Rain Garden Interpretation

A stunning garden is much more than the sum of its parts.  What often separates an average garden from an awe-inspiring one is synergy; where one plant or feature is more beautifully contrasted or complemented by another increasing each other’s effect, and where there is cohesiveness and yet also enough distinction from one corner of the garden to another to entice you through it.  The fun and challenging part about attempting to create synergy is that there is no one equation to use that will deliver the same results with every garden.  Each landscape is unique and comes with its own character.

One way you can make any garden more dynamic and increase a plant’s effect though is to take into account how it will interact with nature.  Even a slight breeze will make the leaves of the Quaking Aspen perform their frantic dance, or sway the bottlebrush flowers of Fountain Grass.  A snow-laden landscape will draw out the bright red stems of the Red Osier Dogwood and accentuate the tiered branching of the Deodar Cedar.  A setting sun can bring many plants into splendor, even fading perennials such as Globe Thistle or Maiden Grass are revived when back-lit.   Rain drops can be caught in plants and hardscapes to add a shimmering quality through the garden even after the clouds have left.  Since rain is so abundant here in the Northwest I thought it would be great to have some plants in my yard that have the added quality of placing water on display.

For the most part I’ve wanted to stay away from planting anything shorter-lived than a perennial (3 years) in my garden but I couldn’t pass up planting a few Candy Mountain Foxglove (Digitalis ‘Candy Mountain’).  This is the first Foxglove to have flowers that point skyward.  I’ve been amazed at the huge amount of flowers I have on one this year and the strength of the stem; even when the flowers are full of water the plant shows no sign of flopping.

Candy Mountain Foxglove in rain

Foxglove Candy Mountain

Hostas can also be great plants for holding water.  Below is Hosta ‘Deep Blue Sea’ which is a slow-growing, but rewarding, selection.  The large, cupped leaves of ‘Abiqua Drinking Gourd’ make it another great Hosta variety for holding water, as you might infer from its name.

Deep Blue Sea Hosta and rain

And then there’s the dependable upright Sedums.  They are adaptable, easy-growing plants and their season of interest lasts almost all year.  I especially enjoy the look of ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Autumn Fire’ right before they bloom, when their flower buds are most prominent.  They too have some foliage that will hold the rain.

Autumn Fire Sedum and rain

The emerging foliage of Fern-Leaf Bleeding Heart (Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’) will often wear the rain in perfectly rounded beads, though a little harder to see from a distance.

Fern-leaf bleeding heart foliage

Another plant that displays water in a similar fashion is Columbine (Aquilegia sp.).  Water will often bead up right where the leaf meets the petiole or get caught in the emerging foliage.  Variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum falcatum ‘Variegatum’) is another undeniably likeable plant that keeps the rain around for show.

Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum' and rain

The Lenten Roses (Helleborus hybrids shown here) are also more beautiful and jewel-like after a rain.

Peppermint Ice Hellebore flower in rain

Golden Lotus Hellebore flower in rain

Peppermint Ice Hellebore flower

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) is an obvious choice for showcasing rain.

Alchemilla with rain

Water will also pool up in the throats of our native Monkey Flower (Mimulus guttatas).

Monkey flower

Here’s a wider shot of my front yard’s “rain garden” where a few of these above-mentioned plants reside.

Front shade border

My front border in spring, on the north side of our house. From here you can see Helleborus ‘Golden Lotus’, Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’, Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, Hosta ‘Abiqua Drinking Gourd’, Hosta ‘June’, Polygonatum falcatum ‘Variegatum’, Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’, Tsuga heterophylla ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’, and more.

What are some of your favorite plant-nature interactions?