Yesterday I used a rain chain and a few plants to turn a trashy looking corner of my yard into a little pocket of paradise, and I was able to knock it out in about 30 minutes while my baby was taking a nap. I had been meaning to do something with the awkward strip of dirt and weeds between the patio, house and sidewalk, but couldn't decide on what to do. That is, until I was asked to test and review a copper rain chain from Rain Chains Direct.
For some reason, rain chains haven't really caught on outside of the hardcore gardening crowd. If you yourself aren't familiar with them, they're downspout alternatives that have been whisking water away from Japanese buildings in style for centuries. There they are known as kusari-doi, and are used to collect water for household use or simply for the sake of their ornamental appeal. The manufactured downspouts to which we've become accustomed in the United States are better overlooked than noticed, and they unceremoniously drain our gutters invisibly. Boring.
Rain chains, on the other hand, carry the water in full view; splashing and gushing through a series of linked chains or cups. They're essentially water features that only run when it's raining and require no power whatsoever. Proponents justify them with claims that rain chains produce less erosion since they break the water's fall and slow its decline, but while there is definitely some truth to this, personally I think they're just looking for an excuse to give to their spouses. "But it's green and environmentally friendly, honey!"
Cult following aside, try explaining the appeal of rain chains to the uninitiated and you'll be met with skepticism and confusion as to why anyone would want to replace a perfectly functional downspout with a leaky and splashy chain, just for the sake of aesthetics. Even Mrs. Rainforest Gardener wasn't entirely sold. She was concerned by the water splashing onto the patio and foundation of the house during heavy rains, but I countered that the rain not caught by the gutter was already ending up there on its own anyways. In any case, I placed a potted cardboard palm between the wall and the chain to intercept any overflow - but there will be more on that later.
I say no to a lot of product reviews, but when Rain Chains Direct asked me to try out and review one of their copper downspouts, I immediately agreed. I've long been an admirer of rain chains and I had just the place to put one to use; a narrow strip of weeds at the corner of my house, right between the patio and the sidewalk that wraps around through the side yard. The whole side yard looks terrible at the moment and will continue to look that way until I get around to planting a new bed there in fall, but the rain chain could create a diversion and draw the eye away from the dilapidated fence and weedy, overgrown side yard just around the corner.
The rain chain itself wouldn't be enough to create that diversion, so a small-space garden bed was in order. I bought a couple of plants, some pebbles and garden soil and weeded until my hands hurt. There was already a papaya plant there, so I left it in place. Since there was little room for planting between the house and the sidewalk, I chose Heliconia psittacorum and Cordyline fruticosa 'Kiwi' for their upright habit. I got three chartreuse Alternanthera plants on clearance for a dollar each and planted them as a warm-season groundcover. All but the Cordyline will die to the ground in winter, and even that will get knocked back by frost. I didn't want anything too permanent in this spot since I wouldn't want things to get overgrown, so these tropicals will work well. The potted cardboard palm (Zamia furfacea) brings the garden right onto the patio and keeps any overflow from reaching the house.
To prevent the thousands of weed seeds and stems from resprouting, I laid down sheets of wet cardboard over the tilled and weeded soil and added a layer of pebbles. The pebbles' purpose is twofold; to give the impression of a water garden and to serve as a buffer between the plants and the pavement. They help the two blend together seamlessly so that you don't notice the awkward piece of garden jutting between the pavement, but rather a garden sprouting from the concrete. I turned the terminus of the rain chain into a focal point by using a bright red pot to catch the water.
The traditional Kusari Petals rain chain, on the other hand, can be seen from my bedroom window and any point on the patio during and after a rain. In light drizzles the water rolls and drips its way to the pot below, and in showers and downpours it becomes a rushing waterfall. It came with a conversion kit to help channel the water from the gutter into the cups, but I did need to use some silicone caulk to keep water from leaking between the copper plate and the downspout opening. Overall though, I love it. This rain chain does everything a normal downspout does and more, bringing an attractive vertical element to a neglected yet highly visible part of my backyard and while it doesn't take up much space, the impact is enormous. Now I feel better about tackling the rest of the yard.