Wildlife and Water Features

One of the benefits of having a water feature is that it will become the cool watering hole for the neighborhood critters. I’m working with a landscape design client in northern Fauquier County to rejuvenate the existing decades-old landscape, and one of the assets I have to work with is a small water feature adjacent to the back patio.

As you can see, it’s really overgrown (but look at that Hakonechloa. Look at it!!!) but the local fauna still love it.

This cute little fella was hanging out and enjoying the warm sunshine. Yes, you will likely get the occasional snake around your pond. There’s water, abundant food, and big flat rocks on which to sun themselves. It’s ok, they’re no more interested in you than you are in them.

This little guy was chilling with a few of his friends. If you have a shallow, relatively still section of water you’ll create a great hangout for birds to bathe, and I’ve seen deer and foxes coming right up to backyard ponds. As we build out and slap houses on more and more habitat, we’re doing a good thing by creating little pockets like this for wildlife.

Simple Factoids About Landscape Drainage

Last night I signed contracts with some great folks, and they asked me to add some drainage work while the crews are out there. We walked out to look at what was going on, and as usual I was appalled. When their patio was installed, the contractor connected the downspouts on the rear of the house to 4″ corrugated drain pipe. These come together in a “Y”, and then a short piece goes out to a low spot in the yard. Here, the pipe turns straight up and is covered with a grate flush with the lawn.

Hmm. So when it rains, water burbles up out of this contraption and pools at the corner of the screen porch for a couple of days. Plus, all the rainwater at the back of the house is being brought together into a single 4″ pipe. Idiots. So in the interest of breathing some common sense into landscape and drainage design, here are some points to ponder:

  1. Water flows downhill. Elementary, my dear Watson, but often overlooked. Don’t terminate a drainpipe in a flat area if five more feet lets you terminate on a slope. And remember to keep a constant pitch downhill!
  2. Corrugated pipe is fine, but smooth-bore is better. We’re usually gently pitched when running drain lines away from the house, which means the water isn’t moving super fast. That means sediment and funk from the roof can get stuck in the ribs of corrugated pipe and eventually clog. An even bigger issue is that smooth PVC drainpipe is rigid, so it’s easier to keep it pointed downhill. Corrugated pipe will conform to the ground around it, so after settling and a few years of frost there are uphill sections. See point # 1.
  3. 4 + 4 + 4 +4 does not equal 4. All too often I see companies hook 4 or 5 downspouts together into one 4″ pipe. Guess what? That’s a lot of water, and may well be too much for the pipe. If you add water to a funnel faster than it can drain out, what happens? If you want to get an idea of how much water comes off your roof in one storm, there’s a cool rainfall harvest calculator on this page.
  4. Pop-ups are ok, but daylight is better. Pop-up emitters serve a purpose. If you have to end a drain line in the grass, a pop-up emitter keeps you from destroying the line with your mower. It’s also a mechanical system that can fail. If the site allows it, you’re better off ending with the open end of the pipe pointed downhill – what we call “daylighting”.
  5. Be a good neighbor. This one’s pretty huge. Think about where your water is going if you move it to a discharge point out in the yard. If you’re in a subdivision where water moves through the backyards, what does it do to your neighbors if you build raised beds and block that flow? Not only is it rude and crappy, it’s often illegal to alter the drainage in a way that adversely affects your neighbor. Just food for thought.

Drainage doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but it’s definitely worth planning properly. Most residential systems won’t fail this spectacularly, but why risk it?

River birch is a great choice for wet areas!

Beautyberry | Callicarpa

I’m officially a HUGE fan of beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma). 

This is the time of year when plants are putting on the grand finale. Blaze orange, deep scarlet, brilliant yellow, and a multitude of other colors make this a beautiful time of year. Then, wham! The leaves fall off and it’s brown, gray, and bleah until spring. Or is it?

One plant that I’ve come to appreciate is Beautyberry, or more accurately Callicarpa americana. Callicarpa is native to the United States and is found from Virginia through Arkansas, sometimes as far south as Florida and Texas. It’s a tough little shrub that will tolerate wet feet, and it averages around 3-5 feet high and wide. To me, it has the same look as forsythia or itea when they’re not in bloom – kind of shapeless, messy, and a good general massing plant. What sets callicarpa apart is the berries. Starting in early fall, the branches get covered in bunches of purple berries that persist even after the leaves drop. At a time of year without a whole lot of color, you can get a great splash of vibrant purple – at least until the birds find the berries. Callicarpa is a great source of food for wildlife, so whether you’re trying to create and certify a backyard habitat or you just like critters, this is a good choice. Just pick the location carefully. The berries are purple, so if you drive a white car you may not want to plant a row next to the driveway.

If you have a lot of deer, I’m not sure what to tell you. I’ve planted them in heavy deer areas with no trouble, and callicarpa appears on many deer-safe lists. Floridata, however, says they’re a favorite of White-tail Deer. If you’re concerned, try a few and see how they fare.

So to recap – massing plant! Pretty berries! Happy critters! Give callicarpa a try in your landscape. I think you’ll like it.

Looking to buy a Callicarpa in Virginia?

How Do Permeable Pavers Work?

Permeable pavers are becoming a popular choice, especially in Northern Virginia. As local governments have become more concerned about stormwater management, they’ve clamped down on the amount of runoff that leaves your property. If your total square footage of impervious surfaces exceeds the percentage allowed (they typically include homes, garages, sheds, pools, patios, and driveways), you either have to scale back your project, install a rain garden, or utilize permeable pavers.

Calling them permeable pavers, however, isn’t 100% accurate, as the water does not penetrate the paver itself. Rather, the pavers are designed to have gaps between them that allow water to pass through into the soil. An effective installation is all about the base.

Installation methods vary by manufacturer, and you should always follow their directions or those of a local soil engineer. This is what Techo-Bloc recommends in their installation instructions for the Permea paver:

  • Excavate to the required depth (base + bedding layer + paver thickness)
  • Place a layer of geotextile fabric on the soil to prevent soil particles from migrating into the base stone
  • Install a minimum 6″ deep layer of 3/4″ clean aggregate (in VA, it’s sold as 57 stone) and compact
  • Place another layer of geotextile fabric atop this aggregate base
  • Install a 2″ layer of 1/4″ clean stone (sold here as #8 stone) and compact
  • Lay the pavers per the manufacturers instructions, setting them hand tight (lugs will act as spacers)
  • Install border pavers
  • Install curbing or edging blocks
  • Install 3/8″ stone between the joints
  • Compact the entire patio

So what’s the big deal if you go off script and lay permeable pavers like you would standard pavers? Well, for starters, you’re likely to get some uneven settling from improper compaction (remember my post about problems with paver patios?). You’ll also get a patio that won’t allow water to flow through it. A standard patio base is 21A or crusher run- an aggregate mix with a variety of particle sizes all the way down to “fines.” When compacted, all these particles lock together, and good luck getting water to drain.

The good news is that the paver manufacturers see the direction the market is headed, and have provided thorough documentation for how to use their pavers. If you’re installing the pavers yourself, just do what they say. If you’re hiring someone, ask them what materials they’re using. If they mention 21A or sand, it’s time to find a different installer.

Causing Problems Downstream

With three cats, we’re always fighting the problem of every upholstered surface getting covered in fur. It doesn’t help that we have one black and two orange-and-white cats. When we saw the commercial for the Pledge Fabric Sweeper, we were excited. It looked like it worked great, and we would no longer blow through an entire lint roller getting the house ready for company.

The product does work great, but we were disappointed to discover that it’s a one-use, disposal product. Seriously, why? In the course of trying to find a similar product that you could reuse, I came across two creative option. First, you can modify a Pledge Fabric Sweeper so it can be emptied and reused. If that’s too hard, the commenters in that post had an idea that’s even more stupid-simple: stick the crevice tool of a vacuum between the rollers and suck the fur out. Awesome!

What does this have to do with landscape design? Our goal as designers is to not make the same mistakes that the Pledge product designers did. They solved one problem and made another one. Now, I understand that there are a number of factors that get considered when designing a product like this. In addition to “does it work?” there are considerations of what prices the market will bear, ease of packaging and shipping the item, and of course aesthetics. There’s also the issue of creating something at a moderate price that will actually need to be replaced pretty quickly.Which is fine from a short-term profit model (which is why I am so glad to be out of the corporate sphere), but these things are nice and bulky for the landfill.

When we’re looking at a landscape project, we face that balancing point of budget vs. longevity. I’m working with some folks right now who are debating materials for their driveway. Gravel’s the least expensive option, but it’s not particularly sexy and it gets in the lawn and the plant beds. Asphalt’s a step up but also not terribly attractive, and it presents its own maintenance issues. We’ve talked about stamped asphalt but can’t find a contractor servicing their part of West Virginia. The best option for a driveway is to do pavers closest to the house, but it’s also the priciest choice. It will also be their lowest maintenance choice, but my homeowners are regular people. They don’t know if they can comfortably spend the $30K this paver driveway might cost. That’s a decision that I can’t make for them; as their designer, all I can do is give them the options and the pros and cons of each approach.

As far as impacting the folks downstream from you, drainage is a huge consideration. The standard approach to stormwater management has been to get the water away from the house and off the property. I remember doing landscapes in San Diego, and the very first thing we did was trench 4″ lines from the downspouts and yard drains to the street. Problem solved! Except that this water flowed into the storm sewers, overwhelmed the treatment plants, and after any major storm the beaches in San Diego were closed because of raw sewage in the water. Just like the folks at Pledge, we were solving the problem right where we stood, but making a bigger problem for everyone else.

This is just one more reason why I advocate finding a good local designer, someone who understands your local soils, water issues, building materials and methods, and costs. Even the simplest design has a lot of moving parts, and it’s important to know how they affect one another- and your neighbors.

Guest Post: Gardening Tips for April

One area of my industry I’ve wanted to do more with is garden coaching- working with homeowners to teach them how to care for their gardens themselves. The curse of running a small business is that there are only so many hours in a day, and rather than clone myself (way too controversial), I went one better and teamed up with a great garden coach. Thomas Bolles hold s a Masters in Agricultural Education from Virginia Tech, and has spent over a decade teaching people agriculture and horticulture. He even spent six months training agriculture students in Afghanistan- temperate Virginia has to be a walk in the park, compared to Afghanistan! I’ve invited Thomas to provide periodic guest blog posts so that you can get to know him as well. If you’re interested in working with Thomas as your garden coach, give me a call at (540) 308-5411 and we’ll set it up.

Enough from me; here’s Thomas!

April is National Gardening Month and the ideal time to break out of your indoor routine and get into the garden.

You need to have an idea of what nutrients are in your soil before you add more to it. If you haven’t already done so, get your soil analyzed. Virginia Tech tests soil for Virginia and Maryland . Contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office to get a soil test kit. Test kits are free but the standard analysis will cost you $10 if you’re a Virginia resident or $16 if you’re out of state.

The average last frost date for Northern Virginia is April 15th. Keep in mind it’s an AVERAGE. Keep an eye on your favorite meteorologist until mid-May to make sure you can protect your young plants if there’s a late frost. Plants started indoors need to be hardened off – gradually exposed to outdoor sun, wind and temperatures each day as you approach time for them to go into the garden. Forgetting to harden off may result in dead or stunted plants after a cold night. You can also help your ground absorb and retain heat by covering your beds with black plastic. This will get soil temperatures up so the seeds you sow directly in the garden will germinate faster.

To sow or not to sow is a question many of us never think about. Some people would rather start their own seeds. Some people are intimidated by the idea of germinating their own seeds, don’t have the space to start a lot of seeds or like the convenience of not having to mess with seeds. Personally, I like starting seeds, but for some plants I would rather buy seedlings. If you do buy seedlings, it’s important to do a few simple things to make sure you’ll be successful.

  1. Inspect the plant for any sign of disease
  2. Make sure the plants aren’t excessively root bound
  3. Make sure you know if your plant dealer has kept the plants inside or out (see hardening off above)
  4. Make sure the plants look vigorous and are not excessively leggy.

If you’re thinking lawn care, now is NOT the time to fertilize if you have cool-season grasses (fescues, bluegrasses). When you fertilize in the spring, cool-season grasses grow more leaf area which means more mowing. It also can mean Brown Patch, a rather ugly fungal disease, latter in the summer. When you wait for the Fall before fertilizing your lawn, your cool-season grass will focus more on growing roots. Strong roots will do more than just carry your grass through winter dormancy – it will also allow them to tap moisture deeper in the ground next summer when it’s hot and dry. If you have warm season grasses like Bermudagrass and Zoysia, you can fertilize from May until Fall, but keep in mind that fertilizer plus no water equals a weaker, more stressed plant. So make sure you give your grass plenty of water when you fertilize.

Also of Interest: Virginia Historic Gardens Week is April 17th – 25th this year. See http://www.vagardenweek.org/schedule.htm for details.

Winter Storm Damage to Your Landscape

Oak with Snowy Branches

Now that Snowpocalypse 2010 is over (Snowmageddon was a close second for my fav name, with SnOMG a distant third), what has it done to your plants? It was a really wet, heavy snow; my river birch were almost bent completely over into the snow until the sun began to warm them up Sunday. Some plants aren’t so resilient. My neighbor asked me to take a look at her Little Gem Magnolia. The weight of the snow had pulled the very top of the leader down and broken it partway through. Can it be saved? Maybe, maybe not. We discussed options, and hopefully the tree will heal well and bounce back.

The only way to know how your landscape fared is to take a walk around your property, if you can. At the very least, look out as many windows as you can to assess any potential damage. Some things are critical and should be dealt with immediately, such as damage to large trees, overhanging branches, or anything touching your home or utility lines. In cases like this I highly recommend following the same rules I do: if I can safely remove a branch by myself, with both feet planted firmly on terra firma, it’s reasonable to do so. Having somehow survived making unsafe choices throughout my early 20s, I recommend against pruning anything that requires you to work on a ladder.

After a winter like this one, it could be a good idea to create a detailed landscape maintenance plan. Here’s what I do for my clients:

  1. Starting with a scale drawing of the property, locate all major features (hardscapes, utilities, trees, etc.)
  2. Inventory and locate all smaller trees, shrubs, and perennials
  3. Make note of ANY damaged plants or structures
  4. Create an action list of tasks to be performed, with photographic examples if appropriate

At that point, they can go one of three directions with the list. They can tackle it themselves; they can do the work with me there as a garden coach, helping them do it correctly; or they can have my crew perform the work. Whichever path they choose, a little pre-planning makes it easy to get the desired result.

5 Quick, Cheap Fixes for Your Landscape


Whether you’re trying to get your home ready for a party, a family visit, or just to take advantage of what you have, there are some simple projects you can take on that will make a huge difference in your yard’s appearance.

1- “Bring out your dead”- This is an easy, yet often overlooked bit of maintenance. Deadhead any spent blooms, remove any plants that didn’t make it, and prune the dead branches out of your woody ornamentals. Nothing says ugly like a yard full of dead plants.

2- Weed, edge & mulch your beds- Nothing makes your beds pop like a clean, tight line of demarcation. I’m not typically a fan of edging products in cool-season grass lawns, as the steel edging is costly and the poly edging is ugly, hard to work with, flimsy, and generally a complete waste of time and money. If you live somewhere with a warm-season, creeping grass lawn, you probably need an edging to keep the grass from overtaking your beds; but, since I do landscape design for northern Virginia, that’s not really an issue. Anyhow, my preferred edge is a simple spaded edge, sometimes called a Victorian trench (no clue why). You take a sharp, flat-bladed spade, and push it into the grass edge a good 3-4 inches. If your soil is on the sandy side, you can kick the back of the spade, and it’ll dislodge the chunk of sod and create a smooth profile on the bed bottom. Every northern Virginia gardener just thought to themselves, “you can do that?”, because in heavy clay soils, your best bet is to do a section of vertical cuts, then come back with the spade at an angle on the inside of the bed, cut out the sod, and smooth the bottom. When done, a good edge will look like this:Stark 0605 2008.jpg (12)

3- Conduct a thorough inspection of hardscape elements- How many times are you going to walk by that missing picket, or step on that wobbly stone? If you’re like me, you have a number of places around your yard that need attention, but you only really notice them when you’re jumping in the car to head off to a 12 hour day at the office. Grab a pad of paper, a cup of coffee, and take a stroll. If it’s something simple that you can fix immediately, go for it. Otherwise, it goes on the list. The funny thing about punchlists like these is that no matter how daunting they may appear, you can usually knock them out in a fairly short time.

4- Set out some container plantings- Especially if you’re dressing your home up for sale or for a party, containers can be a fun, inexpensive way of expanding your landscape beyond the bounds of the plant beds. Unsure of what to plant? Well, you definitely want to make sure everything will still fit in the pot when it fills in, so if you’re at all unsure, go to a good-quality local nursery for your plants. (Note that I didn’t say for advice only. If you spend 20 minutes pumping a small nursery staffer for info, and then go to a big box store to buy the plants for a buck less, you’re not a very good person. Just sayin’ is all)

5- Do some long-term planning- There are only so many quick fixes that you can do, before the plants either assert themselves or give up. Take a hard look at what you have, and if it’s not what you want, start dreaming! There are not only a ton of resources at bookstores and online, but there are also qualified pros who can help you plan the next step.

My Compost Bin Plans

One of the fun things about a blog is that I get to see the search terms that got you here. Over the last week or so, I’ve gotten quite literally dozens of hits from people searching on compost bins. My design may not be the end-all, be-all of home-built composting systems, but it’s working really well for us, our neighbors, and our friends. It handles that much material that well!

So, because I love the idea of more people composting, I’m laying it all out there: materials list, step-by-step instructions, everything. My bin may be a tad overbuilt- Thadd did refer to it as the compost bunker, after all- but that’s because I plan on using this for a long time. So let’s get started. First, a review of what I have:dsc00008

We built a 3-bin system, which seems to be the standard for a heavy-use setup. All upright posts are set in dry-pack concrete, and the lumber used is a mix of locally sourced white oak (I got a great deal) and some pressure-treated boards. I realize that there are concerns about using pressure-treated lumber in compost that may end up around food crops, and while I’m not completely convinced it’s a danger (before you tell me arsenic kills, note that copper is now the primary treating agent and arsenic is no longer in use), cedar would have been my first choice. But, I’m a landscape guy and this was done over the winter- cedar just wasn’t in the budget.

Because I’m tall, I built my bins to a height of 40 inches. This gives me plenty of room inside the bins, but thanks to my long arms I can still get all the way to the bottom with a pitchfork. I didn’t include height dimensions here, because you should build these compost bins to the size that’ll be the most comfortable for you to use.

For this design, here is the materials list:

  • (16) 80lb bags of Quikcrete (whatever the cheapest pre-mix is; no need for high strength or fiber-reinforced)
  • (8) 4x4x8ft posts
  • (3) 2x6x16ft boards
  • (12) 5/4x6x16ft deck boards (you could also use 1x6x16ft boards, but I happened to have a cheap supply of 5/4 board)
  • (2) 2x2x8ft
  • 10 ft of 1/2- inch hardware cloth/ poultry netting
  • Box of 3-inch deck screws (if using pressure treated wood, be certain to get z185 galvanized OR stainless steel screws)
  • Staples for attaching the hardware cloth- the ones you pound in one at a time with a hammer hold more securely than a staple gun

You’ll also need stakes, stringline, tape measure, circular saw, drill, and a level. If you can swing the five bucks for a post level- a little L-shaped piece of plastic with two levels and a rubber band attached to it, it is money well spent. For setting the posts, you’ll need a shovel and whatever else helps you get through your local soils, and a digging bar (spudbar) is a big help for packing the concrete mix. Let’s start!

Begin by picking a relatively flat, level part of the yard that drains reasonably well. If you get standing water in a spot, it’s not a great candidate for a compost bin. Next, you’ll want to lay out the footprint of your compost bin using stakes and stringline:dscf0008

Here, I opted to run a string line parallel to my back fence. Then, I measured from the side fence to get the distance I wanted to offset in, and ran a line perpendicular to to the first line. From that line, I measured over the width of the bins, and set my third string line. The final step was to run one more string line for the front face of the bins, measuring off the first stringline.compost-bin-step-1

This gave me a box, within which I could dig my footers. However, note that there are also four intermediate posts in the design; normally I would set two more string lines, one for each set of posts, but this is a rotbox, not a deck. A shortcut here or there isn’t going to mess you up- however, you want to make sure the post spacing is exactly correct. If you lay the posts out as I have drawn, you’ll have a the same-sized opening for each bin, which means that the removable slats are interchangeable.

So as you can see, I dug a footer under each intersection of stringline. Here in Virginia, our frost depth is between 18-24 inches, depending on who you ask. I dug a 1 foot x 1 foot  hole to frost depth for each footer, then poured in a bag of Quikcrete, and tamped the heck out of it with the flat end of the digging bar. I then stood the 4×4 post in the hole, aligned with the intersection of the strings, and made sure it was perfectly plumb (this is where the post level is a huge asset). I then poured in the second bag of Quikcrete, tamped it around the post (continually checking the post for plumb), and then backfilled and tamped the soil. Dry-packing like this is a great way of setting posts for fences and things like bins, because it’s much easier to get the posts level and you don’t have to brace them while wet concrete sets up. I still recommend having a helper, especially if you don’t do this type of thing regularly; but in a pinch, this is a great way of getting this done by yourself.

Portland cement loves water, so it’ll pull water from the surrounding soil and set up hard as- um, concrete- in a day or two. If you’ve done a really good job of tamping the concrete and soil around your post, you *should* be able to screw to it immediately after setting. However, since I’m only an occasional carpenter, I prefer to give the mix time to set up.Erchiniak Working CAD Plan 8x11 (3) (1)

Now that your posts are set, it’s time to build structure. Cut your 2x6s according to the plan, and attach them with the screws. Start with the longest boards first, on the back of the structure. Then attach the left and right side boards, so you have now created a 3-sided bin. Now, you can attach the 2x6s that divide the bins. If you look at the plans, you’ll see that the way I laid them out, not every bin is the same size. This isn’t a mistake; my goal, when I designed this composter, was to use the simplest means of attachment that would also be very strong. Minor variations in bin size are a non-issue here; the important thing was to keep the bin openings consistent.compost-bins-1102_2008

Ok, now that we’ve made a frame sturdy enough to hold a truck, let’s go about keeping our materials in the bins. Cut your 5/4 boards as called out, and attach them to the backs and sides of the bins. I left a gap between each board to facilitate air flow; a little compost falls through when I turn it, but not enough to matter.

Now, take your poultry netting and cut it to fit. Attach it to the 2x6s, and also to the posts. Be generous- the staples are cheap, and you’ll be cooking a lot of material here.compost-bin-step-3

The final step is to create your channels to hold the front slats in place. Cut the 2x2s to length, and screw them to the centers of the posts (check the spacing as you go, of course!). Now, screw a 5/4 board over each 2×2. All that’s left is to rip your slats to length (34 inches, if you put it all together as drawn), and you’re ready to compost!

If you opt to build your bins based on these plans, or a variation thereof, please let me know in the comments. Also, if you take pictures, I’d love you to post a link in the comments, whether they be on your website, flickr account, or whatever it may be.

Book Review: Rain Gardening in the South


I was fortunate enough to get a review copy of the above book, Rain Gardening in the South: Ecologically Designed Gardens for Drought, Deluge, and Everything in Between. I have to say, I’m a fan!

I read a lot of books. In fact, I read a lot of books about gardening, landscape, and architecture, which is why MJ is always trying to get me to do a hobby that is not related to what I do. Most of the books I read are either very detailed sets of technical instructions, or a very broad overview of a topic, packed with beautiful pictures, flowing prose, and not a whole lot of useful info if you wanted to roll up your sleeves and get dirty. Ms. Kraus and Ms. Spafford actually managed to pull from the best of both extremes, and the result is a book that I finished in a couple of sittings, but one that I’ll also keep on my shelf as a quick reference.

Rain gardening is certainly not a new concept, but it’s becoming more and more commonly used in the landscape world. Not only are people with an interest in “greening” their gardens choosing them, but some municipalities are mandating rain gardens in certain situations. I know that several counties in Virginia have enacted ordinances limiting the amount of impervious surfacing (roofs, driveways, patios) allowed on a parcel, calculated as a percentage of the lot size. If your desired percentage exceeds what it allowed, you may be able to move forward if you also construct a rain garden or infiltration trench (an infiltration trench is essentially a rain garden on steroids, but since it’s designed by engineers, the name isn’t as pretty). I’ve seen rain gardens in Northern Virginia, typically in situations where the homebuilder had to put them in so he could squeeze an extra couple hundred square feet into the home. What they usually do in these situations is the dreaded “minimum code requirement”- excavate a shallow bowl, plunk in a bunch of viburnum and sedges, and throw down wood chips. This is why people think they don’t like rain gardens!

What the authors have done, on the other hand, is collected a variety of photos of different rain gardens. In so doing, they’ve shown that with proper attention to plant design, a rain garden can be effective AND beautiful. It’s also refreshing that they include photos of a rain garden at planting, and then the same garden after the plants have had the chance to fill in. After all, it’s important to design with the mature size of the plant in mind, but this means that you’ll have a season or two until the garden looks “finished.”

Speaking of design, the authors include several sample plans for rain gardens for specific situations: sun, shade, etc. It’s great that they use this as a chance to share what plants are appropriate to each exposure, but they also take the time to explain the design choices that are responsible for the individual plant selections. They explain they value of evergreens, overlapping masses, and planting based on viewing angle- all the little things that can help a home gardener take a planting bed from “nice” to “wow.” They’ve also compiled a large list of plants for rain gardens, broken down by sun exposure. “The South” is a big area, so be sure to check with your local nursery about the appropriateness of a plant in your area, but it’s a great start.

All in all, Rain Gardening in the South is a great addition to the home library. It’s informative, but it also presents rain gardens in a way that gets you excited to build one. That’s a victory for any author.

You can buy it via Amazon, or your check with local bookseller.