The water's lovely: Rain gardens soak up water like a sponge, letting it seep gently into the ground and reducing the risk of flooding.
If you have a shed, a pond and a tree, you're already halfway to having a rain garden, the latest trend in urban wildlife gardening. Rain gardens soak up water like a sponge, letting it seep gently into the ground and reducing the risk of flooding. As well as being clever, wildlife-friendly and eco-friendly, they are perfect for the time-poor gardener, reducing the need to water.
This year's Chelsea Flower Show saw its first rain garden. Designed by Nigel Dunnett in partnership with the Landscape Agency, the New Wild Garden is now located at Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre in Gloucestershire. It pays homage to William Robinson's 1870 book, The Wild Garden, written in response to the Victorians' love of high-maintenance annual bedding displays. Robinson paved the way for a more naturalistic style of planting. Nearly 150 years later, the New Wild Garden provides a modern, urban take on Robinson's original vision.
Whether you're interested in preventing flooding, helping wildlife or don't want to deadhead your plants or spend time lugging a watering can, a rain garden is an exciting prospect.
You don't have to turn your garden into a Chelsea show-stopper, simply incorporate a few elements from the design of the New Wild Garden along its three themes: water, sustainability and wildlife.
London is losing the equivalent of two and a half Hyde Parks of green space every year, under paving stones, decking, sheds and garden offices. It's a similar story in the north-east, where a quarter of front gardens are disappearing under driveways. This sealing in of green space results in habitat loss and warmer temperatures (often called the urban heat island effect). But with no soil to absorb water during heavy rain, the most dramatic effect is the increased risk of flooding.
Rain gardens absorb rainfall, allowing it to slowly seep into the ground. The New Wild Garden's focal point is an office, topped with a green roof planted with low-maintenance wildflowers, herbs, flowering perennials and sedums. Green roofs absorb rainfall, compensating for the loss of green space beneath them and reducing the amount of water hitting the ground. Download a DIY guide from livingroofs.org or commission grassroofcompany.co.uk to make you one.
Excess rainfall from the roof is directed into two pools of water, which double as attractive water features, or ponds. The pools were custom-made (landformconsultants.co.uk), but you can use pre-formed plastic pond liners (worldofwater.co.uk) for a similar, inexpensive effect. Direct water into them from your shed or office gutters or, if you don't have the space, install a water butt.
Water overflows from one pool into the next, then runs into a border containing plants that don't mind getting their feet wet but can cope with occasional drought as well, such as Iris sibirica, persicaria, euphorbia, rudbeckia and Geranium sylvaticum. The path is made of alternate strips of granite and low-growing thyme, sempervivum and Acaena inermis 'Purpurea'. Recreate this in your own garden, putting low-growing plants between impermeable materials.
A mini copse of silver birch trees sucks up a fair amount of water, slowly releasing it into the atmosphere through its leaves. If you don't have a tree, buy one bare root between October and March (try ornamental-trees.co.uk).