Let's see how pros do a rain garden. The purpose of a rain garden is to slow down and filter rain water before it reaches our water sources. When I first heard about the SARA rain garden I envisioned a channel with rocks in the bottom. This is way more than that. I should have known better since the plants were selected by Lee and her team. Lee, aka "the plant lady" for SARA, is a native plant expert who can rattle off the ID of some pretty rare plants and the person largely responsible for restoring native plants to miles of San Antonio River banks over the past few years. Her expertise shows in this beautiful urban garden.
Did I mention urban? I-35 is right there in the background so all the freeway goop washes off onto their property during rain events. Downtown San Antonio is just on the other side of the freeway. SARA's rain garden also filters runoff from 9,000 s.f. of roof so it's a little deeper and larger than most rain gardens which is why they used heavy construction equipment. While not something you'd have available for your yard we can find plenty of inspiration and ideas to take home. LID or Low-impact Development features such as rain gardens are taking on more importance as cities like San Antonio assess fees for impervious surfaces to raise funds for drainage improvements.
A no mowing sign in case there are questions.
The site was a flat, boring strip of lawn just like this area along East Euclid Street near the SARA visitor entrance. To the right is the rain garden running along side the building.
All these plants are commonly sold in local nurseries making the rain garden an example for the community.
Dyschoriste linearis or Snake herb fills the bottom of the channel to filter the tainted rain runoff.
Scutellaria wrightii blooms add color.
Mexican Olive (Cordia boissieri) trees run at intervals along the building with Texas sage, Leucophyllum frutescens filling in under the windows. Muhlenbergia lindheimeri grasses add another layer of texture along the row.
In her presentation on this rain garden, Lee notes the amazing number of species of birds, bugs, and butterflies that have flocked to this previously wildlife free zone. I was here a little early to spot much in the way of activity though she did ask about my observations.
A gray swath of Woolly stemodia stands out among the green while Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Mealy Blue Sage (Salvia farinacea), Gulf Muly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) a little lower on the slope and orange-gold Four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuras scaposa) add color to the mix.
Runoff also channels into the rain garden from the parking lot via grates like this. Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) right, blue skullcap left
Wish I could grow coneflowers like these. They should be easy to grow but for some reason I've killed way too many of them. Time to try again.
A small field of white and yellow Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) topping a rise combines beautifully with Four-nerve daisies heading down the hill.
Well done SARA team! A rain garden to be appreciated as a beautiful, functional native plant garden. If you haven't seen Lee's presentation on this garden yet I highly recommend it. Follow San Antonio River Authority and SAWS (San Antonio Water System) on Facebook for notification.
Now where can I place a rain garden? Mine would obviously be a modified version. There may be incentives on the way soon. While San Antonio lowers impervious surface fees for commercial properties with LID features, there is no similar option for homeowners at this time although this oversight will hopefully be corrected sometime in the future.
To learn more about rain gardens in San Antonio:
Residential Rain Garden
Rain Garden in Action with Lee Marlowe and Heather Ginsburg of SAWS