plants and wildflowers now dominate the Bayside landscape of
Dan and Carol Chew.
For crossword puzzle lovers, it’s
Suduko; the health-conscious are taking their cues from "Dancing
with the Stars." And in gardening circles, the hottest trend is
Amy Joyce, Whitefish Bay resident and
co-founder of the Healthy Community Project, says one of the reasons
rain gardening is gaining momentum is because the effects of
"urban runoff" are becoming more and more apparent.
"The issue of polluted runoff
harming our lakes, rivers and streams is never far from the
headlines," Joyce says. "I also believe we’re feeling a
direct impact on our ability to utilize our lakes and waterways for
both recreation and food supplies. It’s hard to ignore the issue
when every time you walk your kids down to the beach, you find that it’s
closed again due to high bacteria counts."
The rain garden, by definition, is a
garden that is planted in a specifically designated area of your yard
to capture runoff water — mainly from your roof, driveway or
walkways — and that allows the trapped water to slowly soak into the
ground instead of flowing into storm sewers or waterways. The biggest
problem with runoff, Joyce says, is the fact that harmful pollutants
get trapped and make their way into our water systems, creating a
dangerous domino effect on the ecosystem.
Bayside resident, environmental activist and member of Wild Ones
Natural Landscaping group, Lorrie Otto discovered the potential to
reduce runoff in her own yard during a rainstorm.
"I saw how the water would run off
the road to yards and flood off to the stream," she remembers.
"So I went out and dug a ditch and filled it with yellow irises.
I also opened up a part of a ditch and dug a pond next to it where the
water would run off and planted milkweeds."
Since that time, Otto has filled her
one-acre lot with a multitude of rain gardens. A few of Otto’s
favorite rain garden plants to use are marsh marigolds, culver’s
root, aster, queen of the prairie, joe pye weed, turtlehead and red
milkweed — all native plants.
Part of the allure of rain gardening is
the idea of using these native plants — which are already acclimated
to the soil and its surroundings. Milwaukee River Basin Coordinator
Gail Epping Overholt says native plants serve a variety of purposes.
"They need less maintenance, decrease the need for fertilizers
and pesticides, improve erosion control because of their deeper root
systems and have greater survival rates. They also provide food and
habitat for native wildlife," she says.
When Bayside residents Carol and Dan
Chew moved to the Milwaukee area after living on the West Coast, they
felt it was like "coming to another country." With the move,
the couple brought their love for natural landscape to Wisconsin.
spring earth science students from Kennedy Middle School in
Germantown planted this rain garden at the Germantown Library.
"Having enjoyed the wooded areas
surrounding our California and Oregon homes, we again selected a home
near a natural area, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Bayside,"
Carol Chew says. "The yard, however, needed a transformation from
its mowed, sterile appearance."
One of the couple’s first projects
was to dig a pond in a backyard low spot — a natural runoff area for
their sump pump. After consulting the plat map for their yard, they
created a measured drawing of their yard, sketched in garden beds,
roped off the area and added transplants to their lawn. Through the
years additional native plant beds were added to both the front and
backyards. Wildflowers have gradually displaced the original lawn
throughout the yard.
After participating in a workshop, 20
earth science students from Kennedy Middle school in Germantown
created a rain garden last spring at the Germantown Library.
"The students were grouped to come
up with a plan to share with the other groups," teacher John
Kangas says. "Each group then had to try to convince the others
that their ideas were the best."
With plan in hand, the eighth-graders
helped install the rain garden near the front of the library in close
proximity to one of the library’s downspouts. Kangas says a variety
of plants with deep roots were selected including fox sedge, long-sepaled
penstemon, culver’s root, great blue lobelia and brown-eyed Susan.
Location: Near a downspout where
roof water collects • A flat spot in the yard • At least 10
feet away from the house’s foundation • Away from septic
system and trees
Size: 6 inches to 12 inches deep,
depending on the slope • Twice as long as it is wide •
Longer side should be perpendicular to the slope and the
downspout • Make a berm across the bottom and up the side •
Higher at the downhill side and tapering as it wraps to the top
Plants: 1 to 2 years old with an
established root system • Zone 5 on the plant hardiness chart
• Appropriate for sun/shade exposure of the area • Mix of
sedges, rushes, grasses and flowering plants
Gardens: A Household Way to Improve Water Quality in Your
Community" by UW-Extension and Wisconsin DNR at
www.dnr.wi.gov/org/water/wm/nps/rg/links.htm or clean-water.uwex.edu/pubs/raingarden/