I love a good swale. They’re so when-you’ve-got-a-lemon-make-lemonade. In garden geek terms, a swale is a shallow ditch. But it is a ditch transformed.
A regular run-of-the-mill ditch catches the rain as it sheets off a gentle slope (like a lawn-covered front garden, for instance) and, in the case of suburban ditches like the one shown at left, channels the run-off to a collection point. When you plant flowers, shrubs and even small trees in and around the ditch, you’ve got a bonafide swale–a natural water filter that can slow the run-off, cleanse the water of silt and impurities (read: fertilizers) and even decrease the amount of rainwater that eventually winds up in the city sewers.
The great part about turning a ditch into a swale is that you’re not only helping the environment, you’re turning what can be a relatively big chunk of your front yard from ho-hum ditch to spectacular flower bed. Try native grasses, asters, astilbe, and potentilla or any favourite plant that doesn’t mind getting wet feet.