We grow gardens for their beauty and bounty but that’s not all they can do for us. Even the most modest garden can help filter pollutants and prevent flooding. Urban planners have fancy names for this: infiltration basins, bioswales. That’s fine for downtown or along the highway but when it’s in your own yard? That’s a rain garden.
Creating Rain Gardens co-author Apryl Uncapher writes that for her a rain garden is a daily reminder of how her actions impact the environment and her community. Yes, our behavior can create problems but it can also create solutions. It goes without saying that our gardens need water. Perhaps our water needs gardens, too?
Thanks, Apryl, for sharing a bit about yourself and your thoughts on the power of rain gardens.
How did you get started gardening? Did you garden as a child?
From as far back as I can remember, I have always been outside helping my mom and dad plant flowers, rake leaves, and take care of our yard. It’s some of my fondest memories, and to this day, I am especially attached to shasta daisies, lily of the valley, balloon flowers, and many other varieties that harken back to childhood gardens.
How did you come to a more sustainable approach to gardening?
I am fortunate to have a family that has modeled a love of being in service. This idea of stewardship has deeply impacted my own passion for community and environment. I’ve worked with conserving, harvesting, and recycling water over the past decade. My passion for sustainable water resources has intrinsically brought me close to plants and gardening again, this time with a particular mindfulness of what it is to be sustainable.
What does integrative design mean to you?
Integrative design to me is a way of looking at a situation, considering each element in a design, reviewing the relationship between each element and how they can be connected. A rain garden for instance is not only a beautiful, low-maintenance, water-saving garden, but can additionally provide habitat for local fauna, grow select edibles to harvest, keep pollution from nearby rivers, and reduce flooding.
Building rain gardens requires considering our environmental relationship to water. How else can building a rain garden increase environmental awareness?
For me, environmental awareness is being thoughtful of how my actions affect others, specifically with what I use and how I dispose of it. Environmental awareness in my life is most alive when I feel encouraged with reminders. A rain garden becomes an outwardly visual daily reminder of how I impact the environment, making me thoughtfully aware of the importance my actions have.
In your book you encourage people to imagine their dream rain garden and set goals for it. What did your dream rain garden look like and what goals did you set for it?
I have many. I am inspired by each site’s palette of resources and limitations, ranging from native flora and fauna to sunlight and rainfall. Each unique combination offers me a new opportunity to play with what my dream rain garden is. I deeply enjoy this part of the process and feel fortunate to have outlets to share this joy with others.
People may know rain gardens by another name: infiltration basins, swales, bioswales, and earthworks. Thinking of these as rain gardens makes them seem more accessible to everyone, are they?
Language is a powerful tool. Words like “rain” and “garden” are common to many diverse people and places. This familiarity and connection feels welcoming and encourages curiosity. Giving these technical terms common language allows water conservation to ease its way into mainstream culture, and is one of my favorite changes I’ve seen over the course of my professional career.
How could a rain garden be beneficial in a place that doesn’t receive a lot of rain?
Desert-scapes must be extra mindful of how water is used. These landscapes benefit the most from strategic water harvesting and reuse. In areas of mandated xeriscaping, a homeowner might be surprised to see that between harvesting rainwater running off their roof and utilizing greywater from inside their house, there is enough water to sustain a native oasis that not only raises property value, but helps cool the house and provide necessary habitat and forage for local wildlife.
What would you say to people intimidated by the more technical aspects of building a rain garden?
My co-author, Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, and I wrote this book from the common idea to just have fun and play with water. Stomp around and get your feet wet! As long as you’re willing to keep a careful eye on what you do to make sure overflow is heading to a safe location, any rain garden you create will be beneficial to your home and surrounding environment! Our book is written for beginning and advanced readers alike by breaking out technical content so those who are not afraid of getting wet and crunching numbers can design a site-specific rain garden while those who are still learning the basics or just really laid back can skip those sections and focus on the main text directed for all DIYers.
Is there one thing in particular you want people to get out of reading your book?
I hope we inspire our readers to more thoughtfully consider how they use water and offer the inquiry: What would a more water-conscious world look like?