Stephen Brown

Louisville-based author Stephen Brown shows his latest book, written with his wife, Anne Milligan, about how the couple transformed their suburban yard into a rain garden for Kentucky native plants at the Daviess County Public Library.

When author Stephen Brown and his wife Anne Milligan purchased their first home together nearly 13 years ago, the couple decided to do something about the traditional landscaping around their Louisville home.

With a yard full of gravel and coy ponds, the couple set about creating a rain garden using plants native to Kentucky. The pair recently published a book about their adventure titled “Let the Earth Breathe: Gardening with Native Plants.”

“We weren’t expert gardeners, Ann is a fine art painter working in oils and I write mystery novels,” Brown said during a recent presentation at the Daviess County Public Library.

Brown said the couple didn’t really know what they were taking on at the time.

“We took the coy ponds out and got two great big holes,” Brown said. “However Anne and I had gone to a half day seminar on rain gardens, and specifically rain gardens using native plants”

Brown said it is mind boggling how much rain comes off roofs, which can then be directed into a rain garden and used to sustain plants.

While Brown utilized a downspout to direct the water into his first rain garden, which is essentially a garden that sits lower than the rest of a property where water pools for plants to absorb, he soon learned how to make French drains to more effectively direct the rainwater.

When it comes to soil conditions, Brown said that while Kentucky is known for having a lot of clay in its soil, native plants have adapted over the years to thrive in those conditions.

“Native plants are adaptive to local conditions, so we didn’t modify the soil,” he said “They can tolerate lots of rain; they can tolerate extended periods of drought. Plus, they come back every year bigger and stronger.”

Now with several individual rain gardens throughout his yard, brown said, “Every window is tuned to the nature channel and the view is magnificent.”

That is only a small part of our yard. Every window is tuned to the nature channel as we like to say, and the view is magnificent.

Flowers that make up the gardens include coral honeysuckle, which is known to attract hummingbirds.

“We see the leaves start to vibrate due to the downbeat of the hummingbirds wings before we see the birds,” Brown said. “We always have nesting pairs.”

Ferns are another favorite for Brown, who said they provide a nice shady area in his backyard rain garden.

“Ferns do well in shade; they are survivors,” he said. “They have been around for millions of years.”

Brown did say that because his yard does not look exactly like a traditional suburban front yard, he can get some questions from neighbors and passersby, but that is perfectly fine with him.

Becoming a Monarch butterfly waystation, a certified location known to attract the colorful butterflies, and installing a sign to that effect has increased those conversations, he said.

“When we put the sign up, our neighbors started stopping and talking to us about it,” Brown said. “If you don’t know what is going on but you learn, you are a little more accepting. So native plants have their own beauty, people just need to be sort of trained to them.”

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