Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Book Review: Rain Gardening in the South

Rain Gardening in the South is a how-to book for those who are interested in "ecologically designed gardens for drought, deluge and everything in between," according to its cover. That intrigued me.
We've had droughts the past two years and further south the drought has been even longer. This summer I thought I heard old Noah out back measuring in cubits during the many long rainy spells we've had; flooding has been imminent many times. As for the "in between": we've had snows, high winds, late frosts, and a killer ice storm six years back. So certainly a lot of variety in the local climate. I wanted to know what the authors proposed as a solution to the many dangers a gardener faces from the weather.

As it turns out, what I expected the book to be about wasn't exactly what it was about. The authors give step by step instructions for constructing garden spaces that preserve water and drain off excess rainfall in an ecologically healthy way. Double-digging, soil corrections, drains, mulch, contouring and careful selection of plants are the keys to this gardening method. Each chapter covers a different part of the process, from the planning stage to the completed garden. A section on resources and contacts, a chapter on troubleshooting and one on water barrels and cisterns, and an index round out the book's offerings.

The benefits of this method of gardening are manifold. Protection of topsoil and waterways and healthier gardens are the obvious ones. The impact is deeper and wider, however; less water runs off onto hard surfaces and into storm drains; rainfall is filtered before entering storm drains, and stored water is also filtered as it makes its way to the water table. The careful planning and attention to plant selection results in beautiful, hardy gardens that do not need as much maintenance as the traditional method of planting.

What can this method of gardening benefit those who live deep in rural countryside? There are few hard surfaces in the country to worry about runoff, and often nary a storm drain in sight. Even the roads might be gravel and porous enough to handle some run-off. Why would someone in the country want to try rain gardening?

It only takes watching a heavy thunderstorm pass through to realize the answer. Run-off, especially in hilly country, is a real problem. Gullies carve down the hillsides, creeks churn red with washed-out soil. In drought conditions, every drop of rain is precious, yet if we have had a long period of dry weather, the rain that does fall often pounds on hard soil and runs off. So for those who are willing to put in the time, effort and expense of a rain garden installation, the results would a boon to the environment both immediate and further downstream. For anyone who has gardened in raised beds, the methods employed in rain gardening are very similar, and the costs probably comparable. We're not talking thousands of dollars, except perhaps in terms of sweat equity.

The book includes some excellent planning tools and plant selection charts that detail the varieties by height, sun/shade and water requirements, color and other features. Even if you never plant a rain garden, the plant charts are a great resource. I was disappointed that the book did not address vegetable gardens, a topic near and dear to us country types. These plantings are purely ornamental and functional, not edible. Maybe there is another edition in the works for the vegetable gardener.

Rain Gardening in the South: Ecologically Designed Gardens for Drought, Deluge, and Everything in Between by Helen Krause and Anne Spafford. Eno Publishers, 2009
ISBN-10: 0982077106
ISBN-13: 978-0982077108


Susan at Stony River said...

Oh, excellent idea! But I must admit, I'll be waiting for the hoped-for vegetable edition.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for putting the idea out there Sue, it is frustrating for me to see the rivers and creeks turn red around here from run-off from the building going on. If we each did a little bit to help it would add up quickly. I look forward to the day when homeowners think carefully about what they put in and on the ground. Everything runs what is done in the mountains very definitely affects us lowlanders. Just as what I do, definitely affects the people who live down hill from me. I have seen the benefits of double digging (yuck) and mulching in my own garden during this summer when the rains seemed determined to pass us by, the gardens were drooping but not dead! I am going to look for this book and see how else I might improve my techniques. tm

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