In suburban and urban areas, water runs off developed land such as driveways, patios, roofs and sidewalks and impacts local streams and lakes. Increasingly, rain gardens are being incorporated into landscape designs to protect water quality and limit the introduction of sediment into natural waterways.
On May 30, as part of the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ public service program, volunteers from the HWS and Geneva communities planted a demonstration rain garden in the Institute’s backyard overlooking Seneca Lake. Volunteers were given a brief overview of the purpose of the rain garden and the history of rain garden construction and design.
Rain gardens are shallow, pie pan-like depressions, specifically designed to soak up and store excess rainwater and snowmelt and filter contaminants, meanwhile attracting birds and beneficial insects. They reduce mosquito breeding by preventing standing water, sustain adequate flows to streams during dry spells, and reduce erosion of stream banks and lake shores as well as the need for costly municipal storm water treatment. Rain gardens can also reduce the potential for home flooding.
The Finger Lakes Institute garden, constructed by HWS Building and Grounds, incorporates a variety of flowering plants, sedges and grasses native to New York. The lake-facing side of the garden is a berm planted with Solomon Seal, intended to contain water during heavier rain events. It will be incorporated into future educational programs of the Institute designed to explain and recognize the benefits of storm water management, the identification of native plants, and value of environmental stewardship.
During this summer’s Finger Lakes Exploration Camp, Education Coordinator Sheila Myers expects to review how rain gardens are used in watershed protection with middle school students from the Finger Lakes region. Community Outreach Coordinator Sarah Meyer hopes that, once the interpretive signage is installed, the garden will be regularly visited by college students, community members, garden enthusiasts, and naturalists alike.
People interested in learning more about the details of the Demonstration Rain Garden design or plant selection can learn more by reviewing the public presentation given by Meyer which is now online http://fli.hws.edu/pdf/Rain_Garden09.pdf. Common resources and “how-to” guides are hyperlinked throughout the program and listed at the end.
In a recent article in the Finger Lakes Times by Paulette Likoudis (June 23, 2009), the Geneva school district was featured for creating a rain garden at the North Street Campus.
Sage Gerling, a volunteer with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Upstate New York Green Schools Initiative, and Aaron Smith of the Geneva school district guided fourth-graders from North and West streets elementary schools in creating the garden. Sheila Myers, education outreach coordinator of the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, coordinated science activities for the students with William Smith student Christie Eldredge.