Rain garden in action

Water flowing from the gutter into a rain barrel. The overflow spills into the wet-weather stream (dry creek), laid with New Mexico river rock, and is funneled into the rain garden.

With all the talk about 10-year droughts at The Throbbing Thumb, Bill Lane’s Victoria, Australia, blog, plus Austin’s own 3-year drought, I’ve been thinking about adding more rain barrels around the house. I’ve already got two, but they don’t hold much—one good rain fills them up in minutes. Ideally I’d install a huge cistern, though I’m not sure where I’d fit it.

At any rate, I do appreciate my rain-barrel system. Yesterday and today we’ve enjoyed temporary relief from the drought in the form of a few thunderstorms. My main rain barrel sits just off the back porch. I use the stored, chlorine-free water mainly to refill my container pond as it evaporates. During a good rainstorm, like today’s, it’s pleasant to sit on the porch and watch the overflow turn the dry creek into a small stream, delivering water to the garden under the cedar elm, which I like to call my rain garden.

Once the rain barrel fills up, the excess water flows out of a valve at the bottom into the dry creek.

The dry creek winds under a limestone-slab bridge and terminates in the undergrowth of the cedar elm. All the plants in this garden appreciate extra water and thrive in slow-draining soil. What you see right now is a line of Southern wax myrtles along the fence, daylily and spiderwort foliage, the silvery green leaves of heartleaf skullcap, Carolina jessamine on the fence, and a Texas redbud at the back. Turk’s cap will fill out the space in the warmer months.

In the fast-draining front garden, a foreshortened glimpse through the rain shows the ‘Amethyst’ irises in full bloom, standing tall above the Mexican oregano and agaves. Even they who prefer dry feet must be loving the rain.

8 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    Soooo glad we have gotten the rain. There is nothing better than sitting outside under a porch and listening, smelling and appreciating the rain in Central Texas. The only down-side is missing out on spring break garden time since I teach for a living. Tim in Leander

    Hi, Tim. Thanks for commenting. It’s always good to hear from readers in the Austin area. —Pam

  2. Bill Lane says:

    I’ve never heard of a rain barrel before. What a great idea. Especially with the wet weather stream. Many homes here are installing water tanks to capture either their greywater or the rainwater from their gutters. These vary enormously in size (color and shape) and many councils are offering discounts to encourage their uptake.

    I really appreciate the insight you get from blogs about how we respond to similar problems in different parts of the world. Particularly appreciate your blog Pam. I don’t often comment but reading is always an important part of my day.

    I think our rain barrel is your water tank. It sits under the gutter and collects rainwater running off the roof. The City of Austin sells these very cheaply to residents to encourage water conservation. We don’t hear much about gray-water collection yet, but I suspect that will change someday soon because of growth pressures on our water supply, not to mention droughts.

    I appreciate your blog too, Bill. Thanks for commenting. —Pam

  3. kate says:

    Hi there,

    Just wanted to say that your photographs are beautiful. I had a pang of sadness when I saw your rain barrel. I have the same one as you do, but it cracked last winter and has been leaking ever since. I am hoping to get it fixed because it was the best thing for watering my patio pots by hand.

    Have added your blog to my ‘playing in the dirt’ links.


    Thank you, Kate! It’s nice to meet another Canadian gardener. —Pam

  4. r sorrell says:

    I’ve heard that you should only use a rain barrel from your gutters if you have a metal roof… that shingles pollute the water. Does that sound right to you?

    I’ve never heard that. The City of Austin, which promotes rain barrels, has not mentioned it, at least not that I’ve seen. The screen on top of the rain barrel, which keeps out mosquitoes, also catches shingle particles during hard rains, so the water is kept pretty clean. I haven’t noticed any adverse effects from using it. —Pam

  5. Pam, could a very large water tank be put under ground? Do you have a cellar? Grey water storage is the way to go, especially if there are so many droughts in the area you live in. Here we have the opposite problem: too much water.

  6. firefly says:

    It’s on my list to get a rainbarrel this year (also to fix the gutters, which unfortunately leak at the seams and don’t channel the water into downspouts properly), but am I ever glad I read this post and your post on the rain garden first.

    I always learn from reading here because you write simply and well, and illustrate with photos. Thanks so much!

    Thanks for the nice words, Firefly. Good luck with your rainbarrel. —Pam

  7. Kim says:

    What a beautiful rain garden… not what I expected a rain garden to look like, although I can’t quite articulate what I would have expected. If you hadn’t told me that it was a rain garden, I would never have known–and that is the best part of it. It fits into the rest of your garden so well!

    (And I’m completely drooling over those agaves, as usual.)

    Kim, I just bought a new one today—squid agave! Don’t you just love the name? I’ll have pics soon. —Pam

  8. chuck b. says:

    Love, love, LOVE the rain-barrel! Thank you for showing this to us.

    You got a nice effect juxtaposing the light-colored agave next to plants with darker foliage.

    Glad you enjoyed the post. Rain barrels are pretty common in Austin, so I don’t always remember that not everyone knows about them. I’ll bet even temperate San Francisco has dry spells when you could use a barrel or two of free water, yes? —Pam