• Rain gardens for the Sierra foothills

    by  • February 11, 2012 • Design, Garden, Winter • 8 Comments

    What is a rain garden?

    It’s a garden specifically designed to take advantage of where water naturally collects. In dry climates, this extra water allows a wider variety of plants to be grown.

    2010 Summer- Rain garden

    2010 Summer- Rain garden

    Rain gardens can also be planned just to direct water away from certain areas, like home foundations or low spots that collect unwanted moisture.  The idea is to capture and soak up storm water where it can be used in your garden.

    2005 Spring- Drainage from center down spout is covered in erosion rock

    2005 Spring- Drainage from center down spout is covered in erosion rock

    Why create a rain garden?

    Rains gardens can lessen erosion and allow rain water to soak into the ground renewing ground water supplies and control flooding. They attract wildlife, reduce hand watering and are attractive when used in place of high maintenance lawn areas. We had three downspouts that needed to be directed sensibly and a rain garden was a perfect solution. I wanted areas where I could grow plants that need extra water in our hot  dry California summers.

    2006 Summer- Dry creek and rain garden planted with teucrium, veronica, witch hazel and blue flax.

    2006 Summer- Dry creek and rain garden near the back entry,  planted with teucrium, veronica, witch hazel and blue flax.

    Where to put your rain garden

    The easiest place to construct a rain garden is at the end of your drainage pipes leading from your homes downspouts. A rain garden should be at least 10 feet from your house, 15 feet from any septic system and 25 feet away from well water supply. If you have oaks, remember to keep your rain garden 10-15 feet away, which will also place your rain garden in sun or part sun.

    2007 Summer Dry creek shows where water flows from downspouts.hows steep bank

    2007 Summer Dry creek shows where water flows from downspouts.

    We’re on a steep slope and there are three downspouts running underground that outlet about fifteen feet away from the house at each back corner and one in the center. Rocks stabilize the soil over the downspout and the bank was planted.  See the volunteer mullen?


    2007 Summer- Rain garden in the first year. Knifophia was moved and replaced with a rhododendron.

    2007 Summer- Rain garden in the first year to the left of the ‘bridge’. Knifophia was moved and replaced with a rhododendron.

    Digging and Planting your rain garden

    You make a rain garden by digging a wide, shallow hole, possibly edging it with rocks and stones and planting around the edges to contain and use the runoff water for moisture loving plants.  I used some cast off wood from the neighbor’s porch to make a dry bridge to cross.

    2010 Summer- Rain garden

    2010 Summer- Rain garden


    It was a perfect project for a young boy visiting us who happens to be related.  Digging the wide hole and filling it with all my extra garden soil, manure and fertilizer completed his part of the job. We filled it with water to test the drainage and small leaks were plugged.  He had fun and slept well that night.  Future gardener, maybe?

    2011 Spring Summer- Dry creek and rain garden

    2011 Spring Summer- Dry creek and rain garden five years after digging and planting.

    I planted a witch hazel tree and iris by one, Rhododendron, azaleas, columbine, cranesbill geranium, juncus and bush anemone in the center and at the other corner, blue-eyed grass, red twig dogwood and penstemon.


    2011 Summer Drainage from downspout

    2011 Summer Drainage from downspout


    2011 Spring- Rain garden

    2011 Spring- Rain garden plants bloom around the edges.


    Plant list for rain gardens in California

    California Gray Rush
    Redtwig dogwood
    Butterfly weed
    Wild Ginger

    2011 Summer- Rain garden columbine

    2011 Summer- Rain garden, McKana’s Giants columbine

    Lily of the Valley
    Purple Coneflower
    Bleeding Heart
    Bee balm
    Dwarf Hinoki False Cypress
    Oakleaf Hydrangea
    St John’s wort
    Ornamental grasses
    Western goldenrod
    Yellow eyed grass
    Blue-eyed grass
    Marsh aster
    Cardinal flower
    Yellow monkeyflower
    Creeping Jenny

    2011 Spring Rain garden deer

    2011 Spring Rain garden in full bloom  Since all the plants are resistant to deer, she passes on by.


    See the whole progression of both areas, the back entry and the center downspout. The third downspout is aimed downhill toward the Sycamore to the south.


    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.

    8 Responses to Rain gardens for the Sierra foothills

    1. Desiree
      February 11, 2012 at 9:30 pm

      You are so inspiring, Sue! It all looks so beautiful and the thought and planning behind your garden is impressive.

    2. February 11, 2012 at 11:50 pm

      Your post has just started a whole train of thought. And there will soon be a cunning plan. There is a patch that naturally gathers some rain off the drive. And also needs some sorting out and planting. mmmmh. I wonder about Iris. You mention them. I don’t know much about what they like but I do like their look. Kerry

    3. February 12, 2012 at 12:19 am

      What a brilliant post. You’ve also got me thinking now too. Your rain garden photos are a true inspiration.

    4. February 12, 2012 at 9:27 am

      Thanks so much, Desiree, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post.

      Hi Kerry, I’m glad you like the idea,..I read though, that if you can, make your rain garden ‘hole’ in a place just next to but not on top of the natural wet area, because you do want it to drain and there is a reason why naturally wet ares don’t. Iris can grow right IN water though, so they might be perfect either way. Here at the iris farms, you go see the colors you want in spring and they get delived in fall when you plant them. Plant them very shallowly for success.

      Thanks, Berniah, thatk you very much. Try this if you can,…so satisfying!

    5. February 13, 2012 at 8:18 am

      What a clever way to make use of all that extra Winter water! I was reading somewhere about a home garden that filtered their grey water through a man made wetland and collected it in a pond at the bottom. The pond became a haven for wildlife and a source of irrigation water for the garden.

      • February 13, 2012 at 8:31 am

        Well, that sounds like a rain garden to me! I think i read about this in Sunset and thought how well it would work on our slope,…might as well, huh. Have you tried columbine, Katie? My deer won’t eat it.

    6. February 14, 2012 at 8:13 am

      I have tried columbine! I can’t believe how well it grows here. Gophers don’t seem to like it much either.

      • February 14, 2012 at 8:44 am

        Oh, good, Katie, I’m glad someone else gets as much fun out of it as I!

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