24 August, 2010

Rain gardening

Gardening to deal with winter flash floods. June 2007, just after we moved in. Floods! We have heavy clay soil, and the swamp monster will get you! Can I have my foot back, please? (Catching up in September 2013)

July 2008. Floods, again. But now we have a buried drainage pipe to clear the driveway. We have gravel paved paths, and the flood waters recede quickly. 

The raging torrent across the picture is the road. That water flowed down our driveway and into our garden.

Paving and floods 

Nature wants the rain dispersed – not collected on a roof, with gutters, and then directed into an overflowing storm water channel. Overflowing because it is either blocked with garbage, or simply overburdened. That the rain can sink into the ground, which is not covered with hard paving – think of tarred roads, and concrete slabs. That the rain can sink in, because the ground is not baked hard with an impermeable surface like concrete, but covered with mulch, so the soil is friable, crumbly. Let your garden soil be a sponge to absorb rain, as nature intended it to. If you can’t get your trowel or spade in, then think of the plant’s delicate hair roots trying. Paving (gravel or loose slabs) needs to let through as much as possible of a sudden downpour.

Rain water tanks 

The Ungardener said, why water tanks? They’ll soon be empty. Why bother? But the logic is, that you catch some of the excess, and then ration it out for the thirsty plants. Especially with the first of the winter rains, when the plants are all yelling “I said, I’m THIRSTY!!!!” What is kind of frightening is that about 10 mm, in half an hour, can fill our two 500 litre water tanks. So yes we agree it is worth it. Besides the cats prefer to drink rainwater, none of that nasty chlorine. 


What is a swale? A hollow in your garden designed to take the overflow of a downpour, until it can distribute itself. Our house is square. First side drains straight into the pond, which overflows into Plum-Creek, which overflows in turn into the swale at the giant/Spanish reeds – and eventually finds its way into the town stream. Second side goes straight to the reeds, and joins the (can be frightening!) overflow down the driveway. Third side goes to the rainwater tank, and overflows into the pond. Last side to the second tank, then Apple-Creek.

Apple Creek swale was dug out on the 3rd, and those floods came on the 6th. 

Ungardening Pond 

The pond. Which leaked. Has been drained and repaired. And is slowly filling again with rain. The Ungardener carefully relocated dozens of frogs to the two creeks. Today I see at least two frogs have found their way (back) to the pond.

Pink rose pelargonium, with raindrops. The white one I didn’t plant. Suspect it is a common or garden … someone tell me. Has very fine filigree leaves. It is obviously part of the daisy family, but our indigenous daisies have petals of substance, like a lettuce leaf. This is like tissue paper. And ours have petals that are petal shaped, these, have two or three teeth. Susan in the Pink Hat says Cosmos. (Cosmos bipinnatus from Mexico, kosmos - Greek for beautiful) The new camera has captured spoons on the Clerodendron that the naked eye can only imagine. And finally, the water lilies have buds, despite being out of the water for weeks. Just the roots are in water. Plants are in the shade. Going back into the half filled pond today. Then we hope those buds will realise their promise.

PS Mystery flower is Cosmos - thanks Susan. Greek kosmos means world/people/universe - thanks Ellada our Greek blogger. Serves me right for blindly quoting what I read. And the OED says kosmos is order/ornament/world. Only the OED could tie those three words together. So - Mexicans - the flower is an ornament? Or is it - see the world in a grain of sand?

William Blake's Auguries of Innocence

To see a world in a grain of sand, 
And a heaven in a wild flower, 
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, 
And eternity in an hour.

Pictures by Jurg and Diana, words by Diana of Elephant's Eye


  1. Dear Diana of EE, What extraordinary pictures of the rains flooding the road and garden. These really do appear to be strange times, weather wise, in which we are living.

    You highlight one of the many problems of urban living where, certainly within the UK, more and more people are applying tarmac or concrete to what was once a front garden to accommodate motor cars and caravans with the result that rain water has nowhere to go which, of course, leads to flooding.

    How well you seem to be managing your own excess of water - and how sensible for these times when water is becoming a very valuable and scarce commodity. I deplore to see it going to waste.

  2. Diana, this is an extremely interesting post! You must've been very anxious watching the floods, and so near your doors!

    Your water wise practices are well worth blogging about, and I am so happy to hear about them. I have a rain barrell that I use extensively. I think it's amusing to watch innocent plants get watered time and again with city water, only to jump up and thrive when receiving a bit of real rain water. It's not rocket science, for Pete's sake!

    Love your pond! I don't have space for a pond, but am planning a small water feature for the front yard.

  3. You have quite the system. I am quite envious. I've been dreaming about installing underground tanks in my front yard myself. I haven't quite sold the husband on those yet.

    The white flower looks and sounds like Coreopsis to me.

  4. {Head slap} It's cosmos. I new it started with a C.

  5. This is really wonderful -- very informative and beautifully illustrated with your excellent photos. Are you sure Porterville and Houston aren't sister cities? We also have heavy clay soils and lots of rain to deal with. Bog gardens and rainwater harvesting are quite popular topics around here, but I've not seen such great examples. Thanks so much!

  6. You and the Ungardener have really made a virtue out of necessity! I love how you've used the catalyst of flooding to create something beautiful. The northeastern US has a "mud season" when the snows melt but the deep ground hasn't thawed yet--when I lived there I used to lose entire boots in the mud. "Can I have my foot back?" indeed!

  7. Stacy - the lady we bought from said - one day when you are digging you may find that shoe I lost in the potatoes!

    Susan Pink Hat - thanks for the Cosmos. I knew someone would know it.

    (Every garden needs a gifted Ungardener, sometimes)

  8. Your post serves as a somber reminder that we all garden in different conditions and do our best to navigate the elements. My garden has little potential for flooding, but the winds! Oh the winds! They can be so damaging to tender plants and trees. Add the hail storms that may only last a few minutes but can destroy the leaves and blossoms, and leave dents on our cars. Your post is a wonderful example of how to make the best of unfavorable elements. Thanks, Diana for the great perspective.

  9. Hi Diana, I'm very impressed with the ideas that you have come up with to deal with the downpours - it is lovely to see something that is not only practical, but adds so much to the garden in terms of visual appeal and habitat too!

  10. Meredhuit - we don't have much hail. But the last garden in Camps Bay, all summer is a howling South-Easter. Once took the neighbour's roof off. And blew over the newly built wall of our garage. Wind we have had.

  11. Your post is very informative and interesting. Our soil is a mixture of clay and limestone, and the land falls gently away from the house on all sides. The slope is so gentle that one doesn't notice it, but we really are near the top of a small mountain. So we have never had to deal with anything like what you see. We do have a problem with heavy rainfall coming out of one of our gutters, then across the patio, and then down a mulched path, digging long gauges in the path and carrying mulch away. Lou and I have been thinking of ways to fix this. Possibly installing a rain barrel at the offending gutter would solve the problem?

  12. An amazing and ingenious transformation, Diana ... your ponds are lovely.

  13. Deb - that rain barrel will still need an overflow solution in a cloud burst ;>)


Photographs and Copyright

Photographs are from Diana Studer or Jurg Studer.
My Canon PowerShot A490

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