Rain gardens – Helping to protect Lake Huron

Posted: Wednesday, February 14, 2018
One of the rain gardens at Bayfield's Pioneer Park.

People along Lake Huron’s shores establishing rain gardens

There has been considerable interest in rain gardens since demonstration gardens went in at Pioneer Park in Bayfield, said Hope Brock, Healthy Watersheds Technician with Ausable Bayfield Conservation. “Homeowners can actively help protect water quality,” she said. “By capturing stormwater in rain gardens, homeowners can slow down runoff, and help prevent polluted runoff from reaching storm sewers and, ultimately, the lake.” 

Rain gardens are low-maintenance gardens that can be designed to match existing landscaping, formal gardens or natural gardens. Homeowners can choose plants specifically to attract birds, butterflies, and other pollinators.

The Main Bayfield Watershed is a priority area of Lake Huron – a beacon area or sentinel watershed – where long-term monitoring and project implementation and evaluation are taking place. This leads to lessons learned that can be applied in communities across Lake Huron’s southeast shore. 

The Bayfield and area community prepared a community watershed plan. Landowners and residents and community groups are implementing that plan with support from funding partners including the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. The foundation is in Michigan and it nurtures environmentally healthy and culturally vibrant communities in metropolitan Detroit, consistent with sustainable business models, and supporting initiatives to restore the Great Lakes Ecosystem.
“Local people suggested rain gardens as a management solution for dealing with urban runoff in the community-based Main Bayfield Watershed Plan,” said Brock. “By installing a rain garden you help protect Lake Huron.”

Rain gardens are shallow, sunken gardens. They protect local water quality when they collect, absorb and filter water running off of land during storms. When it rains or when snow melts, water runs off roofs, patios, and driveways. Rain gardens can prevent this water, along with contaminants the runoff picks up, from draining directly into a local storm sewer or nearby watercourses. “Rain gardens provide benefits to water quality,” said Brock. “Rain gardens reduce flooding and erosion, and they can also add beauty to your yard and create habitat.”

Funding for rain gardens in Bayfield

If you live in Bayfield, and you have been thinking about installing a rain garden on your property, there is funding available, according to Ausable Bayfield Conservation. A single-downspout rain garden typically costs between $1,000 and $3,000. Homeowners in Bayfield can receive up to 50 per cent of the cash costs to a maximum of $500.

Bayfield homeowners interested in receiving funding to create a rain garden on their property should contact a local landscape professional who has received a Landscape Ontario endorsed rain garden certificate.

To find a list, visit the Ausable Bayfield Conservation rain gardens page at this link:

Once the contractor has provided a plan and a quote for the garden, the homeowner will need to contact Ausable Bayfield Conservation staff for a site visit to complete the application, which is available online. Grants, subject to approval, are paid out upon satisfactory completion of the rain garden. Homeowners can apply for funding without a contractor but preference is given to the applications that use a certified contractor.

The Huron County Clean Water Project and the Municipality of Bluewater, through its Blue Flag initiative, have provided funding. The Blue Flag is an international designation awarded to beaches and marinas that meet certain criteria like water quality. The Bayfield Main Beach has flown the Blue Flag since 2010. Funding assistance will cover 50 per cent of the cash costs up to a maximum of $500 per rain garden. There is a limited amount of funding available for a limited number of projects.

Rain gardens at work

Rain gardens are shallow, sunken gardens that are designed to collect, capture; soak up, absorb and filter stormwater runoff from roofs, roads, and driveways.

What are the benefits of rain gardens?

  • Reducing flooding
  • Provides storage for flood water and helps prevent ditches and sewers from being overwhelmed.
  • Water quality
  • Improves water quality by filtering pollutants such as fertilizers, oil, and sediment.
  • Habitat
  • Attracts birds, butterflies, other pollinators.
  • Community
  • Adds beauty to the community.

Why use native plants?

  • Native plants grow naturally in a region and are therefore suited to local growing conditions. 
  • Native plants have deeper root systems that absorb more water. 
  • They are easier to maintain once they are established, and require little to no watering.

How does the rain garden work?

  • Rainwater and stormwater collect in the depressed garden bed.
  • Plants absorb water.
  • Water filters through soil.
  • Plants grow, providing beauty and habitat in your yard.

Help us monitor the rain garden in Bayfield

  • Stand in line with the rain garden sign. 
  • Take a photo of the garden.
  • Post your picture on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #PioneerRainGarden.
  • View the photos at Ausable Bayfield Conservation website at abca.ca.

Keeping water and pollution away from storm sewers helps keep sediment, pathogens, and chemicals out of your local water supply.

Funding for this project has come from partners including the Great Lakes Guardian Community Fund of the Province of Ontario.

Plant a rain garden

Rain gardens are a great way to green your garden, preserve soil, and reducing water running off of land during storm events.

Planting a rain garden can not only help make your home look beautiful but it can also help to protect the quality and quantity of water in your community.

A rain garden has been described as a shallow, sunken garden designed to collect rainwater. It can collect that rainwater from your roof, shed, driveway, or patio.

A well-designed rain garden that has loose, deep soil can capture water that would otherwise run off of land and carry soil, sediment, and possible pollutants with it. 

Rain gardens give homeowners a chance to help protect creeks, rivers, and Lake Huron even if their property is not big enough for a wetland.

A single rain garden may seem like a small thing to do but if more people in the community create these natural gardens they can make a collective difference.

Landscapers with experience in rain garden design can help with the design or you can be creative and do it yourself.

Plant native species in your rain garden

Native species of plants should be used in the rain garden. There are local nurseries and businesses that can have native plants available for purchase.

Local residents creating a rain garden could consider moist perennials that can tolerate drought such as:

  • Swamp Milkweed;
  • Joe-pye Weed;
  • Boneset;
  • Green-headed  Coneflower;
  • Blue vervain;
  • and New Jersey tea.

You might also consider dry perennials that can tolerate rain events such as:

  • Butterfly Milkweed;
  • New England Aster;
  • Sky Blue Aster;
  • Sweet Ox-eye;
  • Wild Bergamont;
  • Black Eyed Susan;
  • Wild geranium.

Your rain garden can help prevent runoff during storm events and that helps to keep contaminants out of your local storm sewer or creek.

Here are some of the benefits of rain gardens:

  • Absorb much more rainwater than a regular patch of lawn
  • Can save money on water bills and lawn care
  • Lower strain on municipal infrastructure
  • Outdoor landscaping features can increase the value of your home
  • Help improve water quality in your local water bodies and reduce flooding and erosion

Rain gardens “work with nature” to manage stormwater as close to its source.  

More rain gardens will help improve and protect the community’s water by reducing the amount of water running off of lawns, fields, driveways, parking lots, and other surfaces. Runoff takes away your soil and it can carry bacteria and chemicals with it. Rain gardens prevent that runoff.

Much of the information contained here is courtesy of Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and their workshop booklet called Greening Your Grounds – A Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Landscaping Projects. Contact Ausable Bayfield Conservation at abca.ca for a copy of this booklet.