9 Rain Garden Ideas

orange flowers blooming in the rain

Rain gardens are popular additions to outdoor landscapes looking for ways to implement environmentally-conscious designs. They look like regular gardens, and in most ways are, except they utilize slope and a deeper pit to allow rainfall to soak for a 24-48 hour period. By using a variety of water and drought-loving native plants with deep taproots, you can retain approximately 30% of rainwater in the vegetation compared to a regular lawn. What the plants don't use, they'll guide back toward aquifers and groundwater systems.

Rain gardens can also remove around 80-90% of chemicals and sediments that run off rooftops and driveways. The exact amount will depend on size, average rainfall, and your “catchment” capability, however, the benefits are certain. This article will go over interesting rain garden ideas to get you inspired, rather than focusing on how to build one.

1. Zen Rain Garden

Zen gardens are known for their meditative qualities and tranquil beauty, with guiding principles such as austerity, simplicity, asymmetry, and stillness. Why not implement some of these principles into your rain garden? Raked gravel, simple stone paths, and natural landscapes and vegetation are just a few common Zen garden sights. While you may not use all of these ideas, adding a few into and around your rain garden design will help give you the inspiration you need to create a calming space.

2. Focal Point Garden

This type of rain garden takes a Zen garden-like approach with a focal point either in the middle or to the side of your space. It can be achieved with plant-life: usually something eye-catching like a Japanese maple, lady fern, or rhododendron, but hardscapes can also be integrated into the rain garden design, with things like an interesting rock feature, walkway, or sculpture to bring a dramatic focal point to your project.

zen statue in a garden with pink flowers in the background

3. Minimalist Rain Garden

Some of the most interesting rain gardens are simple and only use one type of paver and plant species for a minimalist design. Gray stones and a few different types of ornamental grasses are great examples of this effective but uncomplicated strategy. A wide assortment of plant-life isn’t necessary, and choosing to streamline the vegetation to a monochromatic color scheme can be aesthetically quite beautiful. These kinds of rain gardens have a modern, geometric feel to them and complement contemporary spaces quite well.

4. Container Rain Garden

This idea is great for large parking lot spaces or commercial areas. Shipping containers are transformed into rain gardens and use the same ideas that regular ones do, with rainfall from rooftops fed into the large bin and distributed through perforated pipes into the soil. The container should be at least three feet deep, with layers of mulch and soil to help filter the water, as well as plants that are okay being very wet for a while longer like sedges, astilbes, or ferns.

barrels collecting rainwater from a downspout surrounded by tall grass

5. Planter Rain Garden

This is another possibility for homes or businesses that don’t have a traditional lawn or plot to work with. With this cool idea, downspouts go directly into a big planter, or a series of planters filled with plants and layers of mulch and soil and fitted with an overflow pipe that drains excess water away from foundations and buildings.

The planters must be quite deep and designed to soak rather than drain as quickly as normal planters. They can be placed on top of existing land that can’t be gardened for whatever reason, in which case any outflow still goes directly into the soil beneath. Perforated pipes can also be beneficial in distributing water more evenly to multiple planters.

6. Tiny Rain Garden

You don’t need a ton of real estate to create a functioning rain garden. 50 square feet is enough to make an impact while still having a variety of plant life. The main thing is that they are deep enough (6-8 inches is recommended) and at least ten feet away from foundations.

They don’t have to conform to a kidney or rounded shape, either, so if your property has a unique form to it, feel free to follow its natural pattern, as long as water can be directed properly toward and away from the garden. Some of the next set of ideas will go more in-depth with these concepts.

7. Directional Rain Garden

Traditional rain gardens tend to be built in front of the house and fed from one or two drain pipes directly. You can get creative, however, by using rocks and/or mulch in an interesting “S” or zig-zag pattern to lead flowing water to your rain garden, perhaps even to a spot where water doesn’t usually travel. This is especially useful if you have a plot of land further away from the house or a non-traditional lawn shape. River rock stones are small and therefore work well if you want to manipulate water away from a particular point to another.

rain garden with long path of river stones

8. Symmetrical Rain Garden

Rain gardens are traditionally kidney-shaped or round in some way, and while circular patterns make sense in some locations, you don’t have to stick to this formula. Rectangular, triangular, or other formal designs can give your rain garden a symmetrical appeal with a distinct frame. This more classical approach can think outside the "box" and create spaces where plants are mirrored, repeated, or planted uniformly in some way. Or, go the opposite way with a more relaxed assortment of colors and shapes that will pop within a more linear outline.

9. Interactive Rain Garden

This idea brings active energy to your rain garden by adding features that allow humans and wildlife to interact with the space. A small bridge built over the top of a rain garden will allow walkers to admire from above. Bird-feeders and houses can be placed nearby: avian friends will appreciate the fresh water from a rain garden. Or create an all-encompassing “rainfall experience” where other kinds of rain-catchers, chimes, and water features are integrated into your rain garden, perhaps with some chairs nearby to fully envelop yourself in the setting.

Water-saving and preservation from rain gardens is a great way to steward the natural environment around you. You can do a simple teardrop shape in an afternoon and call it a day – the benefits of water preservation will have been gained–or you can get a little creative and make your rain garden extra special. Get started with inspiration from these rain garden ideas, and create something unique while creating something great.