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raingarden also rain garden

noun [countable]

a garden which is planted so that rainwater from roofs, driveways, etc runs into it and soaks into the ground, and therefore does not cause flooding or other problems

'Sydney's Raingarden Revolution … A more informed public and strong leadership from local Governments have combined to bring about a boom in raingardens across our cities and in our backyards in recent years …'

Sourceable 28th March 2014

In early 2014 the UK experienced a bout of extremely wet weather which transpired to be the heaviest period of rainfall since records began in 1910. Large swathes of the country were affected, particularly in the south-west, and at the time of writing, farmland is still only just re-emerging in the Somerset Levels, a coastal plain occupying some 650 square kilometres.

the raingarden concept is also key in that it represents a move away from man-made engineering … and back towards natural drainage systems

The UK therefore finds itself asking very serious questions about the issue of flooding as an environmental consequence of climate change, and how it can take steps to ensure that, in the future, risks are minimized and floodwaters prevented from inflicting the level of damage recently witnessed. Of course this should ideally involve large-scale projects, such as river dredging and improvement of flood barriers, but for the man on the street, one small-scale remedy that looks likely to become more significant in the future is the concept of a raingarden.

A raingarden is a garden area deliberately planted in order to deal with the water which runs off roofs, driveways and other hard surfaces in periods of heavy rain. Raingardens include particular features intended to assist the absorption of water, like natural ditches and depressions. They often contain flower or vegetable beds with underlying sandy soil which helps water filter away. Particular plants and shrubs are chosen for their ability to tolerate wet conditions or return water to the atmosphere, and trees, especially the evergreen variety, are incorporated because they have the capacity to use more water than most other types of vegetation. Raingardens sometimes incorporate permeable paving which allows water to drain through it, or other man-made devices intended to capture water and channel it in particular directions, especially, of course, away from buildings and into areas where it will naturally soak away.

Raingardens can therefore be thought of as a kind of antidote to the concrete infrastructure that has become the norm in residential streets, where front gardens are often paved over for parking, something that is thought to have played a significant role in the flooding of urban areas in the UK during recent years. The raingarden concept is also key in that it represents a move away from man-made engineering (i.e. pipes, sewers etc) and back towards natural drainage systems where water is dispersed via natural processes.

Background – raingarden

Raingardens are a more established idea in Australia and the US than they have so far been in the UK. The expression has existed in two-word form (i.e. rain garden) since the mid-nineties, but with increased exposure and usage the closed form is now becoming more common (a process linguists often describe as lexicalization, and which over time can render the two-word form obsolete, compare e.g. blackboard, football, airport).

There's also some evidence for a counterpart term desert garden, which refers to a garden specifically designed to cope with drought conditions.

New words and expressions in the gardening domain do not seem to crop up that often, though two examples from the last decade which seem to be maintaining some level of use are potscaping, describing the artistic arrangement of flowers and plants in pots, tubs, containers, etc, and lightscaping, referring to lighting schemes in gardens, parks and public venues.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 20th May 2014.

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