By Marge Hols

John and Janel Heroff have been growing beans, peas and tomatoes in their Maplewood vegetable garden for 25 years, but they're just learning how to handle the new "rainwater garden" in their front yard. The garden packs a double punch: It's planted with perennials that brighten their yard and attract butterflies. It also drains off storm water that otherwise would run down their street into the Maplewood Nature Center and Battle Creek Watershed.

"A rainwater garden is a strategically placed puddle disguised with some plants that help with water infiltration besides being beautiful," says Chris Cavett, Maplewood assistant city engineer. "Primarily, this was a street-reconstruction project in the Harvester Avenue neighborhood," he explains. "But we also had to manage the storm water."

Rather than a conventional storm sewer and curb-and-gutter approach, the neighborhood chose to try less expensive, environmentally friendly practices that Maplewood had piloted earlier on Birmingham Street. Cavett says the concept is basically a rural street design, where water drains into roadside ditches. But, instead of building ditches, they built rainwater gardens where residents wanted them and shallow swales in other yards.

The Heroffs were among the majority of residents who opted for gardens. The city dug beds, put in coarse rock wrapped in geotextile filter fabric for drainage, added topsoil and supplied mulch. It also provided plants and planting plans for a butterfly, day lily, prairie, shrub or sunny garden.

"We planted the butterfly garden," says Janel Heroff, a nurse with St. Paul Public Schools. Joe-pye weed, marsh milkweed, New England aster and bee balm grow at the bottom, which gets the most moisture. Several yarrows, blazing star, day lily, black-eyed Susan and butterfly weed decorate sides of the 8-by-20-foot garden, which is about 2 feet deep.

The Heroffs, who encouraged neighbors to start gardens, too, say an unexpected bonus was bringing neighbors together. "Everybody pitched in on planting day in June, and about 100 people came to the potluck," says John Heroff, a General Mills laboratory technician. "The gardens add something special to our neighborhood," he says. "When you go up and down the streets, they make it that much nicer a place to be."


Marge Hols is a Master Gardener and writes a regular gardening column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.


Published: Saturday 23-Sep-2000
(c) 2000 St. Paul Pioneer Press.  All Rights Reserved.

Rain Gardens