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Book Review: Rain Gardens: Managing Water Sustainably in the Garden and Designed Landscape

Rain Garedens Managing Water sustainablyWater is increasingly become a scarce commodity for gardeners and many measures are being taken to make the most of the water supply we have. One of these measures is the development of rain gardens. Authors Nigel Dunnet and Andy Clayden, associated with the Department of Landscape at the University of Sheffield, UK, present a innovative approach to managing water that not only makes outdoor spaces more beautiful but also minimizes environmental problems such as drought and stormwater runoff.

The book is divided into three sections. The first deals with the many ways a rain garden can contribute to the overall health and enjoyment of the natural world and considers some of the key principles that underline a rain garden approach. The authors point out the value of rain gardens to wildlife and biodiversity, the potential for increased water-related activities, and the improvement of microclimates. The discussion includes examples from Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States, with full color photographs. Considerable attention is given to the water cycle and how increased urbanization has effected it. The concept of bioretention is developed as a basis for the design approach that follows.

The second part of the book deals with individual components of the rain garden and how they can be linked together as a coherent whole. The idea of the “storm water chain” is developed as the unifying element that pulls together all aspects of the way that water comes into, moves through, and leaves an area. The authors show how the concept of the ‘storm water chain’ can be used by the home gardener and give specific ideas that can be modified to suit the situation. A green roof, for example, can be on a municipal parking garage but is also effective on a garden shed, play house, or dog kennel. The discussion includes many suggestion for making a green roof including suitable plants. Likewise, ways of collecting, storing and moving water are described and illustrated by photographs from gardens all over Europe and the United States. One such method of collecting and storing run off from roofs is storm water planters that can be placed close up to a building and, therefore, fit into even small designs. Directions are also given for rainwater harvesting, infiltrating water, landscape swales, filter strips, retention ponds, swimming ponds, as well as rain and infiltration gardens. Many case studies of successful gardens enhance the text.

The third and final section of the book is a plant directory that lists potential plants for rain gardens and similar structures. The plants that will grow in such an environment have to withstand both drought and flooding making selection difficult. The directory lists over 150 plants with information given on bloom color and time, height, light requirements, and specific moisture requirements. Trees, shrubs, grasses, and other herbaceous plants are included.

Anyone interested in sustainable water management would find this book interesting reading. It contains a multitude of ideas for the home gardener but is probably above the level that most American gardens can use. The water management practices described in the book have been going on for many years in Europe, especially Germany, but may seem very novel and “out there” to most Americans. Rain gardens are fairly well accepted in the American garden community but the book treats them as only one part of an integrated approach to water management, hence most of us may not be ready to dive into the whole approach now. If you are one of the more ecologically attuned gardeners, this is a great read and could be very helpful in implementing a sustainable water management program.

To buy Rain Gardens: Managing Water Sustainably in the Garden and Designed Landscape from Amazon.com click here.