Earning My Master Rain Gardener Stripes

Last year, I took part in a five week train-the-trainer type of course to become a Master Rain Gardener. A requirement to earn my Master Rain Gardener badge (actually a t-shirt) was either to assist on maintaining a rain garden, or to build a rain garden myself. I earned my shirt through a grueling work day at the Greenwood Farm’s rain garden.

However now that Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District will be teaching our own Master Rain Gardener course (and I will be doing some of the training), I feel that a day of pulling weeds at the Greenwood Farm was simply not enough. Also, my backyard does in fact have a wetness issue. So as of yesterday, I have embarked on building my very own rain garden.

The wetness all began when we had our 1920’s garage razed so that we could build a modern one that didn’t feel like it was going to fall on us whenever we opened the door. Well, that old garage had a foot and half tall covering of ivy that had naturalized into its own green roof. Quite frankly, what the should-of-been-condemned garage lacked in structural quality was all than made up for in its ability to soak up rainwater.

But alas, a new garage with new vinyl siding and new asphalt shingles on its new rooftop has to drain somewhere. And because of zoning laws, this somewhere has to be my backyard. Within two months of the new taller garage with all of its shade and half of its roof draining in the back, a significant portion of grass had died and had become perpetual mud. Making matters worse, my former compost pile next to the garage had basically become a small swale, assisting water movement into the greater backyard.

I knew something had to be done. I just didn’t know what-until I learned of rain gardens through my gig here at Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District. Duh, I need a rain garden. So, what is a rain garden? Www.rainwater.org defines a rain garden as “a garden of native shrubs, perennials, and flowers planted in a small depression, which is generally formed on a natural slope. It is designed to temporarily hold and soak in rain water runoff that flows from roofs, driveways, patios or lawns.”

Over the winter I’d been mentally stewing about my rain garden, but yesterday the physical assertion began. Though I had designed my rain garden with mathematical calculations and precision on paper as part of the Master Rain Gardener course work, the natural contours of mud whispered in my ear the exact dimensions. Coincidentally, I cut some large branches of a Bradford Pear last year that fit perfectly into the contours of mud. Essentially, soil will be dug out of the basin and bermed up on these pear branches to make a hugelculture berm.

In terms of plant life, I was somewhat limited due to the shadiness and size of the area, and my tendency to keep things simple. That being said, I will be adding a whole other Kingdom of Life to my rain garden-that is the Kingdom of Fungi! This will be in the form of a King Stropharia mushroom filter strip. The plants will all be shade tolerant/loving and include Redosier Dogwood, Maidenhair Fern, and Wild Ginger. Check out the plants and the non-landscape architect rendered design drawing in the pictures above.

Also, if you have an interest in becoming a Master Rain Gardener, please see link below.


Or, if you have an interest in using mushrooms in your own rain garden, check out this link.


Blog Author: Justin Husher, Natural Resources Conservationist

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