Dreamin’ of rain gardens, backyard ponds and native landscaping

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Like just about everyone this time of year, I’ve been looking out at a front yard with the detritus of the winter exposed in a brown, soggy mess. But I had some satisfaction in seeing a puddle there.

Several years ago I took a shovel and dug up a corner of the yard, created a little berm, spaded in Garden Green® compost and planted Joe Pye Weed, Culver Root and other wet-footed plants as part of a spontaneous decision to surround our house with native plants and control runoff. The puddle in that rain garden last week was proof that we were slowing the rush of stormwater to the lake and giving it a chance to filter through the soil.

Most of that work has paid off. Our rain garden catches runoff from our gutters and our sump pump. Less water runs into storm sewers and, to the benefit of our neighbors, it doesn’t run onto the sidewalk and freeze into an ice sheet in the spring. Bees and beneficial insects attract birds in the winter and our backyard pond (this is a picture of it) is a favorite for songbirds looking for a bath.

Still, we’re going to make some changes. Native is great, but can be a lot of work. In our Lakeside nook, for example, buckthorn is a constant menace in our big wildflower patches and we’ve (re)discovered that mowing grass takes less time than pulling buckthorn. So we’re putting in some grass this year.

Here are some tips if you’re thinking about a similar project:

-Love the rain garden. Even if it isn’t very big, catching that runoff and putting some cool plants there gives you a lush landscape even in the driest days of summer.

-Start small, and look for polite plants – you know, the ones that won’t spread a lot. We did away with goldenrod, for example, because it just kept popping up everywhere.

-If you like shoveling, put in a small pond. Leave an underwater ledge on one side surrounded by landscaping blocks or neatly stacked rocks, fill it with good dirt, and plant some semi-aquatic plants. Nothing brightens our spirits more than the yellow flowers on our marsh marigold in the spring anything else even thinks about growing. And hanging out watching songbirds bathe in the summer is a treat.

-Get some help. Boreal Natives is a good local nursery specializing in native plants. The South St. Louis County Soil & Water Conservation District has an annual spring sale for native shrubs and trees.

And finally, look up the local chapter of Wild Ones – www.wildones.org – which promotes native landscaping.

by Craig Lincoln, environmental programs coordinator

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