Rain Gardens

Rain Gardens

Part of Ep. 1302 Lettuce Grow!

John Gishnock of Broadhead's Applied Ecological Services explains how rain gardens decrease water run-off. He shows viewers how to create and maintain the native plant-populated gardens then create beauty in all four seasons.

Premiere date: Jun 29, 2005

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
We're standing in the middle of a rain garden. Rain gardens have been around for a while but lately they've become a real hot topic in gardens. And we're here to find out why. I'm with John Gishnock of Applied Ecological Services out of Brodhead. John was a major factor in creating this garden. First of all, I have to ask how you were involved and what is a rain garden?

John Gishnock:
Well, we were involved about a year ago. Clients came to us and said, "We want some landscaping, but we want to do something a little different, too. We want to think about our rain water, and handle our rain water in the landscape. Can you help us out?" We said, "Of course we can." So, we sat down together and came up with a plan that was essentially solving both their criteria, giving them some landscape, beautifying their property, but at the same time, trying to manage their rooftop runoff of their rain water at the same time. What we came up with was a galactic rain garden. And in general, rain gardens are beautiful perennial beds. Much like traditional landscape beds, we'll landscape with wildflowers or colorful native plants that bring color into our property. But rain gardens are slightly depressed. I don't mean psychologically, but they're slightly dug into the ground.

Shelley:
So, we don't have that mounded pile of soil that we are so accustomed to.

John:
Exactly, so we'll just depress them a couple of inches and we'll direct our rooftop runoff, our gutters into these areas, these small gardens, and hold our storm water there for a short period of time and allow the plants to take up the water and allow it to get back into the ground, where we want to help to replenish our groundwater.

Shelley:
Why is that important? Most people have said, well, water runs down into the streets and always has, so what?

John:
When we're talking about rain gardens, we can talk about the four "E"s as far as benefits go. One of the biggest benefits is an environmental benefit. We want homeowners to start thinking about their rainwater. We see so much flooding. We see so much pesticide runoff. We see lots of problems erosion with our rivers, streams and creeks. If we could all start to think about our storm water because that's really the culprit of a lot of the problems.

Shelley:
Because so many of us exist.

John:
Exactly, we continue to do a lot of paving building roofs, building homes. And what we do is we create less opportunities for water to get back into the ground and create more hard surfaces or places that water can't get into the ground.

Shelley:
Our rain garden does the opposite and encourages the water to stay here and go back where it belongs.

John:
It sure does.

Shelley:
What are the other three "E"s?

John:
Esthetics. So, if not an environmental reason you might build a rain garden for esthetic reasons. These rain gardens are beautiful. They'll bloom from the spring on through the fall. Very colorful, lots of varieties and textures. Educational. Rain gardens are very educational. We've built several at a variety of schools. And at home, it's a great opportunity to talk about cultural and natural history of native plants, understanding storm water and start to think about interactions with our local fauna and plants. And then, our other "E" is economics.

Shelley:
That's always a good one.

John:
So, we can start to pay for our rain garden over the course of time through something called a tax break. Some cities are giving folks tax breaks on their storm water utility tax, if they build a rain garden that can handle storm water.

Shelley:
And low maintenance, so if they're prairie plants, we're not fertilizing or having extra cost there.

John:
Exactly, we're talking about using plants that are indigenous, or from Wisconsin historically, plants that have grown here for thousands of years. They've adapted to Mother Nature.

Shelley:
They're perfect for a place that's wet part of the year and dry other parts.

John:
These plants are adapted to spring rains and do well with summer dry downs.

Shelley:
You referred to this one as a galactic rain garden.

John:
It's a garden that's out of this world! Our clients are amateur star gazers. They've spent time on their second-story deck watching the stars. We wanted them to enjoy their rain garden from the second story. So, we created a galactic rain garden. And that's the tie-in to the star gazing. What we've done is taken rain water from the gutter on the side of the building and created this linear, serpentine spiraling rain garden that spirals into their patio space. So, we've actually brought the rain garden into a formal outdoor space for enjoyment. And the rain garden overflows, and then eventually moves into another larger rain garden that ties onto it.

Shelley:
I see beautiful sedges, some wonderful prairie plants. When it's in bloom, it's beautiful, but with the movement you've created, it's beautiful all the time.

John:
We used lots of sedges in this area, just to kind of create a cleaner look and allow people to really see this serpentine piece of the garden. Sedges are great. They're durable and give us activity and biomass at the ground level. So, if we find some leggier perennials, using sedges kind of hides some of that legginess.

Shelley:
And the chartreuse color just really stands out.

John:
It sure does.

Shelley:
Do I have to have a contractor to make a rain garden?

John:
You don't. Contractors are available, but more and more there are publications out there. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources just put together a rain garden brochure, or how-to manual. It's about 30 pages, very detailed. There are a lot more resources out there. There are local rain gardens to go and look at, too. So, a lot more examples to see.

Shelley:
You said Wisconsin is one of the leaders in putting in rain gardens, so we're in a good spot.

John:
This is a huge concept, and people here are really welcoming it with open arms.

Shelley:
Excellent. Thanks, John. Get a paper and pencil. We're going to give you the address for the book so you can learn how to do your own rain garden.

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