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Rain Gardens 101

Transform your yard while helping the planet



Max and Simon Hanson helped transform the front yard of their Broadview home into a rain garden.

PHOTO COURTESY OF HANSON FAMILY

When Matt and Phaleen Hanson decided to fix the waterlogged front yard and damp basement at their Broadview home, their research led them to horticulturist Zsofia Pasztor. 

Pasztor helped them create a rain garden — a slightly depressed area that absorbs rainwater from the roof, gutters and other hard surfaces, reducing stormwater runoff that contributes to pollution, erosion and flooding. Rain gardens require little maintenance after the first couple of seasons and look like typical gardens to passersby. 

With Pasztor’s assistance, the Hansons, who have two sons, Simon and Max, chose deep-rooted native plants and edible fruit, and the family did much of the work themselves. Now they enjoy not only a dry house, but also a beautiful yard filled with birds, where they can go check the rain gauge and pick strawberries and blueberries. 

Their success story is just one included in the new book Rain Gardens for the Pacific Northwest (Mountaineers Books, $24.95), co-written by Pasztor with landscape designer Keri DeTore, which teaches homeowners how to build and maintain their own rain gardens, taking into account the area’s topography, climate and plant life. 

Indeed, in the often-soggy Pacific Northwest, rainwater brings pollution from downspouts, chemically treated lawns, and oily streets, running into public storm drains. Then, “if our facilities can’t handle it, all that filthy water gets flushed into Puget Sound or Lake Washington, or whatever waterway they are connected to,” DeTore says.

As recently as February, a King County wastewater treatment plant failed as the result of catastrophic flooding, sending hundreds of millions of gallons of untreated wastewater and raw sewage into Puget Sound, and 11 South Park homes were swamped with sewage when an overflow pipe malfunctioned.

ILLUSTRATION BY JILL NUNEMAKER

Rain gardens are designed to temporarily hold and soak up rainwater runoff that flows from roofs, driveways, patios or lawns.

Rain gardens are one solution to such problems. In fact, they are so effective that through their programs, the Rainwise Seattle and Be Rainwise-King County will connect households in certain areas with a landscaper and then issue a rebate, averaging $4,000, to cover the cost of installing a rain garden. (To see if you are eligible or to find out more about the program, call the Garden Hotline at 206-633-0224; email rainwise@seattle.gov; or visit 700milliongallons.org/rainwise). 

Pasztor is one of the city’s rain-gardencertified landscapers and has installed more than she can count. (In addition to writing, teaching workshops and landscape designing, she also runs her own nonprofit, Farmer Frog , growing edible gardens in public schools. In writing the book, Pasztor wanted to pass her experience on to those who wish to tackle the project themselves. That said, installing a rain garden is not a simple project and can take months to complete.

“It’s complex stuff, but we have worked really hard to break it down into manageable chunks,” DeTore says. 

Pasztor encourages letting children take part in construction. The Hansons’ boys were 4 and 6 during installation, and enjoyed digging in the dirt and moving wheelbarrows. “You get to cover science of all kinds, math, gravity and physics, and teach them about their responsibility for the environment,” she says. 

Even the soil testing becomes a family experiment. Kids can help dig samples, put the dirt in a Mason jar with dish soap, and then watch to see how it separates to determine what type of soil is on their property.

They will also learn about plant care and food production. And rain gardens are free of pesticides and fertilizers.

“It’s a very cost-effective way to handle runoff,” Pasztor says. “It’s not going to solve everything, but it’s one of the easiest ways people can contribute.”

 Rain Garden Resources:

12000 Rain Gardens  

700 Million Gallons 

Rainwise Seattle 

Be Rainwise-King County 

Seattle Tilth

Sustainable Ballard 

 

 

Farmer Frog - Growing edible gardens in public schools.

Author appearances: 

April 8, 4 pm: Village Books, Bellingham

April 22, noon: Molbak's Nursery, Woodinville  

May 16, 7 pm: Lake Forest Park Library

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