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Designing a Rain Garden

A Rain Garden does NOT require the use of umbrellas!

"A rain garden is a landscaped, shallow depression planted with native plants that captures, temporarily holds stormwater for a limited amount of time, and filters it and releases it back into the ground, to protect nearby streams, rivers, and ponds." We learned that installing rain gardens in our communities is essential and vital for the health of our waterways.

To begin first start with a design and the designer must consider the watershed that will both provide and serve the garden with the source material: the important element of rain.

The lay of the land and rooftops direct rainwater and when these meet they form a watershed, which can be a pass through or a bowl trapping water to serve needs.

Where a rain garden can be installed depends on where the underlying infrastructure lies. Where are the water and gas lines? Electrical or sewage? These must be determined to prevent a dangerous mistake should a pick-ax or an enthusiastic volunteer puncture any of these.

What type of plants fill a rain garden besides the obvious, water tolerant varieties? What are the needs or desires of those who can benefit from one? Always beauty, color, textures, even smell can influence the choices, but also how can they be used? Are they edible? Attract pollinators? Are there culturally significant species to include?

All of these were considered by Kelda Lorax, a certified permaculture designer, who took on the project when Anthropocene Alliance found funding for LEAD Agency from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to address local climate change issues.

With funding and a designer, LEAD sought a place to construct a rain garden and Jason Dollarhide at the Peoria Housing Authority gave consent for a project near and around their already established Community Garden. During rain events much of the area becomes water saturated with standing water that makes approaching the garden soggy, but also becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes. So the problem of water runoff, as Kelda Lorax would say, "the problem becomes the solution." The excess water will provide the water that will fill the rain garden and house the water tolerant plants that will suck up the water and eliminate it as a problem.

The construction provides the solution, by trapping water but leaving it beneath layers of rock, inaccessible to mosquito propagation, but clearly providing a home to the array of plants Kelda had selected for the project. LEAD Agency housed those plants all during this hot, dry summer, watering sometimes twice daily. Cattails, horsetails, wild bergamot, 14 types of willow and a button bush.

The design completed, the next step was to begin constructing the beds. This is where Miami Public School's Academy students and their director Jeff Harlan became the partners who were pivotal in providing the "man-power" it took.

What I learned about the Academy students was they could clearly out work us and make doing it all much more fun. What I hope they learned was that work and working as a team can be a joy to long remember. Standing in a ditch we had labored to create together was a leveling experience. We learned to lift and carry as equals lightens the load for all.

While constructing the rain garden we met the little ones who will enjoy the garden as they grow into adulthood, but who lifted dirt out of the ground, far exceeding their own physical weight! They planted perennials that will have root systems deeper than they will be tall as adults. We learned that a Boy Scout Troop 687 girl can handle hard work and come back for more. NEOCAA can show up and provide services to people in need and never stay long enough to be thanked properly.

Martin Lively, LEAD's Grand Riverkeeper led this project to completion and in doing so found a physical way to protect the watershed he serves as this rain garden filters its stormwater.

You can join in a celebration of this rain garden in the spring as the plants begin their work, but coming on October 12 and 13 you can join LEAD Agency at our 24th National Environmental Tar Creek Conference which will be held at NEO in the Calcagno Family Ballroom. NEO is offering it as a one-hour Biology credit.

You have the chance to learn and even confront regulators, researchers and people in power about the work at the superfund site, how Tar Creek's flooding works to affect us, what Rights of Nature and the Clean Water Act mean here. You will meet writers, a photographer who see us, the work YOU and yours have done here and the birds who long to call this home.

We all have Aspirations for Restoration and at this conference you will learn how this is beginning to happen. Your presence matters. We need to learn together, just as our Academy youth learned working together made them feel better about themselves, so does LEARNING together. 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 come for both days or join for an hour. Register for free as Ottawa County residents, students or activists. See you soon.

Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim

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