Rain Garden Demonstration


Student Collaboration

Team: Anas Bdour, Associate ASLA; Jessica Camp, Student ASLA; Wilson Carson, John Taylor Corley, Student ASLA; James Hugh, Student ASLA; Hengyang Ma, Associate ASLA; Amer Mahadin, Student ASLA; Leslie Moma, Associate ASLA; Abbey Wallace, Student ASLA; Mohan Zang, Assoicate ASLA; JoAnna Bauer, General Designer; Amy Farrar, General Designer; Heather Hardman, General Designer; Morgan Linnett, General Designer; Maddie Marascalso, General Designer; Jen McFadden, General Designer; Abbey Rigdon, General Designer; Lauryn Rody, General Designer; Haylee Upton, General Designer; Anna Zollicoffer, General Designer; Edith Martinez, Civil Engineer | Faculty Advisors: Cory Gallo; Suzanne Powney; Brian Templeton, ASLA; Gnaneswar Gude
Mississippi State University

A really interesting collaboration with graphic designers. I love the fact that the communication about how it works was not a separate interpretive piece, but completely incorporated into the design of the project.

- 2017 Awards Jury


  • Garrett Brewer 

  • Caitlin Buckner 

  • Cody Fitts 

  • Sylvia McLaurin 

  • Hunter Randall 

  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Mississippi State University, Department of Landscape Architecture 

  • Mississippi State University, Department of Art 

  • Mississippi State University, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering 

  • Mississippi Water Resources Research Institute 

  • Mississippi State University, Facility Services


The Rain Garden Demonstration includes five levels of communication that explain how the rain garden works to help protect its watershed. Each level focuses on a different aspect of the garden’s design and function. The different levels also target different age groups and levels of expertise allowing the garden to communicate its function to a wide range of visitors. Traditional kiosks and a booklet provide detailed information for novices to design professionals. However, the most unique aspect of the project is that the garden itself is a three dimensional diagram of urban water management. Words and arrows explain the movement of water from the adjacent roof down the gutter, into the cistern, out to a pump or overflow to be managed in the rain garden below. While not a typical medium for communication, the rain garden is a multi-faceted site for explaining how each element of a rain garden works, how water moves through it, what it is made of, and how it protects water quality and mitigates flood risk.



The rain garden is a dynamic, functional landscape that is at the same time a living diagram capable of educating, inspiring and explaining green infrastructure technologies. The garden was developed from idea to reality through an interdisciplinary design/build collaboration led by landscape architecture students in the department’s design/build studio. The class worked with a civil engineering student to properly size and locate the facility and then with a graphic design course to develop the multiple levels of information presented in the garden.

Team Description and Process

The project team consisted of 10 landscape architecture students, 10 graphic design students and 1 civil engineering student. The project was designed and built in three phases. First, the landscape architecture students worked with the civil engineering student to size, design and build the basic basin structure. The basin was designed to fit within the framework of an existing academic courtyard. Therefore, the overall shape and materials were dictated by contextual site materials. In order to be more sustainable, recycled concrete block was used behind a limestone veneer to reduce the use of the locally sourced stone. By the end of this phase, the individual layers of the rain garden were installed from underdrain to mulch.

Second, the garden details and planting plan were designed and implemented by two of  landscape architecture students to work within the overall structure of the basin. A 2,000 gallon cistern was located in the corner of the basin and connected to the adjacent building downspout. The pump was connected to a 1.5 hp pump for distribution to a nearby vegetable garden where the cistern water will be used for irrigation. Within the basin, a series of low walls were implemented to create weirs and direct water into the basin from the two building downspouts.

Finally, the landscape architecture and graphic design students designed and built the cistern enclosure and the individual graphic diagrams that tell the story of the rain garden. Graphic designers and landscape architects worked in teams to design, refine, and implement each type of diagram. For example, the blue management diagrams were designed by a landscape architecture and graphic design student that collaborated on the element’s scale, location in the garden, materials, word choice, dot placement, finish, connection detail and lighting. A plan, section, elevation and cost estimate were developed for the diagrams before being implemented by the team. The end result is a series of four, visually stunning panels that accentuate the design of the garden while conveying the four major functions of a rain garden. 

Demonstration Diagrams

  1. As a demonstration site, the project communicates sustainable management of urban runoff with several levels of information graphics. Each level has a different target audience from novices to seasoned professionals.
  2. A traditional Wall Diagram explains the layers and benefits of the basin using easily understood terms and references. It is intended to reach a wide audience from school children to community members. The design team focused on creating a very approachable graphic that would be easy to understand and not mired in professional jargon and graphic trends.
  3. A series of three Technical Diagrams convey more detailed information for current and future design professionals. They are focused on visitors knowledgeable of stormwater management design details. The first provides hydrographs of the pre, post and managed condition of the roof area being managed. The second provides a technical cross-section with depths and quantities of each basin layer. The third is a diagram of how water moves from the roof ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico. This diagram is particularly successful in placing the project in a larger watershed context.
  4. As an art piece, the cistern enclosure references the movement of rain and helps to identify the garden to visitors. Diagrams on the cistern help to relate the large volume of water stored in the 2,000 gallon cistern. These diagrams add a layer of interest to the garden and are fun for all ages to see and include the equivalent amount of water in water balloons to bath tubs.
  5. The garden itself is a three dimensional Flow Diagram where arrows and words explain how and where water moves in the garden. These diagrams are focused on explaining the steps of stormwater management to design students as they consider how to collect, convey, store, and manage runoff in urban landscapes. Words and arrows are placed on the gutter, downspout, cistern, pump, and cistern overflow. Collectively, these diagrams tell the story of water movement in the rain garden.
  6. The last step of the Flow Diagram is “management”, where water enters the rain garden. Below this marker, four Management Diagrams represent the four major functions of a rain garden. The words (delay, cool, absorb, and clean) are placed along the weirs in the garden. Each panel uses a series of dots of different sizes, colors and spacing to reinforce the action of the word.
  7. Lastly, a booklet, available online and in print, explains the rain garden in more detail for visitors taking lessons home. The booklet targets a wide audience from novices to experienced professionals. It repeats all of the communication levels represented at the site, and also includes additional design details and process images.

Effectiveness of Message Over 1,000 visitors have toured the garden through its construction and recent completion. As a living diagram for communicating green infrastructure design, it is a valuable tool for educating future professionals, promoting sustainable practices to the public, and inspiring future generations to observe the world around them.


The project was funded through a $20,000 grant which was awarded to the student team which won a national competition to develop a green infrastructure demonstration strategy on a college campus.