the dirt

Saving the Bay, One Rain Garden at a Time

Rain Garden on the Chesapeake BayEach year, more and more people in the Chesapeake Bay region are making lifestyle choices that are healthier for us and our environment. Having been in the landscaping business for more than 25 years, I’ve seen a sea change or should I say “bay change” in land use and gardening practices.  My clients are always asking what they can do to restore and protect their own backyard and the Bay. Here are a few simple tips:

  • Reduce or eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The organic alternative is just as effective.  Often we over fertilize, applying fertilizer in spring and fall, when only a fall treatment is needed. See my past blog: Fertilizing 101.
  • Invest in a more efficient irrigation system.  Recognizing that 70 percent of the water laid down by sprinklers is lost to evaporation and runoff, homeowners are turning to low pressure regulators and spray heads that lay down less water per minute but are “on” longer to improve root absorption;   or they are adding smart controllers which allocate the proper level of water, based on temperature and sunlight measurements over time. For those who can afford it, the best investment is an in-ground drip system that wastes practically no water.
  • Mulch to conserve water, suppress weeds, improve soil structure and to lessen erosion.
  • Most important: Manage and recycle your storm water runoff by installing rain barrels and rain gardens, a more aesthetically-pleasing approach.

Rain Garden in Annapolis

A rain garden is a shallow saucer-shaped depression located on a homeowner’s property near a source of excess water, typically generated by paved and compacted surfaces such as rooftops, driveways, sidewalks, streets and even lawns. A rain garden is designed to collect, filter and restore storm water runoff as it slowly makes it way to the watershed. Architectural Gardens has installed many rain gardens over the past decade; but we thought it might be a neat idea to check in with our first rain garden client, Carter Gibson, a retired electronics engineer who lives in historic Annapolis, to hear what he thinks.

AG: What has been your experience with your backyard rain garden?

Gibson: It’s marvelous. Two hours after a five-inch rain, we can go outside and there’s no standing water. It’s dry enough to walk down the path, sit on a bench and sip a glass of wine.

AG: What did your backyard look like before?

Gibson: We had ivy and ground cover. We never went out there. The only thing ground cover is good for is hiding possum and growing trash trees.  Back in those days, after a big storm, the water would just sit on the leaves.

AG: What did it take to install a rain garden?

Gibson: Lots of planning. We installed a large sump that directs water from the roof on the back side of the house, from the driveway and also from the lawn over to the rain garden. In super big storms, when the sump fills up, the excess water flows into a small stream to the rain garden portion of the yard.

AG: What’s planted in the rain garden?

Gibson: Mostly native plants. I don’t know all the names of them. My [late] wife, Eileen, who was a big environmentalist, she worked for the Environmental Protection Agency, picked them. But they are beautiful and they attract a lot of butterflies. The garden has doubled the size of our living space.  The rain garden has been on the Secret Garden Tour three times. We do a lot of entertaining and my grandkids play out there every time they come to visit.

AG: Was installing a rain garden worth it?

Gibson: To be honest, this was initially my wife’s idea. I did it for her. But what a wonderful legacy she left us.  The initial capital investment is a little steep, but the beauty and joy it gives me and my family is priceless. It has changed the way we live. We were already a fairly environmentally-conscious family, but now we are even more determined to conserve and to reduce our carbon footprint. The rain garden serves as a small reminder that all of us have a role and can do something to save the Bay.

About Missy Jones

Missy Jones, owner of Architectural Gardens, is a Master Watershed Steward in Anne Arundel County. Since growing up on the Severn River watershed, her passion is to help save the bay and educate homeowners about conservation landscaping, thus reducing the negative impact of stormwater runoff. Landscaping is in her blood: Missy’s father owned a landscaping company in the Annapolis area and she’s been gardening ever since she learned to walk. Call Missy for a consult, 800.280.2103, and let’s get started.
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