i heart my new raingarden

I have been underwhelmed by our house’s curb appeal for some time. Even though it definitely has potential. Atop a sweeping hill with a curved sidewalk approach, and set off by the extra wide boulevard offered by our block (between 55th and 56th Streets on Park Avenue), my friend and feng shui consultant Ann Drew Yu said that the house’s setting was “auspicious.” And I agree.

However, we face some pretty big challenges out front: 1. It’s dominated by two large trees, resulting in full shade, high competition for nutrition from soil and water, and big roots everywhere; 2. Lots of seeds and leaves are always falling onto the lawn, which combined with the shade makes it nearly impossible to get grass to grow; 3. The whole lot slopes down from the backyard toward the front yard and down a steepish hill to the street. 4. We have very little budget for hardscaping and labor.

As someone who can spend hours joyfully passing time in her back garden, and carves out every possible square inch of gardening real estate in the yard, I was uncharacteristically avoiding one half of the available gardening space. Why? Because I had absolutely no idea what to do with it. There were dirt patches and roots and mud puddles and plants that didn’t grow so well…and not much else. I would usher people right past the front to my backyard, which is also shady but (for me) a gardener’s paradise.

"Before" photos of the front yard

"Before" photos of the front yard

I love the idea of gardening with and for my community, and knowing generally that raingardens are good for the health of our neighborhood, I have wanted one for at least two years. In fact, I had signed up for a Metro Blooms raingarden class two years ago in June but was unable to make it happen at the time (this wonderful organization offers these classes throughout the Twin Cities metro for a mere $10 and will do an on-site consultation/design in your yard for only $50.)

This year, it all came together. Into my inbox came a message announcing that a new project called Go Blue! was being implemented in our neighborhood. And, that this might offer me the opportunity to get a raingarden put in at half the cost. Not only would it improve our yard’s ability to manage stormwater in order to benefit Diamond Lake, I also hoped that the raingarden might provide an affordable, beautifying solution for our abandoned front yard.

(By the way, Diamond Lake is just a couple of blocks west of us and has a not-to-be coveted “F” rating for pollution, mainly because of the storm water runoff and yard management practices of surrounding properties. Reminder to those of you who have been out of school for a while: F means FAIL. We have such a great neighborhood and fantastic block–we had five raingardens put in, all in the same week–and Minneapolis is such a healthy, outdoorsy place to live. Diamond Lake deserves a passing grade. As do all of our city lakes. After all, we’re the ones who benefit most from their health.)

What is GoBlue?

Go Blue! is a partnership between The Friends of Diamond Lake, Metro Blooms, Hale-Page-Diamond Lake (HPDL) Community Association, Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, Hedberg Landscape and Masonry Supply, Diamond Lake Lutheran Church, and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. It’s made possible through a $224,224 grant from the Minnesota Clean Water fund. The 2010 Blue Community Makeover Program (Go Blue!) is a pilot program through which property owners in the Diamond Lake watershed are implementing stormwater mitigation projects that will have a direct and positive impact on the water quality of Diamond Lake. Stormwater drains to Diamond Lake from the approximately 690-acre watershed, which includes portions of the Windom, Lyndale, Tangletown, Diamond Lake, and Hale neighborhoods in Minneapolis (see map, above). Major projects are also planned at Diamond Lake Lutheran Church and Pearl Park, both of which currently contribute runoff directly into the lake.  Here’s a Star Tribune article about the project.

What is a raingarden?

A rain garden is an attractive garden with a special purpose — to reduce the amount of rain water and pollutants entering streams, rivers and lakes. A rain garden is a place to direct the rain from your roof or driveway, and more importantly to retain that rain onsite instead of discharging to the storm drain system. Rain gardens are typically landscaped with plant species native to our region that can survive varying wet and dry conditions, that have deep roots to improve soil conditions, and that add beauty.

Creating a rain garden on your property can improve water quality in streams, rivers, and lakes in Minneapolis. You can use rain the way nature intended, instead of throwing this resource away. A rain garden is a natural way for you to help solve stormwater pollution problems, help recharge groundwater, protect our water resources, reduce beach closures and provide improved habitat areas for wildlife.

For more details, click here. (Go Blue, Friends of Diamond Lake web site)

The extra feel good factor:

Executive Director of Metro Blooms, Becky Rice, says that storm water is the number one source of pollution for our lakes and rivers.

“When we are in our yard gardening, we meet our neighbors,” Rice says. “Publicly visible gardens beautify our cities and show care and a sense of pride in place. A rain garden is a very special kind of garden that shows that we care about beauty and our yard, as well as our local water body and the planet.”

Ever wonder about impervious surfaces?

We mean the parts of your urban lots that were nature not so long ago but now are covered by concrete, asphalt, shingles, and other materials that prevent rainwater from permeating the earth.

In spring and summer, unchecked rainwater rushes from developed areas into drain pipes, lakes, and streams; and this rapid movement causes both erosion and pollution, carrying sediment and manmade pollutants like phosphates, salts, oils, and trash. (Fertilizer phosphates make algae bloom and cut off oxygen for diverse aquatic life forms.)

Raingardens installed in Burnsville in 2002 – 2004 cut down stormwater discharge into Crystal Lake by about 90%. Imagine that!
Lower Minnesota River Watershed District web site. For more info, click here

OK so it isn’t at its peak yet, because the plants are still somewhat small, but in a couple of years my new raingarden is going to be stunning. In the meantime, the improvement in the approach to our house is already dramatic. Our contractor was Craig Stark of Ecoscapes Sustainable Landscaping and we highly recommend his work. To get your imagination going, here are some photos of the finished garden and the plants that were included.

Raingarden after photos

"After" photos of our front yard

I’m actually going to enjoy gardening and sitting in the front yard now, watching my six-year old ride his bike with his friends down the sidewalk instead of sequestering him in the back. I’m grateful to everyone who participated to make Go Blue! a reality, including all of the taxpayers who voted yes for the Minnesota Clean Water fund.

I definitely heart my new raingarden. And I heart where I live and the people who live near me more than ever.

Flowers in my raingarden

Some of the plants in my raingarden