13 Beautiful Design Ideas for Rain Gardens

If you have a rainy garden, fear not. There are plenty of creative ways to divert, repurpose, and economically use the water, even during times of heavy rainfall. Join organic farmer Jenna Rich as she goes through 13 unique designs and ideas for rainy gardens.

rain garden design. View of a rainy garden with a green lawn, trees and bushes. In the garden there is a large metal barrel into which rainwater flows through the gutter.

Contents

If you’re looking for creative and smart ways to make the most of a rainy garden, you’re in the right place. Understanding your soil type, observing the land, and designing a climate-specific garden is far better than mimicking garden styles from across the country! 

Dry gardening aims to conserve water by using native and drought-tolerant plants, but rain gardens aim to work with the natural flow of water and make smarter use of the rain. 

Let’s dive into some creative rain garden designs that work with our landscapes and Mother Nature to conserve water, utilize native plants, and create beautiful outdoor spaces by adding fun, natural elements. 

Zen Master Garden

Close-up of Zen Master Garden. In the garden there is a small pond surrounded by stones and rain-loving plants. Plants such as Nuphar japonica, Nymphea, Yellow iris, Vinca Vine and others grow in the garden. Not far from the pond there is an iron arch along which a blooming rose with clusters of rich red flowers climbs. In the garden there are decorative figurines of a toad and a sitting little boy.
Craft your serene haven with a tranquil rain garden escape.

If you’re looking for a place to relax, unwind, and meditate, this rain garden design is for you. Focus on natural elements, smooth rocks, a water feature, and lots of water-loving plants. 

Get creative by digging a small pond where water naturally gravitates on your property. Surround the pond with smooth, stacked stones. Chisel out an area on the top stone where water can dribble down, forming a tiny waterfall. Add rain-loving plants like impatiens, fiber optic grass, marsh marigolds, and swamp milkweed to the area leading down to your tiny pond. 

If you love to journal, escape in a fiction thriller, or complete daily crossword puzzles, consider adding a chair or hammock to your peaceful oasis. 

YouTube video

Capture Rainwater

Close-up of collecting rainwater in a large red barrel in the garden. The barrel is completely filled with rainwater.
Revitalize your garden with harvested rainwater’s eco-friendly nourishment.

Capturing rainwater is an economical, eco-friendly, and fun way to water your garden. What’s more beautiful than conserving and repurposing natural resources like water?

When combined with an efficient irrigation system, you won’t have to worry about your well, er, barrel, running dry during prolonged periods of heat and drought. 

Why rainwater? 

  • Nitrogen is infused into water during storms where lightning is present, giving your garden a boost.
  • No chloramine
  • Filter large objects like leaves and debris from rainwater properly. You’ll be left with fresh water with remnants of trace minerals from random organic bits that find their way into your captured rainwater.

Purchase a barrel that suits your space but also whose size matches your garden’s needs. It should be large enough to capture rain from storms all season without overflowing. There are lots of attractive barrels out there, so choose one that blends into your home or garden scheme. 

Pro tip: Check with your city and county officials about local rebate programs that may help mitigate the cost of materials needed for this project.

YouTube video

Natural Rain Garden 

A close-up of a flower bed with a rainstorm dripping on it. The flowerbed is decorated with large stones of different sizes and shapes. In the background there is a high wall that is completely covered with a climbing plant with large green foliage.
Transform your landscape with eco-friendly, pollutant-absorbing rain gardens.

Natural rain gardens combined with a mix of native plants and shrubs help absorb run-off rainwater and remove pollutants that would otherwise be deposited into your local water system. 

A natural rain garden consists of an inflow area, a basin, and an overflow area. These components allow you to use any slightly sloped area of your property to your advantage. Essentially, you want to fill the basin with water-loving plants of various types and sizes. Their root systems will absorb some of the water and slow it down so the remainder of the land in the overflow area and beyond won’t become flooded or eroded. 

Install a natural rain garden in areas where you have observed heavy water flowing down into a slightly dipped area. The area where water is becoming stuck is the perfect spot for the basin of this system. 

Keep it Flowing 

Water in the ditches of the garden. Close-up of a ditch along which rainwater runs among young plants. Young shoots of various plants grow in the flowerbed, including lettuce, fennel and others.
Harmonize nature’s flow with strategic garden design and plantings.

Before designing your rain garden, observe your landscape for a whole season. Pay close attention to where the water naturally flows down the land after rain and snow melt. Are there areas that are more eroded than others? Are there areas that remain wetter than others? You can make these work with your design with strategic planning. When you add plants to a wet area on your property, you avoid a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes and other pests. 

Once you identify areas where the water naturally wants to flow, this will be your “stream” that will lead down into your garden. You may not see much water above ground moving during dry spells, but there is likely still water flowing beneath the soil surface. 

To create your “stream”, remove traditional turf and replace it with native grass, microclover, fescue, or even small rocks. Surround it with shrubs, concrete pavers, or other native shrubs or plants if you desire. At the end of your natural stream, install a low-maintenance garden that will be watered without much effort on your part. Mixing sizes and types of plants with varying root depths and styles will provide the best water maintenance. 

Install a French Drain 

Close-up of a French drain along a house in the garden. A French drain in the garden appears as a trench filled with gravel or rock, lined with landscape fabric to prevent soil from mixing with the drainage material. This drainage system is designed to redirect excess water away from areas prone to waterlogging, such as low-lying spots or near building foundations, helping to prevent water damage and soil erosion. There is a large green lawn near the French drain.
Control garden flooding with a smart French drain solution.

If you have greenhouses or other garden infrastructure whose tall sides cause heavy rain to flood certain areas of your property, consider installing a French drain. A French drain installation consists of digging a ditch around the perimeter of the building, removing the grass, laying down geotextile fabric and drainage piping, and covering it with crushed stone. The water slowly drains through the thick layer of crushed stone and into the pipe. The pipe should lead into a road or residential sewer system. 

This project requires a moderate investment and more than a little elbow grease, but it’s worth the hassle. We installed one around the perimeter of our gothic-style high tunnel, and it has made a huge difference in the amount of run-off, soil temperature inside the tunnel, and frost risk, flooding, and fungal activity. 

Cold air, water, and frost used to creep in during the winter months, and when heavy summer rain occurred, the pathways and beds washed away, taking all our expensive amendments with it. Root systems, new transplants, and our productivity suffered.

After the installation of a French drain, we have dry soil year-round and no fears of losing crops from flooding rains. This ultimately saved our tomato production during the devastating rain of July 2023 caused by national weather patterns. Another benefit of crushed stone versus turf is it alleviates the need to mow, grass can’t creep into your building, and it’s attractive! 

Pro tip: If this project is too intense for you, follow the concepts of #2 by collecting rainwater from the plastic roof of your tunnel by installing gutters and using it later to irrigate.

Horse Trough Rain Garden

View of the backyard vegetable garden with raised beds. The garden is surrounded by a high wooden fence and the wall of the house. A long pipe runs down the house to drain rainwater directly onto the raised beds. Various vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, beets, onions, tomatoes and others grow on wooden raised beds.
Transform gutters into a vibrant rain-fed garden oasis.

If your home has gutters, creating a rain garden design along a wall is a great way to reuse rainwater. With a few inexpensive items from your local hardware store, including hose fittings, PVC pipe pies, and glue, along with an old garden hose, you can hook your gutter up to drip irrigation that will water crops growing in your trough.  

Use the gutter on a south-facing wall for full sun exposure. Mix annual vegetables, flowers, and herbs in your container. If the garden seems to be getting too much water at any point, simply divert the water temporarily away from your garden. 

Pro tip: This is a great activity to do with children. They’ll love selecting their favorite flowers and herbs to add, checking on them each day, and watching them grow. 

Hang Rain Chains

Close-up of three large planters in a rain garden. One flowerpot is completely filled with rainwater and above it are Rain chains. Rain chains offer an elegant alternative to traditional downspouts, consisting of a series of decorative cups suspended from a chain. As rainwater flows down the chain, it cascades from cup to cup, creating a soothing and visually captivating effect. In another flowerpot there are succulents growing, and in the third there is a Spider plant.
Elevate your garden with enchanting rain chains and tranquility.

Rain chains provide functional water maintenance, fun sounds, and garden beauty. The slow trickle of rainwater forced by rain chains may reduce erosion, help conserve water during heavy rainfall, and also add visual stimulation. They’re easy to install and are a good alternative to traditional roofs with lower cost and easier upkeep. Plus, they age well because they’re typically made of copper or another weather-friendly material. 

Position rain chains to hang around your garden to create movement, natural music, and whimsical vibes in your design. If you’re a sucker for a summer rain storm, this type of garden is fun to admire from indoors, too. Add low-maintenance plants nearby or a pot directly underneath them to take advantage of the fallen rainwater. 

Pro tip: Can’t decide on a style? Hang three or five varying styles in a row to create a waterfall wall.

Wildlife Garden Featuring a Watering Hole

Close-up of an American robin (Turdus migratorius) in a birdbath in the garden. The American robin is a familiar songbird with a distinctive appearance, featuring a rusty-orange breast, a grayish-black back, and a vibrant yellow beak.
Welcome wildlife with refreshing watering holes and lush blooms.

Providing clean water sources for native birds and pollinators is crucial, especially where access is limited during periods of drought. We talk a lot about inviting them into our gardens by growing their preferred food sources, but why not invite them to stay a while longer and provide them with a safe place to bathe and drink?

Bird baths and pollinator watering holes can be made easily with a ceramic, glass, or plastic basin, some height, and an optional electric pump to keep the water fresh and flowing.

Surround the watering hole with pollinator-friendly flowers like monarda, borage, Joe pye weed, and anise hyssop. The rain will keep your flowers blooming and the water fresh for passing by pollinators.  

Pro tip: Add marbles or trinkets to the bottom of the basin that stick out of the water so bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies can safely drink without drowning. A few pennies tossed in the bottom may slow algae growth.

Catch the Run-Off

Close-up of a stream of running rainwater in a garden fenced with stones and moisture-loving plants. Plants such as Adiantum capillus-veneris, Acorus gramineus, Hosta and Silver birch grow along the stream.
Transform soggy spots into stunning, water-loving plant sanctuaries.

Instead of allowing a low, wet spot to be an eyesore at the bottom of your driveway or a breeding ground for mosquitoes near your backyard patio, make it into something beautiful by adding plants that don’t mind getting their feet wet

Build a berm in the low-standing area by digging out any turf and leveling out the soil. Then, based on your knowledge of how the water travels down to this area, create a swale by building up the soil around the berm to keep it from flooding. Add native perennials to the swale to decrease the risk of erosion and whose root system will help slow down and deter some of the water. This will also help keep nutrients in place instead of washing away. 

Visit your local nursery to pick up seeds or native plants. Mix the types of plants and root systems for the best success. Play around with different heights, perennials and annuals, and grasses. 

Raise ‘Em Up

View of Birdies Metal Raised Garden Beds in the garden. Birdies Metal Raised Garden Beds offer a sleek and modern appearance with their durable and corrosion-resistant steel construction. These raised beds feature clean lines and a minimalist design, providing a contemporary aesthetic to any garden or outdoor space. They come in different colors such as black, cream and pale green. Various types of lettuce, cabbage, strawberries and other vegetables grow in raised beds.
Elevate your gardening experience with versatile raised metal beds.

Traditional raised beds provide increased drainage naturally and prevent crops from becoming waterlogged. Create raised beds by shoveling down a walking path and elevating the beds a few inches above the path.

For something a bit more advanced, raised metal beds are all the rage.

They’re perfect for:

  • Gardeners who have difficulty bending over into low-ground gardens
  • Urban gardeners with limited space
  • Areas with poor native soil
  • For folks who want to add some fun pieces to their space

They come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. There is definitely at least one (and probably more) that will fit your needs and rain garden design. Some are interchangeable, offering several options in one product. If using Birdies, add gravel on the ground before positioning them in place for increased drainage and to keep weed pressure down. 

Raising your garden beds will also help your growing medium from becoming soggy. And while the outside of metal beds might feel hot to the touch in the summer sun, they won’t damage your precious crops growing inside them.

Pro tip: Add concrete pavers or ¾ inch stone around your birdies so it’s enjoyable to walk through. Woodchips or straw can be added to pathways between traditional raised beds to decrease erosion. As they break down, they’ll add fertility to your soil.

Create a Container Garden 

Close-up of growing potato plants in Fabric Grow Bags with straw mulch. Potato plants exhibit a robust appearance, characterized by sprawling vines adorned with lush, deeply lobed leaves. The foliage is a rich green color and forms dense, bushy mounds.
Unlock gardening versatility with fabric-lined, mobile grow bags.

I can’t get enough of fabric-lined grow bags. They take the guesswork out of watering and come in lots of different sizes and colors. The smaller bags are a cinch to move inside when inclement weather strikes. Here in zone 5, rosemary isn’t quite hardy enough for our winters, so we store them inside these bags all winter until temperatures are safe. 

Urban, renting, and small-space gardeners can create a whole garden utilizing grow bags. There are no limits to what you can grow in bags; lettuce, peppers, flowers, herbs, even potatoes! The material used to construct them keeps heat in when it’s cold and helps plants breathe when it’s hot. Plants can’t get root-bound because they’re surrounded by air, and there’s no closed bottom for the root to hit. You should see healthier and more productive plants. 

In a rainy garden or a particularly rainy season, it’s virtually impossible to water-log grow bags because of their porous felt lining. Positioning them on a greenhouse bench or pallet will allow airflow below and even more drainage. Remember, they’re also mobile, so if the rain is extreme, relocate them to a drier area temporarily. 

Bring the Indoors Out 

View of an outdoor patio with garden furniture and various plants. In the garden there is a wooden round table with chairs and a closed large beige umbrella. In the garden there are containers with various plants such as Pisonia alba, Hybrid fuchsia, petunias, and others. Also in the garden bed grow such plants as Rocky Mountain juniper, Magnolia stellata, Picea glauca, Larix kaempferi Stiff Weeper and others.
Transform your outdoor space into a rain-sung sanctuary.

If you love spending time outdoors, creating a protected outdoor space will allow you to do so even when it’s raining. No need to be stuck indoors.

Were you inspired by the rain chains mentioned in #7 like I was? Hang singing bowls or bell versions from each corner of your outdoor oasis for a real treat. They’ll sing unique rain songs as the water flows down the chains. The sounds will vary based on the intensity of the rain and will add a soothing element. 

To elevate the space even further, add an outdoor fireplace and a waterproof couch. Add containers of flowers and grasses around the perimeter. Now there’s nothing you can do inside that you can’t do outside in your garden! 

Add Unique DIY Elements

Close-up of a homemade rainwater harvesting structure in a garden with Long Yellow Daylily plants in bloom. Rainwater flows from a drainpipe into a large metal barrel from which the water flows into a smaller metal barrel.
Craft a charming rainwater cascade with recycled garden treasures.

If you’re a crafter and love upcycling old, unused items, this project is for you. Look for metal pots, watering cans, or plates at local thrift stores or in your garden shed. Tap into existing gutters and allow the collected water to flow into your design. 

Install your items on an angle to an outdoor building like a garage, greenhouse, or garden shed so that rain runs through one and into the next one lower down. Alternatively, create a stand and attach them to it in the same fashion

Place a flower or vegetable-filled container at the bottom of the lowest piece so it can take advantage of the rainwater that will trickle down. Add proper drainage to the container so it doesn’t become water-logged. 

Final Thoughts

And there you have it, 13 design ideas for rainy gardens. During times of heavy rain, it can be frustrating to see standing water or water-logged areas on your property. Work with your land, Mother Nature, and existing slopes and natural “streams.” Design a garden and utilize water-loving plants to avoid stress or sadness during summer rains. Happy rainy gardening!

SHARE THIS POST
Seed-sowing tips. Close-up of several starting trays with young seedlings on a wooden table. There is also a plastic glass on the table with several sticks for labeling.

Seeds

15 Best Tips for Seed-Sowing Success This Season

From labeling and taking notes to watering carefully and fertilizing early, there are many ways to boost your seed sowing success. Gardening expert Madison Moulton breaks down 15 of her best tips for seed sowing this season.

Carrots are one of the early spring vegetables. Close-up of a gardener holding a freshly picked bunch of carrots in the garden. Carrots have a slender, cylindrical shape with tapered ends, featuring vibrant orange skin. Their surface is smooth and slightly textured with fine root hairs. The leafy green tops are feathery and lush, contrasting beautifully with the bright hue of the root.

Vegetables

15 Best Early Spring Vegetables

Chilly nights, lengthening days, and spring rains are the perfect conditions for your favorite cool-weather greens, roots, and snacks to flourish in your garden. Former organic farmer Logan Hailey digs into the best early spring vegetables to plant while your garden is waking up.

A close-up of a daffodil field, showcasing vibrant blooms with white outer petals and sunny yellow centers, radiating warmth. The slender, green stems gracefully support each blossom, swaying gently in the breeze. Lush, emerald leaves provide a verdant backdrop, completing the picturesque scene.

Bulbs

31 Daffodil Varieties to Brighten Up Your Spring Garden

How can you tell spring is in the air? Daffodils! When these bright flowers start to bloom it is a sure sign spring is here. But you don't need to choose only plain yellow ones (although those are great too!). Daffodils come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Let Master Gardener Laura Elsner shows you 31 daffodil varieties that will brighten up your spring garden.