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Park Forest, IL 60466
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Rain Garden Blog

If your Park Forest backyard is like mine you are no doubt surprised at how wet it is and perhaps saying to yourself; “I don’t remember it being this wet for some time”.  

Data from the Illinois State Water Survey, which has a weather recording station at the Park Forest Water Treatment Plant shows that this March and April have been significantly wetter than average and one of the wettest in over a decade.  

March 2016 rainfall totaled 3.5”, the third wettest since 2006 and 1” above the average of 2.6”.  March also had 14 rain days, the most in that same time period.  April totals are not posted yet but Water Plant logs report 2.5” of rain.  The combined total of 6” makes this the 2nd wettest March/April in the last five years and we have already had almost 2” of rain the first 10 days of May!

What does this one extra inch of rain in March amount to in my backyard?  Quite a bit actually.  One inch of rain off a 40’ x 70’ roof equals 1,743 gallons.  On one acre, this inch of rain equals about 27,000 gallons and on one square mile it equals 17.38 million gallons.  Park Forest covers 4.96 square miles, so this extra inch of rain amounted to some 86.2 million gallons of water in Park Forest alone.  More importantly, in my yard this extra inch of rain meant there was an extra 5,000 gallons of water that needed managed in some way.

I would like to share my experience in managing our overly wet backyard.  Most of you have probably heard of a rain garden and some may have planted one in their yard.  The idea behind a rain garden is that by using deep rooted, native plants that can tolerate flooding, the excess water can follow the roots and drain deep into the soil.  This keeps storm water from draining away into the storm sewers and helps replenish ground water that is used by our lawns, trees and other landscape plants.  

Several years ago my wife and I decided to plant a rain garden in our backyard using a low area that did not drain well as the garden basin.  This area would hold water for several weeks in the spring and on into June and was the perfect place for mosquitos to breed.   We actually dug out about six inches of soil, making it deeper and contoured more of the yard to drain into this depression.  The first few years were largely trial and error, mostly error, as we tried different plants and learned how to winter the garden.   Even with only a few plants we noticed that the water did not remain as long, and as we have added a few plants each year and these have matured we have found that after a typical heavy rain water does not pond for more than three days.  Add to that the wonderful textures and colors of a native garden and one couldn’t ask for a nicer place to spend a summer evening.  

The picture on the left shows some of the planting.  To the right is a portion of the rain garden after some heavy rains this Wednesday and Saturday.  The sedges in the foreground and Blue Flag Iris in the background are three season old.  Other plants are just beginning to emerge and some are under water.  Water doesn’t percolate as quickly this spring as the ground is already saturated and not all the plants are actively growing but this six inches of water will be mostly gone in four or five days. 

 Rain Garden 01.jpg  Rain Garden 02.jpg

The picture below taken today (Monday, May 16th) at noon.  You can see the water has receded about 2”.


Rain Garden 03.jpg


What we have learned:   

  • Choose plants carefully, being mindful of how much sunlight the plants will receive.  Most native plants want full sunlight.  We have mostly shade in our yard and must choose very carefully. Choose plants that will tolerate both flooding and extended periods of drought.  Choosing plants that will tolerate both means I don’t have to irrigate as much after the plants are well established.
  • Do not mulch with leaves in the fall.  I left the leaves that fell naturally into the garden this year but did not add any and it appears that all plants survived and were not smothered by excess mulch.  Thick layers of leaves also impedes drainage.
  • Be patient.  Most native plants take two to three years to establish.
  • The yard will still be wet at times but it’s certainly more tolerable than it was.
  • Buy plants from a good nursery with staff that understand native plants and rain gardens.
  • The U of I Extension and Master Gardeners/ Master Naturalists are a good reference.
  • Birds love the natural environment
  • For our next project we want to experiment with a hummingbird/rain garden in another area of the yard.

I encourage you to consider a rain garden as a way to manage the excess rain water in your yards and to enjoy the many benefits that come with this type of garden.  If you have any questions or want some more tips, the Park Forest Environment Commission is sponsoring a Saturday Garden Series through the summer.  The next workshop, this Saturday, May 21st is on rain gardening and meets at the Wetlands Discovery Center at 10:00 AM.  The Wetlands Discovery Center is located at the west end of the Park Forest Aqua Center, 30 N Orchard Dr.  You may also call me at the Recreation & Park office, 708-748-2005. 

Robert Gunther
Director of Recreation & Parks
Village of Park Forest