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'Rain gardens' offered as solution to disconnected SE downspouts

by: ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Workshop attendees visited the yard of Celeste Mazzacano, at S.E. 60th and Knight Street, to see the rain garden design and plantings that help soak up water from her disconnected downspout.With housing infill, more and more land is becoming covered with driveways, sidewalks, and streets. Rainfall that would normally soak into the ground flows into streets and ends up polluting streams and rivers.

And some people who have followed city requests to disconnect their rainwater downspouts are finding that, even using long plastic disconnect extension pipes, areas of their yards are becoming soggy.

One solution to excessive storm water runoff is to create a “rain garden”. These sunken landscaped areas in a yard are designed to catch and filter storm water runoff. Planted with hardy, low-maintenance perennials – often native plants – they can be beautiful, and may also provide food and shelter for butterflies, birds and beneficial insects.

In early December, the East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District (EMSWCD) sponsored a free four-hour rain garden workshop at the Woodstock Community Center. Twenty-eight people from all over the city gathered to learn basics about how to plan, design, construct, and plant a rain garden.

The workshop presenter was Amy Whitworth, an experienced landscape architect who contracts with various organizations to give workshops. She laid out steps for creating a rain garden: Assess your site, decide on a location, do a percolation test, determine the size of impervious area, excavate, plant with vegetation, and then mulch.

During the workshop, participants asked many questions and shared plant ideas, personal yard problems, and possible solutions for soggy areas – or areas that have been “de-paved” to allow natural vegetation to grow.

One woman from Northeast Portland said she has planted buttercups, sword ferns, and Oregon grape, to soak up some of the extra water resulting from one of her disconnected downspouts.

Halfway through the workshop attendees assembled into small groups and used simple calculations to determine hypothetical placements of rain gardens.

Booklets to take home were distributed: The Oregon Rain Garden Guide; Rain Gardens 101 Exercise Packet; Gardening with Native Plants; Identifying and Removing Invasive Plants: How to Disconnect Downspouts.

Laurel MacMillan, a grants specialist with EMSWCD (503/222-7645, ext. 121), offered handouts regarding grant funding possibilities for nonprofits, government agencies, educational institutions, Native American tribes, as well as commercial and residential property owners with a stream, river, creek, or wetland on their property.

To learn more, and for information about future rain garden workshops, go online to: www.emswcd.org