Rain gardens have many benefits for your yard and the environment

What if all of our neighborhoods incorporated stormwater that drains from the roof into the natural landscaping around our homes? Plants would be watered naturally, the groundwater recharged, and excessive curbing and stormwater systems could be eliminated. Instead of this modern, lackluster, concrete-filled, suburban environment, we could have flourishing ecosystems in our own yards, as well as better water quality in our creeks and streams. Utilizing rain gardens can help with many of our stormwater issues.

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A rain garden is a shallow depression that captures and treats runoff from impervious surfaces, such as rooftops, patios, driveways and parking lots, before it enters the stormwater system. Rain gardens use natural processes to improve water quality by filtering pollution and reducing the amount of stormwater entering the storm sewer system. They are specially designated a BMP, or best management practice, which means rain gardens are among the most environmentally conscious ways of handling our stormwater.

As Bluegrass Greensource’s Rain Garden Alliance coordinator, it is great to see the number of rain gardens across Central Kentucky grow and be successful. The ultimate goal for me is helping others see rain gardens as the standard, and routing the water into a stormdrain as an alternative to be used only if needed.

The issue goes far beyond the environmental impact, however; designers also have to join in this quest. Early neighborhood designers had the right idea, incorporating gardens and community areas into the design. Somehow, in the American standard today, that gets left out. It’s mostly left up to the homeowner and community groups to reclaim land for those things.

For some, the concern about building a rain garden in the yard is the wild/weedy look that planting native perennials can give the landscaping around a house.  If the gardens are thoughtfully designed, however, the appearance can be determined by the homeowner and can be attractive.

Another benefit of building these gardens is the habitat and ecosystem they provide. Native plants attract native wildlife. Bees, butterflies and many other pollinator species are in decline, and it is in part because of lack of habitat. By planting native plants we can help provide more space for wildlife, bringing interesting visitors into our own yards.

If this type of garden is something you would like to learn more about, I encourage you to visit our webpage. We have several upcoming educational workshops this fall, as well as grants for homeowners in Jessamine, Clark, Bourbon, Woodford, Madison and Scott counties to build rain gardens at their homes.

Kara Sayles is an environmental educator, focusing on middle and high School grade levels. In addition, she serves the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance as rain garden project coordinator. Kara holds a bachelor’s degree with a focus on Ecological Design and Sustainable Agriculture from The Evergreen State College. She also received an associate’s degree in Environmental Technology at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

This post appeared in KY Forward on July 31, 2014.

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