Monday, July 24, 2017 This Week's Paper

Never promised you a rain garden

// Free classes help homeowners devise the best garden for their home’s landscape

On Wednesday, May 5, the City sponsored a rain garden class at EnviroHouse, on the north end of Tacoma. That’s where this reporter learned that not just any homeowner is promised a rain garden because not every landscape can support one.
The City of Tacoma offers an exciting array of similar free classes to residents of University Place, Fife and Tacoma. In fact, any Pierce County residents interested in gardening, sustainable yard care and do-it-yourself home projects are invited to search the detailed list of the course offerings, which are regularly being updated at the City of Tacoma website.


With a rain garden, the desired end result is a more attractive yard with cleaner water entering city drains. That’s according to Pierce County Conservation District's Water Quality Program Director Melissa Buckingham, who taught the May 5 rain garden class.
Buckingham said that there are many microbes in healthy rain garden soil that eat pollution. Then she gave even more reasons for installing a rain garden.
First, a homeowner might need to divert a yard’s flooding issues. Or perhaps a gardener might just want to tinker in the yard more. Buckingham said the most compelling inspiration for installing a rain garden is the desire to protect sea life in Puget Sound.
To that end, Buckingham showed a highly emotional film that’s available online for public viewing at there is videographer and diver Laura James, better known as “Diver Laura” online. In the film, when the camera panned from what looked like a pristine and beautiful Puget Sound environment, James narrated that she has seen marine life living on garbage. Then the camera zoomed in on a large storm drain seeping big black clouds of pollution into the salt water and James speculated that plume of grey-black outflow was from particulates made from rubber tires wearing off on the roads above. 
When the video ended, Buckingham had everybody’s rapt attention and that’s when she began sharing all the planning details involved in starting a rain garden. Turns out, while a rain garden helps filter out the pollution that runs off driveways, rooftops and other impervious surfaces like mature lawns that are so established and thick they do not allow surface water to seep into the soil beneath, rain gardens are not suited for every landscape. Special accommodations must be made for steep slopes, existing soil constitution and the yard’s proximity to major utilities and residences.
At the beginning of class, Buckingham gave participants colorful pamphlets and a spiral bound book that gives details how rain gardens must not simply allow for water containment, with necessary inflow and outflow features, but the pond depth must also slope and the deepest aspect might vary according to other current landscape features. Whether a rain garden is even appropriate for a particular yard or not requires much study.
That’s where Buckingham and her master gardener colleagues jump in to help homeowners figure it all out. If their services are requested, a homeowner might pay $1,000 or more to have the affiliated contractor come out and dig the pond for the rain garden, but Buckingham and her team will provide their planning expertise with plant buying discounts, and other services for free.
Other classes the City of Tacoma will be offering include:
•  Yard Waste & Worm Bin Composting
•  Simple Do-It-Yourself Household Repairs & Tools
•  Rain Barrels: How to Make & Maintain
•  Drip Irrigation Basics: DIY
•  Natural Yard Care for a Water-Smart Landscape
•  Food Too Good to Waste: Prevention Tips & Tricks
•  Herb Gardens for Flavor & Fun
•  Ductless Heat Pump & A/C: Advantages & Incentives
•  Backyard Chickens: Getting Started
•  Solar Power: How it Can Work for You
•  Weeds, Pests, & Non-toxic Solutions
•  Go Green for Safe Cleaning
•  Rain Gardens: Plan, Prep, Plant, Maintain
•  Native Plants to Enhance your Habitat

To sign up for any of these courses, residents may register online at

The Old Farmer’s Almanac offers great resources on-line for local gardeners. At planting-dates/WA is a beginner gardener’s guide that residents can download for free and the website itself offers a calculator for University Place, Fife, and Tacoma (just type in the city where you want to receive zone- related planting dates). The Old Farmer’s Almanac also offers a calendar virtual assistant that will send person- alized reminders of when to plant what and where and when you should start your harvest. Just submit your e-mail address on the Almanac’s home page.
The Internet offers a variety of local resources for gar- deners. Tacoma’s complete guide for “How To Make A Worm Farm” Is at