Going with the Flow

A landlord and his tenant team up to save rainwater, money, and time.

By Shirley Remes

Photography by Bob Stefko


Project 2: Rain Barrels
De la Fleur was definitely on board with demonstrating how to keep water on-site. “I have a sense of urgency in trying to communicate what can be done in this regard,” he says. But people argued that his methods could not work in the United States. “I knew once I could show that it works in my back yard, then people would be more accepting of these new ideas,” de la Fleur says.

The next step was to capture the water that ran off the roof, by installing rain barrels. “Rain barrels and cisterns are very simple and ancient rainwater storage tools,” says de la Fleur. He recommended six—three on one corner of the house, three on another. They typically cost $75 to $350 each, too expensive for the budget. So Rush talked a local car wash into giving him used 55-gallon detergent barrels. He installed them himself using basic plumbing supplies. The rainwater captured in the barrels is used to irrigate plants.

Project 3: Rain Gardens
Native prairie landscapes are able to soak up almost all the precipitation that fall onto them, says de la Fleur. The prairie renews the deep roots of its plants every 3 years, contributing to the buildup of organic carbon in the soil. “It works like a sponge to soak up the rainfall and allow it to infiltrate into the soils,” he says.

So de la Fleur decided to install a prairie-inspired rain garden to absorb runoff from the garage roof and to replace the turf lawn next to the house. A rain garden is a shallow, excavated area, usually at a property’s low spot, with plantings that can tolerate wet feet. It is designed to absorb excess rainfall. To make his, de la Fleur manually removed the turf; loosened the top few inches of soil; and planted the area with seeds of native prairie plants, plugs he grew from seed, and sedges he rescued from a construction site.

Rain gardens can be daunting to people unfamiliar with the concept, so de la Fleur recommends starting small, with a 10-by-10-foot plot. “Experiment until you feel comfortable, then expand. If you make a mistake, it’s not hard to start over again,” he says.

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