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Educational Garden addition

Barry McNamara
Singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell coined the phrase, “They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.”

There is no mention of a “rain garden” in Mitchell’s 1970 hit record, but that hasn’t stopped Monmouth College from installing one at the front of its Educational Garden on the east side of campus. Others may follow.

According to assistant professor of chemistry Brad Sturgeon, rain gardens “improve the percolation of water back into the earth,” a process that is altered when an area is overtaken by “hardscape” such as parking lots and sidewalks.

When rain lands on grass or a farm field, it seeps into the soil and is naturally filtered. But when it falls on hardscape, it is directed to storm sewers. Because much of that water avoids being treated at wastewater facilities, it contributes greatly – some sources say as much as 70 percent – to the issue of water pollution.

“I’d love to see five more of these around campus,” said Sturgeon, who noted that the garden features “low-maintenance” perennial plants such as the “Monmouth red” cardinal flower, purple dome aster and blue flag iris. The plants were purchased with the help of Simply Native Nursery’s master gardener, Kathy Hale-Johnson, who designed the garden, free of charge. Sturgeon also credited local handyman Keith Gosling for providing free labor in the form of a backhoe to dig the 3-1/2-foot hole for the garden.

To help cover the costs that the college did incur, a $740 Illinois Rain Garden Initiative grant was received from the Illinois Conservation Foundation and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Education, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Recent graduates Hope Grebner of Green Valley and Emily Isaacs of Rock Island wrote the grant.

In addition to aforementioned benefits, the initiative’s rationale statement explains that rain gardens are desirable because they allow for the recharge of groundwater supplies, increase wildlife habitat and often reduce the need for mowing and its associated costs and pollution.

The rain garden is part of a “sustainable landscaping” effort that Sturgeon promotes to students in his Citizenship classes, which focus on green initiatives related to water.

“Something else we’ll look into is permeable sidewalks,” he said. “We look forward to interacting with people in the community to think about installing some of these types of things.”

Rain gardens can’t restore “paradise” at the snap of a finger, said Patricia Pennell, who directs a rain garden program in Michigan, but they are a step in the right direction.

“It’s going to take time,” she said in a promotional video for rain gardens. “It’s not going to happen overnight. But over decades, if we change the way we do things, we can make a huge difference.”
For more pictures, visit the Educational Garden's Picasa page.