Rain gardens are becoming more popular as homeowners become aware of the environmental damage caused by rainwater runoff. Not a pond but rather a carefully planted area that collects, filters and slowly releases rainwater to the surrounding environs, rain gardens reduce erosion and limit the amount of silt and excess nutrients that usually escape into storm drains. Like more typical southeastern Virginia garden projects, rain garden plants can be combined in a variety of heights, colors, sizes and textures.
Perennials and Shrubs
Perennials and shrubs are the backbone of any rain garden. Available in a wide variety of heights, textures and colors, their deep, fibrous roots will provide silt and nutrient filtration. Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are a popular choice for this area. Group them with other blue- and purple-hued perennials like spiderwort (Tradescantia), pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) and liatris (Liatris spicata). Flowering shrubs like Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) and bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) provide vertical and winter interest.
Groundcovers can limit the amount of weeding you will need to do and form a protective mat that reduces topsoil erosion. In southeastern Virginia, bugleweed (Ajuga), foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia and green and gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) are good choices for low, dense growth. Along with plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) and lilyturf (Liriope spicata), these plants create a smooth transition from turf to planted area and provide color and texture in the rain garden.
Low-maintenance ferns add visual interest in shady areas. Royal fern (Osmunda regalis) grows to a height of 3 to 5 feet, with long, arching fronds. Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) stays green all winter and the low-growing holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum) will spread naturally without becoming invasive.
For larger rain gardens---those in excess of 150 square feet---consider planting a tree. Choose a tree based on its ultimate height and width. sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) has shiny, deep green leaves and scented spring flowers. Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is one of the earliest blooming trees, often budding in early February in southeastern Virginia. For evergreen interest, consider the loblolly pine (Pinus taeda).