Friday, January 10, 2014

A Raingarden – Poetic Justice for Our Waters

By Sage Passi
Farnsworth students get their hands dirty.

“Last night the rain spoke to me slowly, saying, what joy to come falling out of the brisk cloud, to be happy again in a new way on the earth!”
   -Mary Oliver

There’s a change that comes over you when you put a raingarden in your yard. People who build a raingarden develop a special appreciation for the rain. I’ve heard many testimonies about that. Stories like people going outside in their pajamas to watch the water flowing through their dry creek beds into their raingarden or watching for hours as the water flows down their rain chain into the soil and flowers below. Maybe it has something to do with the opportunity it opens up to closely observe that primordial interrelationship between earth and water. Go ahead. Absorb yourself in this rewarding pastime. When you immerse yourself in the joys of being a water watcher, you will also be assisting the rain in finding its way naturally back through the groundwater, returning it clean to rivers and lakes that lie beyond.

Cultivars and native plants in Trinity Presbyterian Church's raingarden 
bloom (left) and get a soaking (right) in Woodbury.
When you build a raingarden, you prevent rain from traveling down the treacherous paths of driveways, sidewalks, parking lots and streets where it can pick up trouble along the way. Keep those hitch hikers - leaves, grass clippings, phosphorous, sand, salt and automobile accoutrements (oil, gasoline, windshield washer fluid and anti-freeze) from tormenting your local lakes, wetlands and streams downstream. Let the run-off and its riders from those impervious surfaces get channeled into the nearby soil instead. Prevent flooding and reduce the volume of run-off that has to be treated in stormwater ponds or our local wetlands. Then stand back and watch, guilt free! And if you can’t build a raingarden for whatever reason, try planting trees and native gardens in your yard to capture and soak in the rain!

Gene Whipple, a Battle Creek resident got his inspiration for doing a raingarden in his own yard from a raingarden planted at his school -Crosswinds Arts and Sciences. In the second year he added more plants to his raingarden to keep pollutants from running off his and his neighbor’s adjoining driveway into the nearby creek.

“That’s what it said, as it dropped, smelling of iron, and vanished like a dream of the ocean into the branches and the grass below.”  

-Mary Oliver

Gene Whiple's raingarden - summer2013.

So how can you learn about and practice the art of building raingardens? Each year the Watershed District teams up with our faithful partners to offer a series of classes and hand-on experiences to help walk you through the process of designing and installing raingardens. Hear from experts and get assistance in assessing your yard and planning your project.

Stopping Water Where it Drops participants watch as a pit is
dug to measure the soil's infiltration rate where a rain garden
will be constructed.

This year we’ve extended our classes to encompass the communities of Maplewood, Roseville, Shoreview, Woodbury and Oakdale. Classes start in March. See the schedule below.
We offer cost share programs to help you design your project and cover your expenses including hiring someone else to help you build your raingarden if that seems easier. In 2014 we’ve added something new to our BMP Cost Share program. We will now be covering the cost of curb cuts if you would like to capture and infiltrate street run-off into your raingarden. Click here to link to more details about our cost share program.

So sign up and tell your friends about our Stopping Water Where It Drops series or the Blue Thumb all in one rain garden classes. If you have already taken any of these classes and want to spruce up or amend some problems in your raingarden, sign up for the Raingarden Rescue or Divide and Conquer classes being offered by Maplewood in May. A special thank you goes to our co-sponsors, Ramsey Conservation District, the Cities of Maplewood and Shoreview, Maplewood Nature Center, Blue Thumb and Washington Conservation District for assisting us with this educational array of workshops. Enjoy!


Bill Cranford and Rachel Hanks applied
for a cost share through RWMWD
to build their lovely East St. Paul
rain gardens several years ago.

Then it was over.
The sky cleared.
I was standing
under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,
and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment
at which moment
my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars
and the soft rain –
imagine! imagine!
the long and wondrous journeys
still to be ours.

-Mary Oliver


2014 Raingarden Workshop Schedule


Sponsored by Cities of Maplewood, Shoreview and Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District. For more information about the series, please call Sage RWMWD at 651-792-7958.

1.    A RAINGARDEN FOR YOUR YARD: Classroom Session                             
Wednesday, March 5th, 7-9 pm - preregister by February 28.
Location: Shoreview Community Center, 4580 Victoria St. North, in the Shoreview Room  
This class provides an introduction to raingardens and their purpose in improving water quality. Get inspired by the many design options in your community and then take it to the next level by participating in the site assessment and design workshops in May. Presented by Landscape Designer Joe Lochner, Ramsey Conservation District.

Thursday, May 8, 6:00 -8:00 pm. - preregister by May 5
Location: 947 Transit Ave in Roseville (a private residence) 
Learn how to analyze your site, test for soil infiltration & determine your drainage area.  Follow up this class by doing this assessment in your own yard and bring results to the next class to help in the design of your own raingarden. Taught by a landscape designer from Ramsey County.

3.    RAINGARDEN DESIGN WORKSHOP: Garden Layout & Plant Design
Tuesday, May 20th, 6:30 -8:30 pm. - preregister by May 16   
Pre-requisite: Site Assessment Session
Location: Maplewood Nature Center, 2659 7th ST. E., Maplewood, MN 55119

Use information gathered in your site assessment to design your own raingarden. Figure out how to resolve drainage issues! Get assistance on your design plan from instructors, & Master Gardeners. Bring a map of your site and the results of your infiltration test. Taught by landscape designer Joe Lochner, Ramsey Conservation District. 

Fees for any of these classes: FREE!

To register call Shelly @ 651-792-7965 at Ramsey Washington Watershed District (RWMWD) or send an e-mail to


Sponsored by: Blue Thumb, East Metro Resource Education Program, RWMWD & Washington Conservation District. For more information about these classes contact Angie Hong at 651- 275-1136 x.35.

Choose one of the following dates & locations:

Tuesday, March 4th, 6-7:30pm - preregister by Feb. 28
Location: Washington Conservation District Office, 455 Hayward, Ave. N, Oakdale
Tuesday, March 11, 6-7:30 pm - preregister by March 7.
Location: Woodbury City Hall, 8301 Valley Creek Rd, Council Chambers.

Already have a raingarden but need a few tips on keeping it in tip top shape?  These are for you.

Tuesday, April 8, 6:30 – 8:00 pm,

Location: Maplewood Nature Center, 2659 E. 7th St., Maplewood, MN 55119.
Has your rain garden been overrun by weeds? Does it need a few new plants or a complete overhaul? Come get tips on how to rescue your raingarden and make it the garden of your dreams. See slides of the new plants and designs. We’ll answer questions and help you figure out where to start. Fee: FREE, but space is limited. Call (651) 249-2170 or email info[at] to register by April 3rd.

Tuesday, May 13, 6:30-7:30 pm

Location: TBD
It’s spring clean-up time for raingardens. Come learn how to cut back old vegetation, divide and transplant perennials, and prevent erosion at the inlet. We’ll also cover strategies for dealing with overly aggressive plants. Meet us in the neighborhood for this outdoor demonstration. Dress for the weather. Fee: Free, but space is limited. Call (651) 249-2170 or email info[at] to register by May 11th.


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