Gardens and Water

At Shedd, we're always working to improve our water-saving efforts. Here's what you're seeing in our gardens!

Water Conservation in the Garden

In Shedd’s migratory bird garden, native plants minimize the amount of water required. Because the garden is next to a large stone terrace, we installed rain barrels to collect runoff rainwater that can be used for supplemental watering during droughts.

In addition to rain barrels and native plants, Shedd employs other methods to decrease water consumption. Shedd uses drip irrigation or soaker hoses whenever possible, and we use mulch to help the soil retain moisture (and keep weeds at bay!)  Our favorite mulch is cocoa shells from Chicago’s own Blommer’s Chocolates. The shells are a natural byproduct from the chocolate-making process and do not require extra resources to produce. You’ll know when we’ve laid down a layer of mulch by the dark chocolate color and smell!

Garden design
We design gardens that are best suited to our landscape’s growing conditions, which change from very hot and dry in some places to wet and shady in others. Our south terrace gardens feature a low maintenance garden planted with native and drought-tolerant plants. The garden produces flowers throughout the season, making it a great place to watch the bees and butterflies at work.

On the opposite side of the building, our rain garden uses native plants in a different way. Instead of tolerating very little water, our rain garden loves every drop sent its way! A downspout from the stone terrace above directs rainwater into a shallow depression filled with deep-rooted, water-loving plants. These plants slowly filter water into the ground, reducing the debris-filled runoff generated by heavy rains. Rain gardens filter polluted water that would otherwise flow through sewer systems into rivers and lakes.

Try these plants at home to save water in your garden
• Calamintha – in addition to not needing much water, it’s great for pollinators
• Stachys hummelo – attracts pollinators and doesn’t need much water. If you don’t cut seed heads off after blooming, it will add winter interest.
• Allium summer beauty – this cultivated sterile version of wild onion requires little watering and doesn’t spread.
• Prickly pear cactus – this native plant is popular with bees, and you can eat it (or feed it to your tortoise like we do at Shedd)!

What you can do at home

Save water with a rain gauge
Lawns generally need 1 inch of water per week including rainfall, so we avoid overwatering and use a rain gauge to track how much water our gardens receive during storms. Make an at-home rain gauge by using a small container, marking off each inch starting from the bottom and attaching a stake to hold it upright to catch rain as it falls. Overwatering is not only wasteful but causes more work in the end: It can contribute to lawn disease, eventually requiring the grass to be replaced or reseeded.

Make your own rain garden
Rain gardens help keep rainwater runoff on your property – and out of the sewer.  More rain gardens in our communities mean less flooding, cleaner waterways and more habitat for wildlife. Find room for a rain garden in your yard!

Choose a location:
Look in your front yard, backyard or even on your parkway.

Find a spot that’s:
• Near a downspout or driveway where rainwater drains, is wet after rains, or is relatively low
• At least 5 feet away from your foundations

Make a plan:
• Figure out how large your rain garden should be. Estimate the roof area or the driveway size that will drain into the garden. Your garden should be about a third of the size of the area providing runoff.
• Make a plant list – choose native plants with water absorbing roots that are well suited to the amount of sun the spot gets each day. Full sun plants need at least six hours a day, but you can also make a rain garden with shade plants.
• Choose where to dig. Call to have any underground lines identified and marked. In a clear area within the rain garden, you’ll need to dig a swale, a shallow depression where rainwater can collect.

Start digging:
• Dig your swale – a flat-bottomed area between 6 and 12 inches deep.
• Test the overflow – Fill the area with water and see how long it takes to drain. If it takes more than 48 hours to drain completely, you may need to amend your swale.
• If desired, line the swale with rocks or other permeable material.

• Add 2 to 3 inches of compost.
• Begin planting your plants.
• Make sure the plants with the most absorbent roots are in the lowest areas of the garden
• Include plants with a variety of colors and bloom times to create a garden that will be beautiful much of the year.
• Cover unplanted areas with 3 to 5 inches of mulch.

Maintain carefully the first season:
• Water the plants approximately 1 inch of water per week (and even more in the first few weeks after planting).
• Weed carefully – make sure not to pull up any of your native plants, but remove weeds so the native plants can thrive.
• No fertilizer is necessary.
• Enjoy!

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