How to Build a Large-Scale Rain Garden

We have a client that has two rain gardens (really drainage swales) installed by another company and after 3 years, it had reverted to all cattails (Typha latifolia). Not that they are the worst thing in the world, however they were a boring sight for our clients who wished for colorful blooms.

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Booooring cat tails…. Meow.

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Ooh, one spark of color!

2007 june 27a

Colorful rain garden wishes. This is a bioswale in Wisconsin.

There are differences between bioswales, drainage swales, and rain gardens. You should know the differences before you decide to plant. Once you’re a bit educated and would like to build your own, here’s a great link to the Wisconsin Extension Natural Resources Departments “Guide to Bioswales and Rain Gardens”, one of the best I’ve scoped out. It has ‘recipes’ for rain gardens that supply all the names of plants that do well in different types of soils and light requirements.

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After we had our plan, it was time to bring in the big guns. Luckily, the entwined roots of the cat tails were easily removed like ripping up a carpet. If you know what tubers are (kind of like a potato)  This is not normal, usually this is a very difficult task. We got verrrry lucky.

We brought in a few truckloads of soil and re-graded the basin to drain towards the outlet.

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It was the fun time now! Installation of the plants. I gave the crew a general planting guide (tall in center, graduating in height to ends) which they transferred via spray paint to the beds. We used 2 1/2 inch plugs for the project. We had about 2,700 square feet (sqft.) to cover and I had purchased 2,300 plants. Most were planted at a 12″ inch center, meaning 1 per sqft., however some of the larger plants we placed at 18″ centers.

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SHORT MEDIUM TALL
ASCLEPIAS TUBEROSA ACORUS CALAMUS EUPATORIUM MACULATUM
GEUM TRIFLORUM ASTER ERICOIDES LIATRIS PYCNOSTACHYA
HEUCHERA RICHARDSONII ERYNGIUM YUCCIFOLIUM RATIBIDA PINNATA
MIMULUS RINGENS MONARDA FISTULOSA RUDBECKIA SUBTOMENTOSA
RUDBECKIA HIRTA PHYSOSTEGIA VIRGINIANA SPARGANIUM EURYCARPUM
BAPTISIA LEUCANTHA PYCNANTHEMUM VIRGINIANUM ASTER NOVAE-ANGLIAE
SAGITTARIA LATIFOLIA HIBISCUS PALUSTRIS
SOLIDAGO OHIOENSIS
VERBENA HASTATA
AMORPHA CANESCENS
CAREX VULPINOIDEA
SCIRPUS PENDULUS
HYSTRIX PATULA
ASCLEPIAS INCARNATA
LIATRIS SPICATA
LOBELIA CARDINALIS
LOBELIA SIPHILITICA
TRADESCANTIA OHIENSIS

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I was told by the homeowner, builder and my boss that these basins are never full, just a bit of water from the sump-pumps and some run-off. Although I was born at night, I was not born last night… Why would these be required by the village to be so large if the potential for filling wasn’t there??? The above photo is basically what I was told would be the extent of the water level. I did choose plants that were able to be submerged for a short period of time… HOWEVER….

full raingarden

I wasn’t exactly expecting THIS!

At this point, although we had no floaters, we will all have to wait to see if everyone survived next spring!

To be CONTINUED…..

15 thoughts on “How to Build a Large-Scale Rain Garden

    • I wish I could put you and myself out of our miseries! As it is October, no plant is making upward growth now, so they all look like they are dying. The only way to see if they are alive is to wait until next spring and see what comes up! Arg. Frustrating however fact.

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  1. I worked on a rain garden project at a local museum on Monday. They were funneling three downspouts into the rain garden in order to limit the amount of water going into the storm drain. We barely got finished, and it started raining and has continued for three days now. 🙂

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  2. I’m crossing my arms for your luck and my twisting face because that is what you might call a HUGE discrepancy! What a big project, and well done. How could they be so wrong?? Huh, well let’s fast forward now to next spring shall we in say a month or so?

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    • In construction, anything will be said to further a project along…
      My coworker actually didn’t grade it right the first time. I could have strangled him. The boss said to me, “wow, that’s pretty full, it should go down in a few days”. I’m like. .. what happened to a few hours?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. For anybody who doesn’t think serious gardening takes serious brawn, brains, and bravery!! I love intelligent, site-specific, native-inspired planting like what you do. Hope all of the babies survive and thrive. 😀
    xo

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  4. Pingback: Rain Garden Maintenence | Midwestern Plants

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