Looking for a platform to share your passion for writing? Carlisle’s local/regional newspaper, The Sentinel, has started a monthly column called “Water Works”. This is a great venue for Dickinson students and faculty to publish in print paper. Interested? Submit your article to Lindsey Lyons, Assistant Director of the Center for Sustainability Education, at: lyonsli at dickinson.edu.
Check out this piece by Classical Studies Assistant Professor Megan Newell Reedy, the most recent installment in the “Water Works” series in The Sentinel.
Beauty and efficiency of rain gardens
By Megan Newell Reedy, for The Sentinel
Where does all that water go when it rains?
In downtown Carlisle, where I live, much of the water rushes across parking lots and roadways and splooshes into storm drains that carry it to the Mully Grub and LeTort Spring Run. From there, it is carried to the Conodoguinet Creek, then into the old, wide Susquehanna River and on down to the Chesapeake Bay, where it slips into the Atlantic Ocean.
But not all of the rainwater goes that far that fast. Rainwater that falls on gardens and forests and fields and meadows has a chance to sink into the soil where plants use it and clean it. Then some of the water trickles slowly toward streams, and some filters down and down and down into our natural underground reservoir, the Cumberland Plateau Aquifer.
Rain gardens are designed especially to help this process.
A rain garden is planted in a shallow depression — usually just 6 inches or so — to encourage rainwater to gather rather than run off to the street. The soil in the depression is loosened up so that the water sinks into the ground easily and quickly.
Water doesn’t pool, which means mosquitoes can’t live there. It also means that the water in your beautiful rain garden isn’t heading for the storm drains.
So rain gardens not only save water by encouraging it to filter into our aquifer, but they also prevent flooding by helping keep roads and storm drains from being overwhelmed by water when it rains.
What plants do you use in a rain garden? Happily, the plants that do well in a rain garden tend to be sturdy types that can thrive without much attention: native grasses, ferns, flowering shrubs and even trees. All the plants in a rain garden help keep the soil loose so the water can sink in. They also absorb things like extra nitrogen or phosphorous that can hurt fish and upset the balance in streams, which means that rain gardens also help keep streams and rivers clean by filtering rainwater.
As a bonus, rain gardens also attract birds and butterflies because the plants provide them with food and shelter. Maybe the monarch butterflies will stop through. Or a cedar waxwing. Just be sure to hold off on your pruning and tidying until the spring so they have plenty of berries and warm twiggy nooks to sleep in through the winter.
For garden guidelines and lists of plants to use, visit the website for Penn State Extension at http://extension.psu.edu. For inspiration and information related to the Chesapeake Bay watershed in particular, visit the website for Rain Gardens for The Bays at www.raingardensforthebays.org.