Q. How can I make the most of April showers in the garden?

This rain garden design will divert water where it's needed most

Rain garden design

by Liz Potter |

CLIMATE CHANGE is causing increasingly unpredictable weather, fluctuating from flooding to drought, which means our gardens and the plants they contain need to be adaptable. But even in Britain, where we get rather a lot of rain, water is still a precious resource, so it makes sense to use it wisely.

This is an eco-friendly garden designed for rainwater collection, which is not only attractive, but also manages the run-off caused by heavy rainfall. The idea behind it is to capture, channel and divert water so that excess rainwater is absorbed by the soil rather than going into the main drainage system, or causing flash flooding, a particular problem in urban areas. Many of these design features can also help store water to irrigate your garden in a dry spell.

Here, the rainwater collection area comprises a green summerhouse roof, guttering and a series of overflow tanks leading to a pond, which then flows into a rain garden – a shallow dip or scrape planted with water-tolerant plants (see over). Other elements to divert or store water can include a water butt, rain chain, storm water planter or pond.

Plants in a rain garden need to be able to withstand several days with their roots sitting in waterlogged soil, but rain gardens aren’t bog gardens, so these plants also need to be happy when conditions are much drier.

How you go about your rain harvesting is up to you: more costly, complex systems might require a soakaway and even an underground storage tank. The beauty is that even the simplest elements, such as adding a water butt and permeable hard landscaping, have a positive envi-ronmental impact.

Planting plan for rain garden
Planting plan for rain garden


1 Thymus serpyllum ‘Minimus’ Compact creeping thyme with dense mounds of aromatic tiny leaves and pink, bee-friendly flowers in summer. H5cm (2in) S50cm (20in)

2 Carex flacca Semi-evergreen grass that forms clumps of narrow, grey-blue, pointed foliage with purple-brown flower spikes on arching stems in summer. H45cm (18in) S60cm (2ft)

3 Sedum spurium ‘Tricolor’ Creeping ground cover plant with fleshy, variegated green and cream leaves tinged pink with starry, pink flowers in summer. H10cm (4in) S40cm (16in)

4 Sedum sarmentosum Mat-forming, creeping stonecrop succulent plant covered in star-shaped, bright yellow flowers in summer. H10cm (4in) S50cm (20in)

5 Sempervivum Different coloured hardy succulents form rosettes of densely packed, pointy leaves, with baby rosettes growing around the edge. H up to 15cm (6in) S30cm (12in)

6 Iris ‘Black Gamecock’ Flamboyant aquatic iris with handsome sword-shaped leaves and large, dark purple, velvety blooms appearing May-July. H90cm (3ft) S40cm (16in)

7 Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’ Easy, versatile grass forming dense mounds of arching leaves and silvery flowers that form a frothy golden haze of seedheads. H and S75cm (2½ft)

8 Astilbe ‘Look at Me’ Moisture-loving perennial with attractive grey-green, fern-like foliage and abundant bright pink flower spikes Aug–Sept held on red stems. H70cm (28in) S50cm (20in)

9 Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘Crowborough’ Unusual white trumpets among arrow-shaped, glossy green foliage. Plant in moist soil or beside a pond. H90cm (3ft) S60cm (2ft)

10 Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Orange Field’ Perennial with tall spires of tiny salmon-pink flowers above clumps of large, dark green leaves. H90cm (3ft) S75cm (2½ft)

11 Primula vialii Summer-flowering primula with flowers made up of crimson buds that open to reveal lilac blooms. Prefers semi-shade and moist soil. H60cm (2ft) S30cm (12in)

12 Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’ Striking shrub with dark purple, acer-like leaves and small domes of pinky-white flower clusters in June that mature to red seed heads. H and S2m (6½ft)

13 Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’ Perennial with spikes of deep magenta flowers Aug-Sept above strappy green leaves. Needs reliably moist soil. H50cm (19in) S45cm (18in)

14 Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Fontäine’ Upright silvery fountain grass accompanied by red-dish-brown flower tassles in late summer and autumn. H1.5m (5ft) S50cm (20in)

15 Heuchera ‘Forever Red’ Mounds of intense red, frilly leaves maintain colour throughout the year. Stems topped with small white flowers June–July. H and S40cm (16in)

16 Sambucus nigra porphyrophylla ‘Eva’ Eye-catching almost-black, finely dissected foliage with flat-topped, creamy-white flower heads May-June. H3m (10ft) S2m (6½ft)

17 Matteuccia struthiopteris Deciduous shuttlecock fern with large, vivid green fronds emerg-ing from croziers in spring. Prefers shade and acidic to neutral soil. H1.5m (5ft) S45cm (18in)

18 Lythrum salicaria ‘Blush’ Loosestrife with rose-pink flowers from mid to late summer. Mois-ture-loving perennial that thrives in boggy ground. H1m (3ft 3in) S60cm (2ft)

19 Lobelia cardinalis ‘Queen Victoria’ Sumptuous perennial with dark purple foliage and flower stems that contrast dramatically with scarlet flower spikes. H90cm (3ft) S30cm (12in)

20 Betula utilis jacquemontii ‘Silver Shadow’ Sparkling white bark and a delicate canopy of green leaves that turn golden yellow in autumn. H8m (26ft) S4m (13ft)

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