Rain gardening is what happens when gardens are adapted or designed to take greater advantage of water falling from the sky and so combat drought, reduce flood risks, save water, add interest and create useful new habitats for wildlife.
It is a style of gardening that it is becoming increasingly popular – and valuable – now that climate scientists are warning the UK and other countries to expect longer and hotter dry spells and more dramatic storms with heavy cloudbursts.
An impressive example of how rain gardens can look, work, save water and help wildlife is the Royal Bank of Canada Rain Garden opened by celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh in 2010 at the WWT London Wetland Centre at Barnes, London.
There, rainwater is collected on the roof of a pavilion, then allowed to trickle down a gentle slope of attractively landscaped terraces before pooling in a stream from which overspill can be pumped back up the slope.
Each of the terraced gardens is planted to cope with a different level of wetness and to provide visual interest throughout the growing season.
The rain garden is also dotted with architectural features made from reclaimed, recycled or natural materials, which provide extra feeding, breeding or shelters for birds, bees, butterflies, frogs, dragonflies and other wildlife, as well as decoration and information.
Several books and websites offer step-by-step advice for the ambitious household rain catcher or water management gardener and the WWT London Wetland Centre garden also offers ‘how to’ tips. The growing consensus is that rain gardening is not only fascinating but may be essential if wildlife is to cope with climate change and the ongoing loss of natural wetlands.