Civil engineer Jim Watkins has planted the seed of a new way to handle storm water management with a rain garden at his Watcon Consulting office on Shull Avenue in Olde Gahanna.

Civil engineer Jim Watkins has planted the seed of a new way to handle storm water management with a rain garden at his Watcon Consulting office on Shull Avenue in Olde Gahanna.

"I like to use the office as a test center," he said. "I have over 20 years of experience in designing subdivisions, and the thinking is to handle storm water runoff differently. I want to share this."

There's a paradigm shift for storm water in residential design to channel water into a swale rain garden, recharging and capturing pollutants like salts, oils and grease, Watkins said.

"There's a filtering process," he said. "The conventional way is to bypass that filtering. This is on the cutting edge. For people who walk by, I try to bring them up to speed and tell them this is how we should handle storm water."

Stephanie Suter, of the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District, (FSWCD) helped recommend plants for Watkins' 1,300-square-foot rain garden that includes 15 different varieties.

The garden includes knock out rose bushes, tricolor bigleaf hydrangeas, little bluestream prairie grass, Shenandoah switch grass, black-eyed susans, blue flag iris, blue paradise phlox, coreopsis and frosty fire.

Suter's agency works with Gahanna to help educate residents and assist with rain garden site assessment, sizing and planning.

Rain gardens are depressed basins that collect storm water runoff from any type of impervious surface like a rooftop, driveway, parking lot or sidewalk, she said. They are designed and sized to capture storm water and infiltrate that water within 24 hours, Suter added.

Rain gardens filtrate storm water before it goes to local streams instead of it flowing directly to the streams untreated. They also reduce water quantity flowing from properties and neighborhoods, decrease flooding and property damage caused by flooding, improve community aesthetics and create wildlife habitat.

When Watkins purchased his office in 2007, he had concerns about occasional standing water in the backyard.

"In Olde Gahanna, there's no curb and gutter," he said. "I approached Gahanna about curb and gutter but that didn't work because of the economy, so I decided to implement the rain garden. I got a lemon and wanted to make lemonade out of it. I figured I could market and educate with it. It serves a purpose."

Watkins installed the rain garden in July 2010 with assistance from his wife Karin and a couple workers.

Jane Geroux, founder of the Ohio Herb Education Center in Gahanna, plans to make the rain garden part of a tour for the herb center next June.

"I was amazed what he has done," she said. "It's lovely. His office is charming."

Watkins hopes to further improve the garden by adding rain barrels with soaker hoses as well as brick pavers on the property.

"Those will be other educational tools," he said.

Spring and fall are good times to plant a rain garden, Suter said.

"We do a percolation test to find out the drainage situation of the on-site soil and that part should be done in the spring regardless of a spring or fall installation," she said.

Suter said a typical homeowner who installs the rain garden themselves can usually stay within a $200- to $300-budget, although some people have spent less. The overall rain garden price range in central Ohio can be as low as $100 and as high as $3,000.

For more information on rain gardens, contact FSWCD at (614) 486-9613.

Information can also be found online at www.centralohioraingardens.org.