A few weeks ago I mentioned some of the limitations of rain barrels, mainly limited capacity, limited water pressure, and, frequently, ugliness. We discussed how you can increase your capacity by hooking up more than one barrel in series and how you can increase your water pressure noticeably by raising the height of the barrels. You are also less likely to be disappointed if you keep any hose from the barrel short.
I am too lazy to fill watering cans over and over if I don't have to, so I like to use soaker hoses. In the picture above my front rain barrel is attached to a soaker that runs along 4 Catawba Rhododendron in front of the house. Since my eaves are quite wide, the plants get less water than they should. In this case I keep the valve at the bottom of the barrel open, and all the water from the downspout leaks out the soaker to the back half of the shrubs.The barrel never has a chance to fill completely.
My vegetable garden is behind the house, and for that I could use more water. For this I used two barrels and added a small submersible pump inside the barrel on the left. Buy a pump designed to power small pond waterfall -- at least 500 gallons per hour. If you really want to use your rain barrel a pump makes all the difference. I irrigate my tomatoes using these two barrels and a soaker hose.
For the "ugly" issue there are many alternatives. The simplest is to paint the barrels to match your house color and hide them in plain sight. Many barrels have built-in planters that can distract the eye. Or you could add a small fence or screen to hide them.
Given the current weather it behooves me to mention one last thing about barrels:
Do NOT do what I did the first year I had one. I forgot and let my barrel stay completely full going into our first hard frost. It's sides were soon splitting, and not from laughter. I keep the water level fairly low this time of year and drain the barrels completely after Thanksgiving. Then I remove the pump and leave both the faucet and bottom drains open for the rest of the winter.
Finally, a reminder that my crew is available for anyone who would like help getting their holiday lights and decorations up.