Designing and building a rain garden or conservation landscaping requires extra expertise than your average garden. It’s possible to do on your own, especially if you have landscaping experience, but it requires more than an understanding of plants. You need to consider the soil, water flow and how a RainScape functions differently from typical gardens. A little help from a professional is not a bad idea.
But where do you go to find this expertise?
Luckily, there is a County-published list from the Department of Environmental Protection’s RainScapes program that can help. RainScapes maintains a public list where residents can find a professional whose expertise matches their needs. Each of the professionals on the list have completed a special training.
Landscapers, landscape architects, landscape designers, stone masons, garden center professionals and others are eligible to participate in the training, which is free of charge.
After completing the RainScapes classroom portions, learners are eligible to sign up for a field day, where they assess a site and may help construct a rain garden.
Included in the listing are the RainScapes projects each professional has experience installing, as well as the number of overall RainScapes that have been installed.
Luke Jessup, owner of Father Nature, a landscaping company based in Wheaton, went through the training process several years ago. He said the experience helped prepare him to install rain gardens, conservation landscapes, dry wells, and other projects that are eligible for financial rebates through the county’s RainScapes Rewards Rebates Program.
“It gave me a good sense of how to do it,” Jessup said. “[RainScapes] take quite a bit of forethought and know-how, from the slope of the land to proper plant spacing to soil and so on. There are lots of variables…This gave me a good broad sense of how to do it, what problems can arise and how to handle them.”
If a rain garden, for example, is too small or too shallow when it is installed, it may not capture the amount of stormwater runoff it was intended to capture. This can mean extensive adjustments or even a total re-do. It is not uncommon for a rain garden to require a hole up to three feet deep, which is then filled with a special soil mix designed to collect maximum runoff. Digging and filling a hole this size can mean a sizable commitment of time, money or both, meaning it’s probably best to get it right the first time.
“There are decisions to make every step of the way,” Jessup pointed out. “It’s much harder work than a regular garden. Finding a [qualified contractor] would probably be beneficial to anyone that wants to do this.”
On top of the technical know-how, professionals who complete RainScapes training gain familiarity with the rebate process. Although it is relatively simple, applying for a rebate involves submitting specific plans, conducting a perc test and undergoing a site visit from a county expert. Jessup said he handles the entire rebate application and approval process for customers installing a RainScape.
“I take care of the application process for people,” Jessup said. “They don’t have to worry about the application, the inspection, any of it.”
Training sessions typically occur in the fall and spring. For professionals interested in going through the training, dates are published in the RainScapes program’s RainScapes Gazette for Professionals, a free publication offered through the program.
For a deeper dive into conservation landscaping, Montgomery College offers a certificate in landscape technology.
By Scott Harris
Scott Harris is a freelance writer who lives in Montgomery County and covers the environment and other topics. Scott may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.