Debra Prinzing

Get the Email Newsletter!

Rain is good

January 28th, 2008

snowfall in Ventura County Jan 2008

Snowfall frosts the mountaintop, seen from our neighborhood, January 2008

Southern California has received more than seven inches of rain since the start of the New Year. Apparently, this means our area has been blessed with more precipitation in one month of 2008 than we had in all of 2007!

There is something quite delightful about rain when it arrives. Of course, since this happens ALL THE TIME during Seattle winters, we were once desensitized to the cleansing, refreshing spirit of raindrops, sprinkles, showers, softly-falling mists…whatever you want to call it. Now, though, after living here in SoCal nearly 18 months, we do our little “happy dance” when it rains.

Capturing rain is a top priority for cities in the LA area. That’s because the dense network of urban freeways, streets, sidewalks and patios has created an impermeable surface that repels rainfall, washing it down driveways, curbs, and gutters and dumping it into the street drains. On the way, the water picks up pollutants — motor oil, auto fuel, antifreeze — any number of toxins that cling to the concrete and asphalt. So the relatively clean water falling from the sky becomes a chemical cocktail that eventually pours into drainage systems and dumps into the Pacific Ocean.

Several municipalities have established incentives to help homeowners (and their landscape designers) to capture and retain water falling on their property. One creative solution is to sink an infiltration system into the yard. As precipitation gushes along rooftops, into gutters and downspouts, and across the driveway, it is directed to this underground vessel that holds hundreds of gallons of water. Then the H20 slowly filters into the ground, replenishing the water-table instead of spilling into the street.

infiltration system

A cross-section of an underground infiltration system, designed by Gaudet Design Group

I took a crash course in Rain Management 101 a few weeks ago when the Los Angeles Times asked me to write a story about creative ways to capture excess rainwater.  I met Peter Jensen of Gaudet Design Group in Santa Monica, a landscape designer who specializes in sustainable solutions. Here is a link to the January 17th article called: “Imagine: Rain, Rain, Stored Away.”

Peter makes something completely functional look very appealing. Here is some of his work:

Echeveria “Afterglow”

Echeveria “Afterglow”

gravel garden

A Santa Monica front yard: In a space once occupied by thirsty turf, an attractive palette of drought-tolerant plants captures rainwater

agaves in gravel garden

On top of the “hidden” in-ground infiltration system, the river-rock is interspersed with Agave americana ‘Varietgata’ and ‘Icee Blue’ spreading juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Icee Blue’)


Dymondia between steps

Between “pads” of poured concrete steps, clumps of fescue and dymondia (Dymondia margaretae) encourage rainwater to seep into the ground

Dymondia cushioning broken concrete walk

Dymondia margaretae cushions the spaces between pieces of broken concrete


Santa Monica drycreek garden with infiltration

To passers-by, it looks like a dry creek-bed; but this river-rock entry garden is installed above an in-ground infiltration system

Broken concrete rebuilt as permeable driveway

Once a two-car driveway that shed rainwater into city streets, this re-designed drive uses a patchwork of ground-covers and broken concrete to allow rainwater to slowly seep into the ground.

4 Responses to “Rain is good”

  1. MA Says:

    Great article and very valuable for people in my area, too. I have three 80 gallon rain barrels, rain chains (just heavy heavy duty chains from a hardware store – very industrial and cool looking, I might add), and French drains. Not only does this help me collect precious rainfall, but by directing the rain into the barrels it keeps it from seeping along my foundation where I definitely don’t want it.

    So, now, I can say, my friend Debra, “who writes for the LA Times?”

  2. Dee Says:

    Really interesting information, Debra. It applies to our area too in the summers when we have no rain at all. There have been years in my garden when the only things doing well were the lavenders and salvias.~~Dee

  3. Landscaping with Ornamental Grasses - The Happy Housie Says:

    […] Ditch the regular grass altogether, and create a pretty and unique entry garden full of river rock and ornamental grasses  Via Debra Prinzing […]

  4. Landscaping with Ornamental Grasses | The Happy Housie Says:

    […] Ditch the regular grass altogether, and create a pretty and unique entry garden full of river rock and ornamental grasses  Via Debra Prinzing […]

Leave a Reply