Turning a Soggy Mess into a Rain Garden

The yard before construction. See the outline of the future garden area.

A large overgrown yard in West Toledo was a pain to mow. And it always ponded a little water after a heavy rain. Storm sewers on the street sometimes flood during storms which can cause problems in basements in the area. One beautiful solution to all these problems is a rain garden! A rain garden exchanges lawn area for a shallow garden space that can hold water for a while and where native plants are established which can thrive in drought and flood conditions. The garden keeps water out of the storm sewer system and lets it drain naturally into the soil. The plants take up nutrients and pollutants, naturally cleaning the water.

This 680-square foot garden was created in fall of 2019. The plants took root and survived the winter. The first plants to appear in the spring were the grasses and milkweed.

How to Build a Rain Garden
One of the problems a rain garden addresses is excess water reaching the street where it is re-directed untreated into area ditches and streams. In this rain garden, downspouts from the house were re-directed to drain to the garden. The downspouts were buried and joined together to drain to a sloping trench that runs down to the garden.

A landscape company built the garden in two days. First, they removed topsoil and dug out a shallow swale from the high point to the lowest point. (The topsoil was re-purposed to fill in some groundhog damage.) The team outlined the area where water often ponds up after rain and that forms the bottom of the garden. Next, they filled the flat bottom of the swale with small to golf-ball size stones.

This design includes two wide sloped garden areas: one at the higher, sunny end, and one at the lowest point which is also shadier. Plants were selected to fit their locations. The sunny garden area includes coneflower, Indian grass, milkweed, blazing star, lobelia, and various sedges. At the bottom, the plants are shade- and water-tolerant. Shade-happy plants include cardinal flower, wild columbine, marsh marigold, Joe-Pye Weed, and tall bellflower. Along the sides are grasses that will grow to different heights and textures and some existing elderberry bushes. All the plants selected are native to northwest Ohio and non-invasive. Finally, they added mulch to hold in water and reduce weeds.

Some plants for Sun
Indian grass
blazing star

Some shade-tolerant plants
cardinal flower
wild columbine
marsh marigold
Joe-Pye Weed
tall bellflower

The flowering plants provide food for pollinators including bees, butterflies, and dragonflies. The grasses provide habitat and shelter for small animals including rabbits, mice, and chipmunks. The property owners plan to add bee houses, bird baths and feeders to make this small area an even more useful, beautiful urban garden.


For detailed instructions on building a rain garden, download the manual from the Rain Garden Initiative here.

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