Garden Books

Rain Gardening in the South

Book cover Rain Gardening

Four inches plus a decimal fraction of rain statistically dance on the Triangle’s clay in each month of the summer.  Unfortunately, the rain is irregular, one inch in two weeks, two inches in one week, and then almost a month without a drop.  Or if a hurricane hits the coast, several inches flood your garden in a few hours.  Between the rainy days, the sun beats down, parching both the soil and the plants imbedded in it.  Watering becomes a necessary chore to keep the vegetation blooming that was thriving in early spring.

The options explained in Rain Gardening in the South will let you relax; decreasing the time spent watering your plants this summer.

Both authors are professors in the Department of Horticulture Science at NC State University, and are well acquainted with the water issues of the Triangle.  Helen Kraus’ research specialty is in the environmental influences of plant management, and Anne Safford’s landscape architecture experience provides expertise in the suggested projects and plants. Their background knowledge is well combined in their easy-to-read, factual format.

The rain garden’s purpose, design and how to actually build one is discussed in the book’s first three chapters.  “A rain garden is designed to capture rainfall running through your yard (known as runoff), store that water to nurture the plants, and cleanse runoff of pollutants,” state the authors. How and where to place a rain garden is shown clearly. Charts indicate the size gardens needed to match various property specifications, such as drainage from buildings and from driveways.  To further present the simplicity of a rain garden, the authors describe and illustrate the process, providing pictures from constructing one in Dr. Kraus’ own lawn.

The fourth chapter, “Plantings,” is interesting and helpful to all Southern gardeners.  This section supplies suggestions on how to arrange perennials, evergreens, and deciduous plants in beds for the most appealing appearance throughout the entire year. A long list of appropriate vines, ground covers, shrubs and perennials are divided into sections for shade, shade/part sun and sun gardens.  Latin name, common name, size, shape, foliage description and “other notable features” are given for each plant.  The authors describe their suggested plants as “pest-free and disease-free, and low maintenance, not needing to be pruned regularly and available at most nurseries.” These “tough” plants can stand in water for three days or survive a drought with minimum care.   To solve the inevitable problems, a “Troubleshooting” chapter follows the planting information.

Ten feet must exist between a rain garden and a building’s foundation to prevent water damage, according to the authors.  With this advice to those with small spaces, a final chapter instructs gardeners on alternative methods of “minimizing runoff and maximizing rainwater to use in their landscape.”  Rain barrels, rain chains, cisterns, and other water options are explained.  The book concludes with an appendix, “A Soil Primer” guide on how to best acquire the nutrients and consistency required for good soil.

The book is filled with excellent information for both beginning and experienced gardeners.  Despite its factual content, the writing is in a conversational style.  The reader will agree with the authors’ assurance that this book will inform about “ecologically designed gardens for drought, deluge and everything in between.”

Christine Thomson, a Raleigh gardener obsessed with plants.  She is a volunteer at the Raulston Arboretum and fills her spare time reading books, especially volumes about vegetation.

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