Sandy’s Garden ... Rain, Rain, Go Away

Rain, Rain, Go Away is a short story by American writer Isaac Asimov.

A fantasy rather than a science fiction story, it was based on an idea by Bob Mills, editor of ‘The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction,’ but rejected by him. It was instead published in the September 1959 issue of ‘Fantastic Universe’ and reprinted in the 1975 collection ‘Buy (sic) Jupiter and Other Stories.’” What did we do before the days of the internet, of Google and of Wikipedia, from which that quotation is taken? And the answer is that, even as a formerly frequenter of the reference department of Falkirk Library, I was unlikely ever to learn these esoteric facts.

What brought the title of this 45-year-old story to mind was the very wet February which most UK residents have suffered, though I understand that the north-east of Scotland had a drier than average month! Here, in the central belt, we escaped the worst weather: but I think we would willingly have shared our February rainfall with our friends in the north-east.

And with the rain came floods, ranging from the inconvenience of very large puddles where street drains have failed to cope, through the problems of flooded fields tenanted by drookit sheep and the serious transport issues caused by roads and railway lines under significant depths of water, to the unimaginable plight of householders whose homes have been invaded by a mixture of very fine mud and dilute sewage, ruining everything with which it comes into contact. I cannot begin to imagine what it is like to lose irreplaceable records of one’s life … family photographs, records and heirlooms, for example … as well as carpets, furniture and furnishings and extensive damage to the very fabric of the property. Ugggh!

Sandy Simpson

Did the owners of gardens contribute anything to this catalogue of misery? Sadly, the answer is ‘yes’ to some local problems, for their actions contributed to, but did not cause, the flooding in areas like the Severn Valley. Every time it rains, large volumes of water fall on manmade features - roads, buildings, towns and cities. A lot of this rainwater drains very quickly, through guttering and drainpipes, street drains and sewers, causing a rapid build-up in the volume of waste water which we want to see carried off safely. The more rain there is, the more these drainage systems struggle to cope: but, in broad terms, they were designed to cope with the maximum amounts expected in other than extreme situations. In recent years, however, there has been a very significant increase in the area of paviour block, landscape brick, tarmac and concrete surfaces … often laid on impermeable plastic sheeting … in what were formerly domestic gardens, driveways, public open spaces and car parks. Rain which formerly fell on porous turf, soil, gravel and ash and which took time to seep through the ground to make its slow way to ditches, streams and rivers is now rushed to drainage systems which were neither designed nor expected to deal with it at the same time as they were coping with water from roofs and roads. The result is that the systems are overloaded and unable to cope more often than used to be the case, a local problem which adds to the serious flooding of low-lying areas on carse lands and flood plains. With climate change expected to result in more extreme weather events, local drainage systems face unprecedented challenges.

I can brag that I replaced my natural lawn with artificial grass which still allows rainwater to seep slowly into the subsoil. And I am pleased that the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has set up an experimental rain garden to find the plants, shrubs and trees that best cope with more extreme … both wet and dry … weather. But, garden-owners, please think before giving over more of your patch to hard landscaping. The rain isn’t going to go away!