Meet the newest addition to our Garden Refresh project at the McDonald Farm: a rain barrel!  

For those of you who are just joining our journey, we’re giving our disheveled native garden beds a makeover. Early this year, we planned and designed the garden, giving careful thought to which native plants would thrive in the conditions around our building.

Then, after waiting through the long, cold winter, we were able to get our hands in the dirt! We expanded the beds, prepped the soil and planted the native flowers, grasses and trees. While we’re done with the main steps of redoing the garden, there are still additions that can make it more beneficial to the environment and more enjoyable for visitors.  

The Benefits of Rain Barrels 

Our next step was to add a rain barrel to the garden. Why? Because we believe rain should be used as a resource. Rainwater is far superior to chlorinated city water for watering our plants. So why not collect it and use the rainwater to water our new native plants? 

By collecting rainwater, we also reduce the amount of rainfall running off the property and into storm drains. When rain flows across lawns and streets, it picks up pollutants like fertilizer, oil from vehicles and litter. The polluted water eventually enters storm drains which empty directly into local streams. A rain barrel stores water on your property to be used later, which reduces stormwater runoff. 

Just to review, a few benefits of rain barrels include: 

  • Conserving water 
  • Collecting clean, unchlorinated water to use in your garden (or wash your car!) 
  • Reducing stormwater runoff from your property. Less stormwater runoff means less water pollution in nearby rivers and streams. 

Other At-Home Water Considerations 

Another water-minded change is to direct downspouts into flowerbeds, but away from the foundation. This allows deep-rooted native plants to infiltrate water down into the ground and water table. Be mindful to make sure gutters are not draining to the sidewalk where the water can ice up in cold weather. 

To step water collection up a notch, consider creating a rain garden to capture runoff. Stormwater collects in the rain garden and slowly soaks into the ground. A rain garden might be right for you if water pools up in your yard after a storm. 

A few years ago, we added a rain garden on the west side of the Clow House.  We first dug out a shallow area for the gutters to drain into and then planted the area with sun-loving prairie plants. It’s a lovely area in the summer with all the activity of butterflies and other insects. 

This rain barrel has found a happy home in the new garden. Stay tuned for a few more garden additions later this summer!