Gardening isn't just about planting flowers anymore. In fact, your garden has taken on an enormous amount of responsibility over the past decade.

The Summit Free Public Library located at 75 Maple Street in Summit, NJ recently installed two rain gardens with the help of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program, the Rahway River Watershed Association, and the Summit Environmental Commission.  Funding for the two rain gardens was provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grants Program.

We know that fresh organic produce grown in your garden can lower your exposure to chemicals and save you money at the grocery store.We've also recently learned that incorporating the the right mix of flowers can help prevent the extinction of pollenators. Now, your garden can also help you lower the likelihood of a flooded basement, fight pollution, and replenish groundwater supplies.

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What Is a Rain Garden?

Signage helps to educate residents of Summit, New Jersey on the purpose and benefit of two recently installed rain gardens at the Summit Free Public Library.  Water from the roof of the library is diverted into the rain gardens instead of the local sewer system.  Contaminates are filtered from the water through a process known as 'biofiltration'.  The filtered water is slowly released from the rain garden through percolation and transpiration.

Rain gardens are depressions in the ground that are filled with permeable material and capped with deep-rooted indigenous plants such as wildflowers, shrubs, and small trees.After a rainfall, water is stored in these depressions and slowly released through percolation and transpiration.A natural filtration process occurs as the stored water is released gradually, capturing contaminates and preventing local flooding and water pollution.

Rain Gardens Are Growing Fast

Adoption of rain gardens has caught on quickly. Municipalities including SummitMadison, and Bernardsville, New Jersey are incorporating rain water systems into municipal landscapes.

Corporations are installing rain gardens adjacent to parking lots and sidewalks to capture and filter water runoff and New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection has installed rain gardens in its Edison, New Jersey location to reduce stormwater runoff and to replenish groundwater supplies.

Standard-setting organizations including the U.S. Green Building Council and National Association for Home Builders are encouraging the adoption of rain gardens by offering points towards industry certifications to projects that incorporate rain gardens.

What Are The Benefits of a Rain Garden?

Planning for the rain gardens located at Summit City Hall and the Summit Free Public Library involved both form and function.  The garden needed to be located far enough away to prevent the stored water from seeping into the building (typically at least ten feet away from the building) while avoiding sewage and septic systems located underground. Downspouts were redirected to divert rainwater into the rain garden. 

Because rain gardens release water slowly and often include indigenous plants, they typically need less maintenance and less watering than their conventional counterparts.

Rain gardens divert stormwater runoff away from your home into a storage basin.  A well-designed drainage system coupled with a properly installed rain garden might just mean that you've pumped out your last flooded basement.

Mosquitoes take to puddles and ponds like celebrities take to 5-star hotels. Since rain garden water is stored below ground, your back yard will attract A-list insects like worms, honey bees and butterflies rather than mosquitoes, gnats, and flies.

Like a Brita Filter for your yard, water trapped in your rain garden is slowly filtered and released, resulting in cleaner ground water, streams, lakes and oceans.

Where Did Rain Gardens Originate?

Consideration was given to the amount of available sun and native plants were selected because they are best suited for the climate. Hardy plants that tolerate both wet and dry environments were selected because the rain garden will temporarily fill with rainwater from time to time.

According to Green Building Adviser, rain gardens were originally developed in 1990 by a Maryland housing developer in search of an alternative method to runoff control. The installation of a rain garden into each house in the subdivision proved to be more cost effective than the alternative of installing a conventional retention pond to capture water runoff.

Where Can I Get More Information About Rain Gardens?

Considering all of the benefits that rain gardens bring, and that rain gardens are virtually maintenance free, it's no wonder why they seem to be sprouting up everywhere!

The options with rain gardens are almost limitless.

You can do anything from a simple wildflower or pollinator garden to lush exotic plantings, all while incorporating a rain garden into the larger design.

The Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program offers some of the best resources we've seen in the rain garden world.

Instead of planting an ordinary garden, with a little extra effort you can incorporate a rain garden into your next flower bed.

Were Can I See Examples of Rain Gardens?

We recently accompanied Summit Mayor Nora Radest, members of the Rutgers Cooperative Water Resources Program, the Summit Department of Public Works, and the Summit Environmental Commission on a tour of two recently installed rain gardens located at Summit City Hall and the Summit Free Public Library.