Thursday, January 28, 2016

A LEAP Award for a Caring Congregation

By Sage Passi
LEAP Team visits Our Redeemer Lutheran Church’s rain garden

Our Redeemer Lutheran Church parking lot rain garden in east St. Paul exemplifies a project that has many “heroes”. The lovely, well-cared for, pollinator-friendly rain garden, ablaze in the summer with prairie and meadow blazing stars, cardinal flower, great blue lobelia, blue flag iris and butterfly milkweed came to the attention of the LEAP Team this past summer three years after it was installed.

Cardinal Flower in its splendor
Photo Credit: Anita Jader

Dennis Paulsen, a member of the congregation’s Caring for Creation team, played a starring role, but teamwork with others was integral to this project. Dennis and Pastor Karsten Nelson enthusiastically accepted the LEAP Award in November at the awards banquet on behalf of everyone who assisted with this project.

Dennis Paulson (middle left) and Pastor Karsten Nelson (middle right)
receive a 2015 LEAP award for Our Redeemer Lutheran Church’s rain garden.

Before this rain garden was installed, I’d always admired the church’s lush, well-tended front garden when I drove by on my way to tending Marian Seabold’s nearby rain garden. I could tell there had to be some dedicated gardeners at this church. Their parking lot seemed like a good candidate for a rain garden. Its location upstream of Lake Phalen was another clue that this could be a good spot.

Our Redeemer attended a workshop led by Sean Gosiewski at
Cross Lutheran Church to learn about rain gardens.

Sean Gosiewski from the Alliance for Sustainability played a hand in the story. The Watershed District had hired him to recruit churches for BMP projects. He used the strategy of connecting with churches’ “Caring for Creation” teams because he thought they would be enthusiastic supporters of rain garden projects due to their environmental ethics. In 2011 Sean organized a workshop for church representatives from around the district at Cross Lutheran Church where a rain garden had just been installed. Our Redeemer Caring Creation member, Lana Larsen, attended the workshop and came back enthusiastic about the possibility of getting assistance for the church’s erosion issues. 

Phalen Stewards discuss ways to protect Lake Phalen at Our Redeemer
Lutheran with help from Sean Gosiewski and Rachel Hefke.

The Watershed District enlisted the aid of Ryan Johnson from Ramsey Conservation District in a site assessment on Our Redeemer’s grounds to investigate its run-off and erosion problems. In 2011 Louise Watson, the District’s Education Coordinator, began organizing a collaboration of residents, organizations, city staff and schools called Stewards of the Phalen Chain of Lakes. She was looking for a neighborhood location near Phalen Lake for the group to meet. Redeemer Lutheran Church, on Larpenteur Avenue, just east of Lake Phalen, fit the bill.

Pastor Karsten was approached and was supportive of the Phalen Stewards meeting at the church. The group met for about a year there to create a shared vision for watershed stewardship and hands‐on projects around the community. Participants rallied the church to install a rain garden to infiltrate run-off from its large parking lot.

Mitchell Morgan, a prospective Eagle Scout, and another Boy Scout,
Master Gardeners, Linda Neilson and Carol Mason Sherrill prepare to plant.

Mitchell Morgan, a high school student from the church, proposed an Eagle Scout Project to Pastor Karsten. The pastor and Mitchell decided to propose a rain garden on the church site. Dennis became the project lead and main advisor to Mitchell. After a lot of planning and many hours of training sessions with Ramsey Washington Metro Watershed District, a BMP grant was submitted and a successful church fund raiser was held.

Prairie Blazing Star and Cardinal Flower in full bloom

The 650 square foot rain garden is designed to infiltrate a one-inch rainfall from the west parking lot. Previously the runoff from the parking lot carried rotting plants, fertilizer, sand and salt to the storm sewer which empties into Phalen Lake. The garden was excavated in November 2012. Mulching and planting of the garden was organized in May of 2013 by Mitchell with help from Dennis, several other Boy Scouts, Ramsey County Master Gardeners, Linda Neilson, Carol Mason Sherrill and Sage.

Dennis Paulson and Eagle Scout Mitchell Morgan plant the rain garden.

The LEAP Team’s assessment of the garden included the following compliments:

“It’s impressive. The rain garden looks like an ornamental garden, but successfully handles water run-off. It has a nice design with flowers in spring, summer and fall with nice variety. This is one of the best-maintained sites our team has seen!”

Orange butterfly weed accents the blue salvia around the edges
of the rain garden during the garden’s second summer.

 Photo credit: Sage Passi

The planting design was completed with the help of Sage Passi from RWMWD, Dennis Paulson and Master Gardeners, Linda Neilson and Jodi Refsland. 

Master Gardener/landscape architect student, Jodi Refsland,  Dennis Paulson and
Ramsey County Master Gardener, Linda Neilson team up to create a rain garden planting
design for Our Redeemer Lutheran Church.

In the design, native flowers and sedges are interspersed with cultivated perennials to give the rain garden a more formal look. The garden is surrounded with small shrubs such as pink flowering spirea and “bushy” yellow moonbeam coreopsis, both plants that are more familiar to the average gardener. Native plants like blazing stars, turtlehead and sedges were placed in the center because they can tolerate more water. This design concept emerged after the rain garden team met with the church’s garden team to get their input on the style of garden they preferred.

The design for this rain garden combines both formal and wild elements.
Photo Credit: Sage Passi

Dennis continues to be responsible for the care of the rain garden. If you visit this garden in the summer adjacent to the west parking lot at 1390 Larpenteur East in St. Paul, you'll see many visiting monarch butterflies, bees and insects.

A monarch and a bee enjoy a Prairie Blazing Star in the rain garden

Congratulations to Redeemer Lutheran Church! Thank you for creating this beautiful rain garden out of care for Lake Phalen! It is a real labor of love!

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