Rain Gardens: Sustainable Landscaping For A Beautiful Yard And A Healthy World, by Lynn M. Steiner and Robert W. Domm
Rain gardens have become a popular way of trying to make cultivated lands in key areas a lot better at bringing water into the soil rather than letting it serve as destructive run-off. In order to mimic the natural behavior of swamps, this book contains a deep discussion of how it is to plan, design, build, and maintain such rain gardens. Admittedly, rain gardens are something I can see as being very worthwhile in theory, but in practice I find it somewhat unpleasant to think that people would want to intentionally make wetlands, not least because of the question of government regulation and the hindrance of the behavior of property owners because of the deliberate cultivation of such space. Perhaps such gardens would be a lot less popular if people realized that they could lose the right to put anything else in a given area if they made a rain garden that was judged by the government as a wetlands, something that this book does not discuss. This is a book that seems to be aimed at political matters and not always successful at wrestling with the larger questions of how gardens relate to the larger world of human law and regulation.
This book is a normal sized work of less than 200 pages, but the pages are large and well-photographed, so this is a plus. The book begins with an introduction to rain gardens. After that the author talks about how to plan a rain garden (1), including how to locate them, dealing with low areas, existing drainage swales, as well as questions of ordinances and setbacks and how to calculate a garden’s water load. This is followed by a look at the building of rain gardens (2), including raw materials, sketches, laying out the rain garden, digging and mixing the space and its soil, dealing with overflows, connecting downspouts, installing berms, and creating a swale garden. After that the author discusses how to plaint a rain garden (3), including creating a plant list, designing gardens, edging and mulching a rain garden, purchasing plants, planting, and caring for plants right after planting. The fourth chapter then looks at how to maintain one’s rain garden, looking at a calendar of tasks, long-term maintenance, adding shrubs and small trees, as well as larger trees. The book then ends with a plant index containing perennials, grasses and grasslike plants, shrubs and small trees, and trees, as well as other resources, an index, and information about the authors.
One of the striking aspects about this book is that a well-regulated rain garden in order to mimic and help struggling wetlands takes a lot of work. We often take wetlands for granted, and one of the issues that such spaces have is that they are viewed as being places for the breeding of noxious insects rather than being essential places for the handling of water. And one can see that if a rain garden is not handled well, that the result could be rather painful. It would be nice to see just how often rain gardens end up being designed intelligently and end up working out in reducing the runoff and in better providing for groundwater infiltration. This book is more about prescription and less about analysis, but there is definitely a place for authors to ponder how much that hyped gardening techniques like this one can actually lead to better water treatment. I happen to think that a great many rain gardens do not work quite as well as expected in circulating water but manage to do a better job at collecting standing water, but that is not a subject matter this book wishes to discuss.