Design elements that work with excess rainwater instead of against it.

In the Pacific Northwest, it rains; everyone knows this. Though those particularly dreary spells, those few peaks of sunlight feel like a lifeline to warmer and brighter times. But before we all move on to flowers, long hikes, and lazy river floats, let’s think for a second and consider what we can do this summer to better prepare our landscapes for the excess rainwater that is bound to plague the Northwest again next fall.

We know what you’re thinking, who wants to think about rain anymore? There’s sun and relaxing hammock days ahead, and it’s so close we can taste it! But more likely than most, your landscapes suffered this winter from the snow and the torrential downpour that has been February and March. Rainwater is puddling in places you’ve never seen it before, your drainage is uneven, and your planting beds are waterlogged. Don’t put all of this aside until next year when the problem arises again.  In addition to using the traditional drainage techniques such as trench drains, flo-wells, catch basins, etc., we can remedy these issues with a few design elements that will also add some pizzazz to your landscape whether its wet or dry.

There are many different types of solutions for rainwater management. Water is a funny element, in that, we can’t always control it. It’s possible that these solutions still couldn’t fix drainage issues, or they could come back.

The following are suggestions that can alleviate excess water, but never a sure-fire solution to any and all problems.

What is a Rain Garden?

Rain gardens are a great way to dress up a part of the landscape, as well as add functionality to it. To the untrained eye, it looks like a grouping of plants, hopefully native, but at least water-loving. Depending on the plant choices, they can be bright and colorful, with lots of different textures and varied bloom times, only adding to the beauty of the overall landscape.

There are many different ways to build a rain garden, but the overall concept is the same. Make a depression where you have a low spot/water pooling, put in some fresh soil and/or drain rock, plant water-loving plants thinking about the locations that will be getting the most and least water, and watch it collect rainwater and thrive. This is obviously over-simplified and there’s more that goes into it, and a good online resource is Portland Metro. They have a guide that goes through the technical ways to design and build a rain garden if you’re looking to do the job yourself. If not, give us a call, we can help.

The following images are not rain gardens that we have built. But great images to show how lovely and useful a rain garden can be.

rain garden

A rain garden in action! Source: SailorsTales

Related image

See? aren’t they wonderful and amazing?

Dry Stream Bed

dry stream bed

Dry stream beds go by many names, dry river bed, dry creek bed, but it’s all the same. A dry stream is a shallow swale lined with stone substantial enough to withstand a serious downpour while securing the soil and directing rainwater runoff.

They look their best when they emulate a natural waterway, and the best way to get that result is to hire a genuine craftsman, one who possesses the skill of an engineer and the eye of an artist, such as Drake’s 7 Dees. Creating a gentle curve in a stream bed results in a more natural appearance, serves to reduce the velocity of the water, and creates areas for major plant groupings. These are our favorite to design and install of the rainwater design elements called out on this list. They allow for the most creativity and look absolutely stunning when they’re done correctly and look natural.

In general, the dry stream bed should be located an area of your landscape that is naturally low, or where water drains poorly. A dry stream can flow across an open expanse, or it can be located at the base of a slope or raised flower bed.

Rain Garden Plants

Take a gander at some of our most successful finished products.

dry stream bed
dry stream bed
dry stream bed

 Permeable Paving for Rain Gardens

Permeable Paver Section

The pavers themselves are made up of of concrete bricks, separated by joints, or gaps, filled with small stones or sand, which are laid over a bed of aggregate stones. Water is able to infiltrate through the joints in the pavers, and is stored in void space underneath the paver surface, where it is then slowly filtered back into the soil.

Patios and walkways are great! And they’re essential to using your outdoor space. Permeable paving is an easy way to make your hardscape a little more environmentally friendly by reducing the amount of rainwater that is put elsewhere. Meaning, they can cut down on flooding in areas you’d prefer it not flood. They’re also best suited for low-traffic areas like driveways, patios, and walkways .

While the long-term benefits are significantly greater, the initial cost of installation for permeable pavers is exceeds that of impervious concrete or pavement. In other words, it’s worth it if you have flooding/drainage problems and a lot of concrete or other impervious surfaces, and you care about the quality of the water going back into the ground.

There are a lot of different types of design aesthetic with these guys. Depending on the end product you’re looking for, there are numerous products to choose from.

You can purposefully let the grass or ground cover grow up in between each paver creating a hybrid paver/garden space to park on.

pervious pavers, permeable pavers

Source: ReadingRock Building Materials and Services

permeable pavers

Source: Mutual Materials

Or you can put gravel in the voids to keep a cleaner, more traditional aesthetic for the paver area.

permeable pavers

Source: Krienbrook Permeable Pavers

So don’t let all this rain get you down! There are ways to deal with all this water in an incredibly creative manner that is both functional and beautiful at the same time. And don’t we all just love form and function working together? YES!!

Let us help you plan for next Fall! We want to collaborate with you! Check out our Houzz ideabook for contemporary uses of water that actually inspired the design of our Drizzle Garden at the Portland Home & Garden Show last month.

If you’re interested in starting a project, give us a call and we can help with the design, planning, and installation of any rainwater solutions.

If you have any questions about designing your rain garden, be sure to give us a shout at our Portland Nursery and Garden Center!