them, causing sewage to overflow into streams, yards and rivers. And even where storm water doesn’t enter the sewage system, runoff follows storm drains and surface paths, picking up pollutants that contaminate our rivers.
The Rain Garden Alliance provides lists of plants native to Southwestern Pennsylvania for both sunny and shady sites. These plants tolerate wet feet as well as extended dry periods. They provide habitat for birds, bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects, which is good for the entire garden.
In the neighborhood
From CLP – Main, take a short walk up Schenley Drive to visit a newly planted rain garden at the Schenley Park Café and Visitor Center. p
Ideas and instruction
From the Library’s shelves . . .
- Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway
- Rain Gardens: Managing Water Sustainably in the Garden and Designed Landscape by Nigel Dunnett and Andy Clayden