Rain gardens help us...

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We've lowered the grade in a space large enough to accept all the water from the roof, up to a two-inch downpour. We've piped the downspouts and sump pump to this low spot so the water they discharge won't puddle near the house. Now we're planting some of the species from these lists in this rain garden. 

...use all the water we're given

A purposely created low spot on a property can intercept run-off water or accept water directed to it from downspouts, sump-pumps and other sources. When that spot is planted with species that love occasional flooding, the ground there can accept even more since a good deal is drawn into plants. There it's used in photosynthesis and cools the area as it's released as water vapor.

Plants' water use is not to be sneered at. A large tree can draw up over 1,000 gallons of water each day. Some wetland native perennials can use gallons per day as individuals, tens of gallons as colonies.

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An individual's rain garden can make a difference

Slowing run-off and directing water through the natural filter of soil and plants is a very important part of keeping up the quality of a community's drinking water. Although municipal- and industrial water treatment facilities are very important, water quality engineers are demonstrating that individuals treating the flow from residential properties can make a significant difference in the level of pollutants found in an area's lakes and streams. (EPA report forecasts a 5 - 20% improvement...) So it shouldn't be surprising that many communities in Europe and an increasing number in the U.S. and Canada are requiring rain gardens as part of new property development.

Check with your city or locality's planning board. Some will help you grade the edge of your property to create a rain garden, and most provide lists of suitable plants tailored to your region.

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Above: We tell clients about rain gardens and are glad when we get the go-ahead to include one in a landscape. Gradually, the perennials take hold and sort themselves out according to the moisture gradient. We selected and placed plants in this space based on the amount of water each species prefers. This tends to group plants by aggression, as well. For instance, the sweet Solomon's seal and goatsbeard at the dry end of the bed are rather tame. At the wet end, turtlehead is suited to compete with the water-loving ribbon grass.

What to plant

Here are our favorite perennials for sun to part shade and perennials for shade, plus other plants for rain gardens.

This list can be downloaded as an 8-page chart complete with each plant's height, flower color, bloom time and notes about placement and manners (clump forming versus running-root).RainGdnPlantSample2.jpg

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Perennials for rain gardens,
in sun to part sun:

Ajuga/Bugle, Ajuga reptans
Arrowhead, Saggitaria latifolia
Astilbe/False spirea, Astilbe species
Bee balm/bergamot, Monarda species
Bistort/great bistort/snakeweed, Polygonum bistortum
Blazing star, Liatris spicata
Blazing star/meadow blazing star, Liatris ligustylis
Blazing star/prairie blazing star, Liatris pycnostachya
Blue flag, Iris versicolor

Blue vervain, Verbena hastata
Bog arum, Calla palustris
Bog goldenrod,
   Solidago uliginosa

Border jewel, Polygonum affine
Bottle gentian,
   Gentiana andrewsii

Canary reed grass,
   Phalaris arundinacea

Cardinal flower/Red birds,
   Lobelia cardinalis

Cat-tail, Typha species
Cinnamon fern,
   Osmunda cinnamomea
   Aquilegia canadensis

Many of the plants on these lists have had their test in our home rain gardens.
Here at the foot of our driveway we dug to enlarge the original swale, which
was from the first graded wrong so that its low end is near the driveway
rather than at the storm drain far to the right. The water from the road and
driveways uphill flows into our rain garden to filter through and nurture blue
flag iris, prairie dock, great bistort, Joe Pye, swamp buttercup,
culver's root,
Filipendula and others.

Creeping forget-me-not,
   Myosotis scorpioide
Creeping jenny,
   Lysimachia nummularia

Culver's root,
   Veronicastrum virginicum

Cup plant,
   Silphium perfoliatum

Daylily, Hemerocallis species
Filipendula hexapetala/F. vulgaris

Elder/dwarf elder,
   Sambucus ebulus
Fairy candle/bugbane/
   rattlesnake root,
Ferns, Osmunda species
   Epilobium angustifolium

Gardener's garters, Phalaris arundinacea
Gentian, Gentiana
Germander, Teucrium chamaedrys
Globeflower, Trollius species
Goatsbeard/Child of two worlds, Aruncus dioicus                                 Download this list as a chart
Golden Alexanders, Zizia aurea
Golden coins, Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'
Goldenrod, Solidago species, Euthammia species
Grass leaf goldenrod/Flat topped goldenrod, Euthamia graminifolia
Great blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica
Greenheaded coneflower, Rudbeckia laciniata
Hardy hibiscus/swamp mallow, Hibiscus moscheutos
Helen's flower/sneezeweed, Helenium autumnale
Hoary vervain, Verbena hastata
Hosta, Hosta
Interrupted fern, Osmunda claytoniana
Iris, Iris
Ironweed, Vernonia species
Japanese iris, Iris kampfaeri
Joe Pye, Boneset/thoroughwort, Eupatorium species
Knotweed, Polygonum species
Lobelia, Lobelia
Loosestrife, Lysimachia
Marsh marigold, Caltha palustris
Masterwort, Astrantia species
Meadow rue, Thalictrum species
Monkshood, Aconitum species
Mountain mint, Pycnanthemum virginianum
New England aster, Aster novae-angliae
New York ironweed, Vernonia novaboracensis
Obedient plant/false dragonshead, Physostegia virginiana
Ostrich fern, Osmunda matteucia
Prairie dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum
Primrose/cowslip, Primula species
Quamas/Camas/Indian turnip, Camassia cusickii
Queen of the meadow, Filipendula ulmaria
Queen of the prairie, Filipendula rubra
Rabbit ear iris, Iris laevigata
Ribbon grass, Phalaris arundinacea
Royal fern, Osmunda regalis
Sensitive fern, Onoclea sensibilis
Siberian iris, Iris sibirica
Stiff gentian, Gentiana quinquefolia
Swamp milkweed/marsh milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
Swamp buttercup, Ranunculus acris                                                   Download this list as a chart
Sweet flag, Acorus calamus
Sweet flag, Iris pseudacorus
Turtlehead, Chelone obliqua
Vervain, Verbena hastata
Violet/Common violet, Viola sororia
Water mint, Mentha aquatica

Perennials for rain gardens, in shade


Ajuga/bugle, Ajuga reptans
Anemone, Anemone
Baneberry, Actaea species
Bee balm, Monarda species
Bugbane, Cimicifuga species
Canada anemone, Anemone canadensis
Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis
Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis
Columbine meadow rue,
   Thalictrum aquilegifolium

Creeping forget-me-not, Myosotis scorpioides
Doll's eyes, Actaea pachypoda
Fairy candle, Cimicifuga species
False goatsbeard, Astilbe
Ferns:  Osmunda and Onoclea species
Fingerflower, Rodgersia species
Globeflower, Trollius europaeus
Great blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica
Groundsel, Ligularia
Hosta, Hosta
Jack in the pulpit, Arisaema species
Lady's slipper, Cypripedium calceolus
Leopard plant, Ligularia
Ligularia, Ligularia
Lily, Lilium species
Lobelia, Lobelia
Meadow rue, Thalictrum species
Rattlesnake weed, Cimicifuga species
Red baneberry, Actaea rubra                                                               Download this list as a chart
Rogers flower, Rodgersia species
Sedge, Carex species
Sweet flag/false sweet flag, Acorus calamus
Trout lily, Erythronium species
Turtlehead, Chelone obliqua
Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica
White baneberry, Actaea pachypoda
Skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus

Annuals, shrubs and trees for rain gardens

Castor bean, Ricinus communis
Elephant ear, Colocasia esculenta
Ham 'n eggs, Lantana hybrids
Lantana, Lantana
Touch-me-not/spotted touch-me-not, Impatiens capensis

Cranberrybush viburnum, Viburnum trilobum, V. opulus
Dogwood, Cornus species
Elder/Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis
Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius
Spicebush, Lindera benzoin
Willow, Salix species

Alder, Alnus species
Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum
Dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides
Poplar/Cottonwood, Populus species
Willow, Salix species






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