Caring for the water, rivers and lakes in southeastern Minnesota starts in your own backyard, front yard or boulevard. All you have to do is create a rain garden.
What exactly is a rain garden?
According to Rochester Minnesota Stormwater Management, rain gardens are designed to capture rain water and snowmelt; these gardens are a place for water to soak into the ground instead of becoming runoff and ending up in our waterways.
This is important because as runoff, rain and snowmelt often collect fertilizer, pet waste, car fluids and other contaminants. The runoff ends up in our water system, as do the pollutants, creating a polluted water system for those downstream.
Besides lessening the pollutants entering our water system, rain gardens have a variety of other benefits:
- Wildlife habitat for birds, animals and insects
- Drought-resistant plants always look nice no matter the weather
- No need to use fertilizer
- No mowing!
Henry Walker, Rochester resident, initially created a rain garden to utilize the incredible about of water runoff from his roof, hardscapes and lawn. “The thought of wasting this free resource didn’t make sense,” he says. A second reason he created the garden was the attract butterflies and bees. And, as an added bonus, “it is far nicer to look at prairie flowers all summer than mow lawn.”
Henry built his garden in the boulevard. With design help from Sargent’s Landscape and Gardens, they planted the garden with other rain garden enthusiasts from the area. “We have then returned work favors to others who then made gardens, a very nice community of support.”
The rain garden brings pleasure to both Walker and those who pass by. He says neighbor kids come and look at the different types of butterflies and passerby’s stop and enjoy the colors and life in the garden. “Rain gardens do work far better than I expected they would,” says Henry, and watching that success every time it rains provides a feeling of gratification.”
While you can hire a service to help create your own rain garden, with a little know-how, it’s easy enough to do it yourself. You only need to understand a few key components of your landscaping: landform, soil, plants, water movement and sun/shade areas.
If that sounds intimidating, it really isn’t. The South Zumbro Watershed Partnership shares more information and even makes a mock garden in their rain garden landscape design manual.
And, as an added bonus, Rochester Minnesota Stormwater Management has cost-share grants available for residents and non-profit organizations to assist with the cost of building a rain garden.
DeAnn Spencer and her neighbor Leah Smutzer took advantage of the matching grant. There is an 8 foot by 37 foot strip of land between their two driveways that was difficult to water, mow and keep looking nice. DeAnn, having seen rainwater gardens numerous times on the Rochester Garden Tour, began researching them and brought the idea up to Leah. “We decided that if I received the grant that we would jointly build the garden.”
She did receive the grant and construction began. With design help from Sargent’s Gardens, the two did all the work themselves, taking about three months to complete. “Our garden looks like a dry creek bed early in the spring and then it fills up with flowers as the growing season progresses,” explains DeAnn.
“The garden is incredibly lush – natural and yet cultivated,” says DeAnn. One of the most enjoyable outcomes was spending the time working with her neighbor.
As the weather warms up, notice the water coming from your downspouts pouring onto the streets and down the storm grates. You could harness that water for your rain garden and be giving the gift of clean water to others downstream with minimal up-front effort.