Linda Wiggen Kraft is a garden designer, garden writer and artist whose work is designed to enhance body, mind and spirit. To see her work go to

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Rain, Rain, Don’t Go Away
by Linda Wiggen Kraft    

Rainwater harvesting is one of the easiest ways gardeners can help save money and create beauty in their garden, while at the same time helping the environment.  

Imagine all the rain that falls on your property staying there, watering the lawn and gardens later when it is dry. Imagine using only rainwater for a waterfall, stream or gurgling fountain. Imagine no runoff from your property so that streams, rivers, lakes and ground water stay free of ground pollution, erosion is diminished and overloaded sewage systems don’t dump sewage into rivers. And imagine not only saving money on your water bill, but also reducing the enormous costs to communities and the environment for storm water problems. 

A pondless water feature filled with collected rainwater can be a beautiful focal point garden.

Photo: Diane  Baker

Some people don’t see this as a dream. They see it as a necessity. Jessica Robinson of Fenton, Missouri, wanted to save on water bills. She looked into locally made rain barrels in the St. Louis area. None were found, so her husband made one from a 55-gallon food storage container that would have ended up in a landfill. Now, four years later, the Robinsons have three barrels at home and their business, Robinson’s Rain Barrels, makes them for others. Jessica suggests homeowners start with just one rain barrel—even that saves money and decreases rainwater runoff problems.

Rain barrels usually hold from 40 to 80 gallons. Larger units are called rain barrel totes, which are converted food storage containers ranging in size from 200 to 330 gallons. Rain barrels are usually installed so overflow during rains is diverted away from the house to areas that collect water, like rain gardens.

Creating beauty and saving the environment with collected rainwater are the goals of Diane and Chris Baker of James Ponds in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Their business specializes in rain harvesting, the official name of collecting rainwater. The Bakers create pondless water features that use urns, waterfalls and sometimes streams to recirculate rainwater collected underground.  Diane feels that in the near future rain harvesting won’t be an option. It will be a requirement. She questions why there are so many water treatment plants that have to process water that goes down the drain, when we could be using free water from the sky. Rainwater is also chemical free and better for the landscape. For her it makes ecological sense to use rainwater in landscapes.

A rain barrel, made by Robinson’s Rain Barrels, blends with the color of the home’s siding.
Photo: Jessica Robinson

It made economic sense to Dr. Joe Gira of suburban St. Louis to install an underground rain collection system that holds 30,000 gallons. This takes care of his watering needs for lawn and gardens, including his rain garden. He feels rainwater harvesting is an investment that will pay off in savings for his family, and helps everyone’s water bills by reducing the runoff costs to overtaxed urban and suburban water systems.

Just how much rain falls off a roof?  An average sized 2,000-square-foot roof will collect 1,200 gallons in a 1-inch rainfall. Yearly rainfall for the states bordering the upper Mississippi River all the way to the Atlantic Ocean is between 30 and 55 inches. That’s 36,000 to 66,000 gallons per year for one average-size roof. Imagine how much water goes into overloaded drainage and sewage systems from all roofs and other hard surfaces.

Impervious surfaces are those hard surfaces that water doesn’t go through (it runs off).  Driveways, streets, sidewalks and patios are usually imperious, but this is changing. Pervious surfaces can be installed that let rainwater flow through, either into the ground or into collection tanks. Chris Siewing of Nature’s Re-Creations in Imperial, Missouri, installs pervious pavers and concrete for home landscapes, along with water features that use rainwater.

Rainwater that has been collected can be used to wash cars and dogs, preferably on a surface that will drain water into the ground.

Some municipalities have changed codes so that rainwater can be used to flush toilets. Approximately 40 percent of home water use goes to flushing. This water doesn’t need to be potable, like drinking water. It can be rainwater.

There are other landscaping solutions that can be used to keep rainwater on your property like bio-swales, rain gardens and green roofs. Rainwater harvesting is one of the easiest ways homeowners can help save money and create beauty in their garden, while at the same time helping the environment. 


Posted: 09/14/11   RSS | Print


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