Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rain Garden Tour de Bellingham, Saturday, June 1, 9:30 am to 12:30 pm

          By Jane Billinghurst, WSU Skagit County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

Prepare to be inspired by the functionality and beauty of the diverse selection of rain gardens on this tour. From homeowner installations as part of the Lake Whatcom Homeowner Incentive Program to rain gardens in co-housing sites and at Western Washington University, you will see how these gardens can be designed to fit a variety of sites and aesthetics.

All the rain gardens on this tour work to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of stormwater that runs off roofs, lawns, and driveways in the heavy winter rains of the Pacific Northwest.

Packed with native plants to attract birds, this 
rain garden makes a lovely urban retreat - a
vast improvement over the grassy berm that used
to run along this narrow backyard.

What Is a Rain Garden? A rain garden is essentially a stormwater processing facility. It is a shallow depression that captures fast-moving stormwater and then releases it slowly into the surrounding landscape.

Stormwater Quantity: Unchecked stormwater causes flooding and erosion, and causes problems with combined sewer systems. A primary goal of rain gardens is to interrupt and slow the flow of stormwater.

Stormwater Quality: Stormwater picks up pollutants and washes them into local water bodies, and, in the case of Lake Whatcom, into a source of drinking water. Pollutants include pet waste, pesticides, and excess fertilizers from landscapes; and oil, copper, and zinc from cars. Rain gardens help remove these pollutants from stormwater.

Stormwater Processing: Even in heavy storm events, the rain gardens on this tour drain quickly. Instead of having water rushing down storm drains or along ditches, or water levels rising close to homes, rain water puddles in the gardens and then soaks into the specially designed soil
This rain garden helps process water from a co-
housing project while providing a landscape feature that is 
safe for children to play around and that attracts
beneficial pollinators for the veggie gardens beyond.
and gravel mixes through pore spaces opened up by plant roots and soil microbes. The plants and microbes then get to work breaking down or sequestering organic pollutants and heavy metals in the stormwater. A layer of mulch on exposed soil surfaces—usually arborist chips—keeps the weeds down and aids in processing and trapping pollutants.

Attractive Wildlife Habitat: Native plants adapt well to rain garden conditions and attract a host of beneficial insects and birds. Extra color and diversity can be added by including some hardy cultivated varieties of plants that enjoy growing conditions in the Pacific Northwest.
When I was checking out these rain gardens, I saw hosts of beneficial insects on columbine, camas, and spirea. There were birds perching in ninebarks and hazel, and bathing in attractively designed bird baths. Despite a few days of heavy rain (and a downpour while I was visiting!), none of the rain gardens had standing water. All were beautiful.

The plantings in this colorful rain garden with abuzz with bees.

On the Tour: Homeowners will be on hand to explain the process of installing their gardens and how they have benefited from the Lake Whatcom Home Incentive Program. Rain garden experts from the City of Bellingham and WSU Extension will explain how rain gardens work and what steps you can take if you are inspired to install a rain garden of your own.

Rain Garden Tour de Bellingham is from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm on Saturday, June 1. The $20 fee includes lunch and transportation. Register online at http://raingardentour.brownpapertickets.com.  The tour is co-hosted by RE Sources, City of Bellingham, Sustainable Connections, and WSU Whatcom County extension. After the tour, you are invited to stick around for the Watershed-Friendly Project Expo at Bloedel Donovan Park from 1 to 3 pm. 

To find out more about home owner incentives in the Lake Whatcom watershed, download the Homeowner Incentive Program Brochure (PDF).

To find out more about WSU Extension’s rain garden resources for homeowners, visit www.12000raingardens.org

All photos by Jane Billinghurst

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