Anatomy of a Rain Garden Project: One Year Later

We are now one year later after the completion of the rain garden at the Huntertown Family Park. What began as a flooded, kinda trashy dirt hole next to a newly constructed concession building has become a beautiful feature of a community park for all who visit. Currently there are only a few volunteers who weed and water the 625 square foot specialty garden but that’s the best we can do. The restrictions of the pandemic and personal health constraints have changed my ability, as Coordinator, to secure garden helpers; a really hot summer seemed to complicate the matter further. Overall, the rain garden (RG) is doing its job managing water runoff from the structures nearby in the most loveliest way possible! Here’s how we got here (as published in the September issue of Across the Fence, the monthly publication of the Master Gardeners of Allen County, IN where I am Editor).

Take a class online; it will be fun!

I created and coordinated this project to fulfill the requirements of an online class in the spring of 2018 to become a Certified Master Rain Gardener. The class was excellent and matches the caliber of our local Catching Rain Fort Wayne program that I also attended later. The President of the Park, Dan Holmes, approved the project and proved to be instrumental on work days, identifying several local resources, and just being there the one day when complications of this project brought me to tears! Early coverage in our local newspaper was a fun boost along the way. Then it was a scramble to get the base of the rain garden built before the summer of 2019 as I was simultaneously learning how things functioned at this private park, addressing Americans with Disabilities Act considerations, securing grant funding from the Urban Wildlife Habitat Cost Share Program (UWHCSP) at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and eventually obtaining quotes from local contractors. Things got really complicated very quickly!

Start and they will follow. We will help you.

Volunteers came forth from the classes that I mentioned above, notices in Across the Fence, a little sign I posted at the RG site, the local newspaper, and random encounters with neighbors who lived across the street from the Park. There weren’t a lot of us so everyone who came worked very hard and got the respective project done for any given work day. Weeding up to 3-foot “native” weeds in two dirt piles to keep seeds from blowing into the base of the RG? Check! Rescheduling work days a couple of times due to severe flooding restricting access to our project site? Check! Breaking down and spraying weed killer around the periphery of the RG so we could increase the 50+ foot berm area with soil and mulch on a 90+ degree day with 3 volunteers? Check! Obtaining donations of plants from local and out-of-state nurseries, a Park neighbor, and fellow Master Gardeners? Check! Learning how to build our drainage tile system from YouTube videos, the good folks at our local landscape supply dealer, and another neighbor adjacent to the Park with a skid loader? Check! Discovering large landscape rocks during my first tour of the Park with Dan then witnessing their installation in the complete RG base by that same gracious neighbor 3 months later? Check again. And so it went. By the Fall of 2018, donated native plants were sleeping sweetly in my own garden ready for installation in the Spring. There was so much left to do including still figuring out how to do some of it at this level!

You need to be done by June.

Tis good to have deadlines when embarking upon a large and complex project that stretches you to the max! The UWHCSP grant provided just that. We needed to have everything planted (i.e. 75 perennials, grasses, and bushes!) and professional signage at least on-order by June of 2019 or lose our funding! There were delays from our vendor that tested our timeline but in the end we met all of our obligations. Just two volunteers planted everything in May of 2019. Dan had facilitated not only the donation of a gorgeous flagstone path by a local landscaping company but the ordering and later installation of our professional signage at a deeply discounted rate. (He and the neighbor whose mother-in-law across the street donated the milkweed seeds, installed our sign themselves!) The total cost of the rain garden was $1604.90 with an estimate of over $2,000 in donated plants, materials, and landscaping services. Our $2500 UWHSCP grant covered all of our out-of-pocket expenses and future needs. A couple of plants needed to be replaced in the Spring of 2020 and some additional mulching will be replenished when we can safely call a work day with social distancing and the requirements of Purdue Extension.

I wish to thank all of the volunteers, individuals, and businesses that contributed to the success of this project (also those named on our sign). Master Gardeners and Interns who participated include Rhonda, Linette, Greta, Simone, Linda, and Jo. Note that most rain gardens in the landscape of a homeowner are much simpler to construct than the project shared here! Rain gardens help soak rain water into the ground quickly, protect or river and creeks from pollution, replenish ground water, create beautiful gardenscapes throughout the growing season, and provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects (for pollination of plants). Once established, your own rain garden project will be a source of beauty and pride that serves important functions in our landscapes and communities for years to come. I’d love to chat more about your interest in rain gardens!