A few years ago, desert gardens were in vogue as we prepared for blistering hot summers; now rain gardens are widespread and, given our current conditions, they have never been so timely, as we attempt to meet the challenges thrown at us by the extreme weather.
In urban areas the amount of rain that flows into the drainage system, which is collected from roofs and hard areas, can be staggering, so the more rain that gardeners can temporarily collect, slow down or retain the better. If we can use the surges in water volumes to widen the scope of our planting, we can also create a more dynamic space.
Rain gardens encompass all the elements that can be put to use to collect and move water: roofs, gutters, downpipes and channels, as well as planted areas and ephemeral pools.
The least efficient surface to collect water in a garden is a flat area of concrete; a close-mown lawn would be preferable, but an area of herbaceous and shrub planting would be better still. The ideal solution is to mix in a few small trees to the lower-level planting, as this not only helps retain the downfalls, but also attracts wildlife.
Nigel Dunnett is a horticulturist, perhaps best known for his part in the dramatic planting of the Olympic site in 2012 and his gold-winning Blue Water Roof Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show last year. He has been creating rain gardens for more than a decade. He points out that coping with large surges in rainfall is often dealt with by engineers, but greener, softer solutions can often be found by horticulturists.
With so much water around, and the likelihood that we might well have more surges in the years to come, capturing the run-off to make our gardens more diverse makes a lot of sense. Rather than getting shot of the water as quickly as possible, we might as well benefit not just the wildlife and gardener but maybe the planet, too.
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