Managing stormwater in my own backyard
Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, IL
My rain garden inspiration
I recently took the plunge into homeownership. I’ve been dying to have a yard for years and finally, this spring, my husband and I committed to 30 years of homeowner bliss. Being the stormwater nerd that I am, installing rain barrels is on the top of my to-do list … along with cleaning up the yard and planting a rain garden, getting the kitchen in working order, figuring out the deal with the dysfunctional appliances and plumbing, and setting up a budget to replace the boiler, among other things. Yep – there’s a lot to do. So each weekend we take on a few manageable tasks and end up muddling our way through a few more.
My favorite place to work is the backyard and in my haste for having a usable space for the summer, I tackled that first. The place was completely overgrown. Nobody had taken care of it for years and it looked like an urban jungle. I’ve trimmed and mowed and moved more cinderblocks than I care to remember, but my favorite part of it all is putting in my native plants, which I will soon be watering with rain water stored in a rain barrel. We are moving slowly, but little by little, the garden is growing natives that are providing me with great pleasure for a number of reasons.
For one, they are beautiful and attract butterflies, which I love.
Two – these plants require much less maintenance than annuals. (I’ll admit, in my haste to beautify my backyard, I planted some annuals, which turned out to be a complete waste. In the heat and drought conditions we’ve experienced already this summer, the annuals are barely hanging on, while the natives and perennials are just fine.)
Three – they stand up to a little abuse from my 80-lb dog and two-year-old nephew.
Four – once I make this investment in the plants, they will come back next year, unlike my sad annuals that would have to be replaced (which I don’t plan to do). The more natives that I plant, the more I am convinced that this time next year my garden will be full and mature, with native plants that bloom throughout the summer and can handle fluctuations in weather conditions.
We celebrated our anniversary earlier this month and as our gift to each other we purchased a rain barrel (did I mention I’m a stormwater nerd?) I thought this would be simple enough: Go to the hardware store, buy a rain barrel. It turns out that many hardware stores don’t stock rain barrels, and you have to order them. It also turns out that many folks working in various hardware stores (and I tried local and big box) have no idea what you’re talking about when you tell them you’re looking for a rain barrel. We finally decided to order one through our local hardware store, and it will be available for pick up in a few days. And since we bought it locally, we plan to take advantage of the City of Chicago’s Sustainable Backyards Program and submit our receipts for at 50 percent rebate. Once we install the rain barrel, we will be able to capture some of the water that rushes off our roof in the intense bursts of rain fall – like those we experienced last week – and use it to water our plants. If only we lived in Logan Square and could take advantage of the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor, I might have been able to get a green roof out of the deal, or at least cover 75 percent of my stormwater project costs.
My husband and I sometimes argue over form and function, but here we both win. We get a beautiful, sustainable backyard that will continue to bloom year after year, so we can get back to the rest of our household to-do list.
Stay tuned for a photo essay as we connect our downspout to a rain barrel – and then wait for rain.