Joy of ‘rain gardens’ shared at Leach Botanical Gardens

The class learned how to turn a soggy yard into a place of beauty. Discover the benefits of rain gardens – and, learn the biggest mistake in planning one – right here …

Candace Stoughton, Low Impact Development Specialist from East Multnomah County Soil and Water Conservation District, shares the joys of making and maintaining rain gardens, at this class held at Leach Botanical Garden.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The conference room at Leach Botanical Gardens was filled to capacity with folks ready to take the “Rain Gardens 101” class being offered by Candace Stoughton, Low Impact Development Specialist from East Multnomah County Soil and Water Conservation District (EMSWCD).

“You’ll be learning how to add a beautiful rain garden to your yard,” Stoughton began. You’ll learn how to assess your property for the best rain garden location and size, how to choose the right plants, and how to construct and maintain your rain garden.”

There are at least four good reasons to install rain gardens, Stoughton said. Rain gardens help to:

  • Reduce Combined Sewer Outflows – “With less rain runoff, it helps keep sewage from being dumped into streams.”
  • Provide a good environment for fish – “Good urban gardening helps promote and maintain healthy streams.”
  • Reduce taxes – “Rain gardens help reduce the need for new stormwater-handling infrastructure.”
  • Improve aesthetics – “These are much prettier than pipes and sewers – they help beautify your community.”

In her well-illustrated presentation, Candace Stoughton shows exactly how and why to install and use rain gardens.

Rain garden basics
By its design and subsequent plant selection, a rain garden takes advantage of rainfall and stormwater runoff. This kind of garden is designed to thrive with lots of moisture, and a high concentrations of nutrients.

While a rain garden may look like any other, below its surface it mimics the hydrologic action of a healthy forest – it “cleans” and reduces the rate that rain runoff penetrates into soil or an open area. The plans help reduce sediments, and also the nitrogen and phosphorus levels, in otherwise untreated stormwater.

Class members learned rain gardens can be either drained or self-contained. Both types of rain gardens are used to improve stormwater quality, reduce runoff volumes, and generally facilitate infiltration of cleaned water.

During the morning-long class, Stoughton used many illustrations that detail how to design and construct a rain garden – and how they look when completed.

Improper placement can cause flooding
Class members appeared to enjoy the many garden-planning ideas, suggestions and how-to instructions that Stoughton provided.

She helped would-be rain-gardeners to avoid pitfalls as well. “The biggest mistake: putting your rain garden too close to a building’s foundation,” warned Stoughton. “Water can seep from the rain garden into your basement or lower spaces. The minimum distance from a foundation should be at least six feet.”

Stoughton recounts the benefits rain gardens provide.

People attend for many reasons
After the class, we asked Stoughton what reasons people give for coming to her introductory class.

“Most are gardeners, who want to learn the latest in gardening,” she said. “This is a new, hot, functional trend in gardening and protecting streams in our watershed.”

Others come, Stoughton confided, because a city or county government has required them to install a rain garden to help reduce stormwater runoff that would otherwise flow into the sewer system. “They leave the class thinking, ‘Now that I understand it, this makes so much sense’.”

Learn more …
Stoughton teaches “Rain Garden 101”, and shares her expertise in low-impact development methods that protect streams and rivers from urban storm water runoff in other classes and seminars throughout the year.

To find the location of her next class, e-mail her at, or call (503) 935-5368. For more information about the East Multnomah County Soil and Water Conservation District, check their web site by CLICKING HERE.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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