Volume 16, Issue 26 - June 26 - July 2, 2008

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Bay Reflections

Many Hands Make a Rain Garden

Finding the motivation to dig in

by Paul Rensted

I lay in bed listening to the rhythmic snoring of my elderly pug, trying to decide whether to help build a Fairhaven community rain garden down by the beach. I knew we needed it for a couple of reasons. For one, the large amount of water that ran down the street and washed down the lawns, straight into Chesapeake Bay was unacceptable.

Several weeks earlier, I had walked across the bridge and climbed the hill to a neighbor’s home to hear Anne Arundel Public Works director Ron Bowen explain how rain gardens are reducing stormwater runoff and pollution as well as limiting sedimentation in Chesapeake waterways.

Having devoted large amounts of time in the last two years to issues of water quality — and more specifically sedimentation and dredging — it made sense to start in my own backyard with my neighbors to help limit the need for dredging at its very source.

I had good intentions, but several of my neighbors are more motivated.

Runoff flows like a creek over pavement with lots of sediment in it right into the Bay from our little community beach. To stop it, working with the neighbor whose land is affected, they found a design online (www.lowimpactdevelopment.org/raingarden–design/templates–SunCoast.htm) for a large 25-by-eight-foot rain garden. For funding, they turned to Unity Gardens (www.unitygardens.org), which twice a year awards grants up to $1,000 to local groups creating neighborhood green spaces. All that remained was lining up people to work.

That workday turned out to be the hottest day of the year thus far, and I had a great mystery novel and two new movies from Netflix.

In the end, I got up and headed out the door. Seeing my neighbors the day before, busy unloading plants and checking them off against the rain garden design, had sealed my fate. Like any good child of the Midwest, I listened to my sense of duty.

I walked the two blocks to the little beach in a warm foggy cloud, arriving as the last of the mechanical digging was finishing on the downward slope where the water ran into the Bay. I dug into mixing the sand, Leafgro and rich topsoil that would make the plants thrive. Filling wheelbarrows, we contoured the large excavated area so that it would be lower than the surrounding ground. My neighbor’s barefoot girls used garden rakes to level the soil mixture.

The careful design of the site had been prepared so that rainwater would collect in areas where it can be absorbed by the ground instead of rushing down into the Chesapeake.

As my neighbors and I finished the site preparation, other neighbors arrived, ready to plant. The plant selection was not random — which is my preferred gardening method — but rather involved species with combined drought tolerance and a love for water.

Within minutes of the application of a layer of mulch, which left the 20-by-12-foot site roughly three to four inches lower than the surrounding land, a dozen people were using shovels, hand trowels and their bare hands to plant out the design. We dug holes deep enough for additional Leafgro around each plant’s roots.

Some of us shifted our plants so we avoided the straight-line plantings I was used to from Iowa cornfields. Others seemed to like lining up the plants in their section like little soldiers in the struggle to help our little part of Herring Bay improve. Neighbor children carried the watering can around to each thirsty plant and soaked them to get the garden started right.

One of the artists in the neighborhood herded us together next to our newly planted garden for a group photo. Before we picked up our tools to head home for a shower, discussion turned to next year, when some plants would need to be divided. Maybe we could make our garden just a little bigger.

A native Minnesotan who calls Fairhaven home, Paul Rensted tends a garden known far and wide. He dedicates this reflection to dear friend, sweetheart and great editor Wayne Nesbitt, who died June 14, 2008.

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