Building a Butterfly Rain Garden

The goal for this summer is for a butterfly rain garden to be completed in my front yard. A lot of work and planning turning this lawn into a pollinator garden this past 6 months. Last late summer the yard was cleared and sheet mulched. It involved lots of cardboard round up time and lots of mulch spreading. This garden will have two rain gardens and will be a certified Monarch Waystation through

Monarch WaystationI’ve started an Indiegogo funding project to help purchase beautiful native plants for the Butterfly Monarch Waystation Garden. You’ll receive something in return for your contribution based on your level.

yard4While the garden is being created, the mailbox was tackled as well. My dad built a brick mailbox 25 years ago, and the metal mailbox in the brick was falling apart. For the new mailbox I purchased a cedar post and a nice hefty black metal mailbox. With the cedar post, we did a technique on it called ‘sho-sugi-ban’, which is where we burned the wood to create a sealed finish on it.

I also took the shutters off the house for a more modern look. I made a rain chain for one of the gardens and installed a drainage basin underneath it.

Just a few weeks ago we put in the council ring made of wood rounds, a design feature made famous by the famous landscape architect Jens Jensen. Right now it’s holding the blue spruce limbs I’ve been working on cleaning up. I also took out 2 boxwoods in front of the house that were starting to grow too large.

IMG_0071This is what the front yard looked like at the beginning of last summer. Behind the pear you can see the trunk of the uplimbed blue spruce. The yard was also all weeds, and even an unsolvable big brown spot which would grow nothing.

yard1The yard is pretty brown right now, but as soon as we get plants in, it’ll be flourishing! I hope to put in some evergreens to keep some interest all year.

This weekend we built a cinder block wall that will hold up the soil near the house. The house was built on a slight slope, so soil had eroded down the slope. I will be painting the foundation and the new wall a dark gray color.

Building this wall was a learning curve, but we did it and it’s sturdy! It was hard to get the mortar to stick to the block, it would fall off and was hard to apply. We read it should be the consistency of peanut butter, which ours was but we were worried. It seems to be setting up nicely. The key is to get it level by starting with a nice level soil base, then adding a level gravel base to set the block on.yard2Once the wall sets, soil will be filled in and plumbing installed for the rain garden which will guide water from the roof to the rain garden. We purchased perforated pipe, so some will slowly trickle out of the piping before reaching the garden. The purpose of all this is to keep more water on site instead of running into the storm sewer, where it often overloads the whole city’s water system causing flooding.

I hoped to receive a grant to build the rain garden, but I was told incorrect information about the process and wasn’t eligible.


There are a few plants I purchased last year that are beginning to show some action. These fuzzy pussy willow catkins came out a couple of weeks ago. They’re so cool! You can cut them and use the limbs for dried arrangements. Once the catkins form their pollen during spring they’re great for bees. They’re easy to propagate from cuttings. This one is the native Salix discolor, but there are other fanciful varieties.

pussy willow salix discolor

Another plant will little fuzzy buds is this star magnolia, (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’). This deciduous magnolia only gets about 10 feet. They are best planted in part shade and sun, in a protected spot away from wind. I can’t wait to see it bloom with white flowers. There are a few other flowering shrubs I will write about later.

star magnolia


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