Spring Beekeeping Workshop

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

New Rain Garden Installation in Municipal Greenway along Steele Brook

Successful rain garden installation today in Watertown, Connecticut along the Steele Brook Greenway. This is a combined private and public venture to convert an overgrown eyesore in the floodplain of the brook into a beautiful and ecologically appropriate public space.

Rain gardens are being installed more often now as people recognize the need to deal with stormwater runoff in ways that are better for the environment.  Stormwater that runs off roads, driveways, parking lots, and other impervious surfaces, carry pollutants into rivers and streams and also flow very fast, often overwhelming municipal storm sewers and causing local flooding. As more rain gardens are built, we are seeing a slow down of this problem and a reduction of pollutants reaching major bodies of water.  In Connecticut everything drains to Long Island Sound which receives large amounts of contaminants.

Rain gardens allow stormwater to infiltrate the soil where soil micro-organisms as well as plant roots help to metabolize contaminants and reduce the amount being drained into the waterways.

 Before installing the Watertown Greenway rain garden today, the area was grass with invasive Japanese Knotweed growing all around the area.

After excavation and soil removal, new, clean topsoil was spread over the newly created depression

Although, excavating and sculpting the rain garden depression and removing the root filled soil, was the first step.  I am afraid the knotweed will return.  Actually, I am positive it will, so a vigorous and regular maintenance plan will be in place to eradicate it manually whenever it appears.  I have used, and will use again, a product known as Burn Out which is an approved substance in organic certified landscape care.

It rained heavily a few times prior to planting day and so the lowest areas of the rain garden depression were extremely wet and soupy, like cake batter.  Impossible to walk on - one planting volunteer lost her shoe in the mud and it had to be dug out!  We resorted to standing on thick layers of cardboard to get some stability in the mud.

I also used a thick layer of cardboard around the perimeter to discourage the weeds and also to keep the grass back from the edge of the planting area.  I don't want the mowers to get too close to the shrubs around the top of the rain garden!

Plants used in the rain garden were chosen first and foremost for their suitability for the soil moisture conditions at various elevations in the rain garden.  In the center is the wettest area.  Here we mostly used perennial plugs featuring Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Milkweed), Liatris spicata (Dense Blazing Star), Eupatorium perfoliatum (Boneset), Hibiscus moschuetos (Swamp Rose Mallow).  We also used large pots of Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich Fern), and Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive Fern).

Around the top of the basin, I planted 2 large Betula nigra trees (River Birch), one of my favorite birches, it tolerates a wide range of soil moisture conditions.  Also, I chose Viburnum cassinoides (Wild Raisin), a lovely native shrub with white spring flowers and edible fruits.  If you can get to them before the birds do they can be eaten raw or cooked into a preserve.  Other shrub choices for the upper areas were low bush blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium, and lastly, Myrica pennsylvanica, (Bayberry).  Bayberry is a another lovely native shrub with a semi-evergreen habit.  Edible leaves are sweetly aromatic and make lovely tea.  I also use the leaves in soups etc.  The little grey berries are loved by migrating birds.  People have used them for making scented wax candles, too.  I also used a few Andropogon gerardii,(Big Bluestem) in the drier places.

These plants were also chosen for aesthetic appeal and for wildlife habitat, pollinator insects and bird habitat, especially. Of course, it all has to mature and I'll be watching carefully this first season to make sure the plants settle in to their new home well and do not have to compete with weeds.

None of this would have been possible without the volunteer help of members of the Watertown Garden Club (whose names I'm not publishing as I don't think they would like that out in cyberspace!.  Thanks so much, everyone!  You were terrific!

And with yours truly in the middle

I can be reached at my e.mail:  cynthia@hgconnsoil.com for consultations or design services for rain gardens, riparian buffer plantings and general ecological landscape planning and design.


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