Rain garden planters may prevent flooding of Hemet streets during downpours

Photo by Matt King/Monarch Landscaping
Los Angeles is becoming proactive about using rainwater to water city landscapes. This planter was built by La Loma Development in Los Angeles.

■ By Matt King / Contributed

As you might have noticed, during the last few weeks we have had huge amounts of rain and snowfall. So much water has fallen from the sky this winter that reservoirs are filling back up to capacity and many people are declaring that the drought is officially over in California. Nice thought, but it’s not reality. Every summer Southern California experiences drought conditions. This rainy winter has been a great time to showcase our sustainable style of landscaping. We advertise almost exclusively on Facebook using videos that walk through past projects and show the progress being made. What’s been exceptionally great about these last few weeks is the rainwater capture demonstrations that we are able to do at these progress checkups all over town.
This is the best winter in the last five years to establish new plants with natural irrigation. Usually this type of rain erodes most newly installed landscapes but with bioswales, erosion is neutralized and rainwater is used as a benefit instead of a liability.
It is so cool to watch the rain run off the roof, into the bioswale, and then make its way throughout the entire landscape. What isn’t cool is to see how badly Hemet’s streets flood, and realizing that all the water is going straight down the storm drain.
Lately, more and more commercial building owners are expressing interest in reconfiguring their landscapes to plant natives and capture storm water in bioswales to eliminate the expense of outdoor irrigation. While these commercial jobs are lucrative and good for job security, there is also a lot less freedom with regards to design and plant selection. Most commercial jobs lack creativity; a lot of times the job is to plant 100 of the same kind of shrub to block a wall or something along those lines.

Photo by Matt King/Monarch Landscaping
Rainwater enters this Los Angeles planter via this cutout in the curb, which captures rainwater for future watering needs. The San Jacinto Valley can duplicate this project, saving millions of gallons of rainwater and millions of dollars in watering costs.

But sometimes we get a cool project, like the Cottonwood Fire Station in San Jacinto that involves installing bioswales to capture rain from the roof of the station. These commercial projects are awesome because, although I haven’t verified it, there is a very good chance that this is the first fire station in the entire country to capture rainwater and use it for natural irrigation.
Los Angeles is currently capturing their rainwater for their streetside landscaping. I recently went there to check out a project to excavate planters throughout the city. The idea is to cut an infiltration hole into the curb and excavate the dirt out of each planter and replace it with permeable rock. There is also a 6-inch pipe installed to monitor stormwater quality.
To be sustainable in this valley, we need to reverse more than 50 years of anti-rain water infrastructure. If we could build these rain garden planters in Hemet, perhaps we could eliminate the incredible amount of flooding that goes on every time it rains here. We could also eliminate the need for irrigation in a lot of these planters by using native plants that are perfectly happy not getting rain all summer. The natural reservoirs that these rain gardens would create would be enough water for these plants to thrive all year.
Drought tolerant landscaping is only beneficial when there is a drought. I have always hated the term drought tolerant. My goal is to install landscapes that will thrive and grow well in drought conditions; not just tolerate and survive them.
In addition to being drought tolerant, plants in this area also need to be frost tolerant. While our winter days can be somewhat warm, our winter nights are downright frigid. If a plant is not frost tolerant, then it needs to stay under the protection of a patio or close to a wall. If you are really dedicated, you can put frost fabric over plants to keep them from becoming frost-damaged as well. Stay tuned for a future column on this.

Matt King is the owner of Monarch Landscape in Hemet. He is a licensed C-27 landscape contractor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *