February 21st, 2008
Rain Gardens Gone Wrong
Living for a time both in the American desert southwest and Japan, I’m quite attracted to the aesthetic of gravel gardens and dry creek beds. As there is no shortage of rocks of all sizes in my yard, I group like rocks together in various configurations. Because I live on a slope, I often arrange rocks to follow the topography, creating an informal dry stream.
This year rain gardens seem all the rage (4,080,080 hits on Google or check out Pam/Digging). And they always look so clean and tidy when first installed, while at the same time looking natural. However, in my experience, they don’t remain clean and tidy very long. My biggest problem is leaves. In Austin, leaves can start falling in September with the cedar elms (if it’s a typical summer–2007 was wet and the leaves held on until October) until February with the live oaks (which haven’t started dropping their leaves yet). In my yard I also had hackberry and chinaberry trees (which I cut down this year) and red oaks. So for five months, leaves are clogging my dry creek beds and I can never keep them clean. The cedar elm leaves are the worst because they are small and break down quickly. They mess up my gravel courtyard and my gravel walks, too.
Then there’s the weeds. Gravel is an excellent medium for sprouting seeds. It doesn’t matter if you put landscape fabric underneath the gravel (I did on my paths but not in my garden which is more free-form). The seeds fall on top of the gravel, work themselves down, and then sprout. I spent all afternoon digging that hated horseherb and spiderwort out of this small section of the meadow so that I could replant it with larkspur and California poppies.
So what’s the secret to maintaining gorgeous rain gardens? Do I have to move back to a treeless landscape? I guess I’ll start reading some of those 4,080,080 articles…but I’ll have to finish weeding first.
by M Sinclair Stevens