A toddler splashes in a puddle amid a rain garden

From Muddy to Marvelous: Tessa’s Rain Garden Transformation

Find out how Tessa McGuinness turned her lawn into a lush garden full of native pollinator plants.

Every time it rained, Tessa McGuinness would watch her patch of lawn turn into a muddy mess.  

Passing dogs would clomp through the swamp, dragging grass and mud across the sidewalk. Excess water would run off the top, carrying sediment down the sewers and eventually to the rivers.

“We wanted to re-landscape the front little patch for awhile, but was back and forth about it. It’s kind of a big thing to uproot your lawn,” said Tessa.

Tessa’s patch of lawn measured about 11 feet by 35 feet and soaked up the runoff from two downspouts. Grass is not a very porous surface, meaning that any sizeable storm would overwhelm this patch, sending the overflow into our rivers and creeks.

A patch of lawn between two townhouses
Before - a patch of lawn leading to lots of runoff

Tessa already had a rain garden in the backyard and saw the difference that proper drainage can make. She booked a free onsite consultation with Chris Morrison, a Healthy Yards Advisor at Reep, as part of our Rain Garden Coach program in collaboration with the City of Guelph. He looked at the site and made some suggestions about digging depth, location and which plant species to put in afterwards.

“It was a fun process to completely reimagine what that little patch in the front could look like and expand on what we’ve already done in the back,” said Tessa.

With a plan in hand, Tessa rolled up her sleeves and started digging.

“It’s not as hard as you think it’s going to be, even if it is a lot of work,” said Tessa. “It was 10 yards of product dumped into my driveway over two weeks, two big holes to dig out by hand and fill with sand, compost, rocks and plants.”

Tessa stuck with mostly native plants and split some existing plants. She added in some rocks for a drainage canal down the centre and re-routed the downspouts to go directly into the rain garden.  

A rain garden with brown mulch and a trail of rocks down the middle
After - the water will infiltrate and be soaked up by the plant roots.

The result is a garden that now drains quickly after it rains instead of becoming a swampy mess.  

“Every time we get a big rain, I run out there and make sure it’s flowing well and filling well and not doing anything it’s not supposed to be doing. It drains super quickly,” said Tessa.

The new plants mean new species have shown up – four different kinds of butterflies and five kinds of bees, by Tessa’s count.

Her toddler loves to splash in the rain garden when it fills up.

Her advice to others thinking about doing the same? Put in the work and treat it like an experiment. She spent hours researching plants on YouTube and Pinterest, then ultimately just laid them out in a way that looked good at the time. While it’s a lot of work, Tessa emphasized that it is fun and easily doable by the average person.

“It’s playing in dirt – that’s what gardening is,” said Tessa. “You just go out and play in the dirt.”

Are you interested in learning more about building a rain garden on your property? Visit the City of Guelph’s website to sign up for our Rain Garden Coach program.

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