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The process of installing a rain garden in my back yard (courtesy of LADWP’s LA Rain Gardens Program) is now complete, and we’ve had a few rainstorms to break it in. I’m happy to report that the berm is keeping the collected rainwater in the swale, and most of the twelve tiny plants are doing well and should fill out nicely.

Certainly, I appreciate the free rain garden installation very much, but since it was a bit “minimalist,” I considered it to be more of “a good start”—something to get the ball rolling. And isn’t that what the program is about? Well, of course, it’s also about getting more rainwater filtering into the groundwater and less racing out to sea. But I’m delighted at how much this project has generated interest in people who see this blog, and I’m happy to be part of the process as the ideas begin flowing. And—this will not be a surprise to those who know me—the ideas have been flowing in my head as well. Whenever I looked out at the little garden, it cried out for accessories and maybe a few additions.

I kept thinking about my favorite part of the planted bioswales leading to filtration basins installed under the playing fields at Sun Valley Park. The vintage light fixture in the garden area adds character and creates a focal point along with a feeling of permanence, history and age.

With that as inspiration, I began looking through my collection of reclaimed materials for  “found objects” and perhaps a theme for my own rain garden. I had already painted the downspout to blend in better and added a vintage birdbath between the rushes, but there was so much more that could be done.

So I revisited the official Rain Garden Plant Palette that was given to me as part of the process of applicationapproval and installation.

Although I could match some of the plant names with what was installed, I decided my best move would be to visit the Theodore Payne Foundation and shop their collection of native plants. In honor of the second annual California Native Plant Week, TPF was hosting daily talks on different plants, and offering special sales on the corresponding plants. I visited on two different days. My favorite was the Salvia talk, and of course I loaded up my balloon-wheeled shopping cart accordingly.

So I returned home with enough plants for an expanded rain garden. With the help of my son, we dug out more of the sod in front of the barn and formed the swale and berm, creating a bit of a moat between the remaining lawn and the barn. And since every moat needs a drawbridge, I put two salvaged redwood and steel gates together and hung some unused chains from the barn, attaching them to the strappy iron hinges on the sides of the gates. A pair of wrought iron wall sconces and a pair of antique andirons gave finishing touches to the drawbridge.

I installed the plants, including various salvias, coyote mint, heuchera, Matilija poppy, blue-eyed grass, golden currant, euphorbia and some California columbine, each sited to receive optimum water and sun for its individual needs. The columbine buds look a bit like little dragon heads, which just seemed appropriate for a castle moat.

Next came the mulch and the small stones, situated to infer water in the moat. We scattered pieces of a salvaged column on the bank of the “moat,” hinting of some ancient unknown ruins. Other salvaged concrete pieces found a new home in this garden, and a concrete duck waded into the “moat,” hunting for food among the blue-eyed grass.

The downspout was rerouted to collect water from the far side of the barn, ensuring plenty of water for the expanded rain garden/moat.

An old weathered door from India seemed like the perfect addition at the end of the drawbridge. It has a castle-like feel and is just the thing to lean there until we can redo the front of the barn to fit the theme. Plans are, of course, brewing . . .

I have enjoyed all aspects of this creative process, and especially appreciate the new understanding of California native plants and their use in the landscape. It’s a bit late in the year now, but I look forward to tackling the entry garden with a similar project when the weather cools down.

Most photographs in this post courtesy of Jessica Leigh

(Update: The Los Angeles Times did a story on Rain Gardens featuring this project.)

Until next time~