November 25, 2020

Shaw Nature Reserve horticulturist discusses rain gardens

Scott Woodbury from Shaw Nature Reserve spoke to students Tuesday, Feb. 21, about St. Louis’ increasing number of rain gardens. The “Biology of Plants” class, taught by professor Jeff DePew, sponsored the event, which was held in the Sunnen Lounge from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

A rain garden is any area with native plant species that catches water runoff. Webster currently has three rain gardens on campus: one near the Priest House and two by the LEED certified East Academic Building. The natural area behind the Garden Park Plaza parking garage is also being expanded into a rain garden, and a fifth rain garden was recently approved to be built near Sverdrup.

“We’re creating rain gardens as we speak, which is pretty cool,” DePew said. “Webster wants to hold back all the water that falls on our campus and keep it on campus.”

Rain gardens are built to prevent storm water from rushing into creeks, which causes water pollution and erosion. Many rain gardens are built on corporate property or in public parking lots in accordance with the Clean Water Act.

Woodbury said rain gardens are beneficial to the environment, providing a designated area for storm water and improving biodiversity.

“When we have a diverse, beautiful landscape, we also have this great opportunity to attract wildlife and create a place where a whole range of, not just plants, but insects, butterflies, birds and mammals can all exist,” Woodbury said.

Rain gardens implement native plant species that are able to survive during summer droughts and periods of flooding. The gardens need little maintenance, and are relatively cheap to install. A typical rain garden can be installed for between $1,500 and $2,500 per acre, though it can be done for less on a personal scale.

“Maintenance costs are a huge concern,” Woodbury said. “A lot of these smaller sedges are easier to maintain.”

Woodbury said St. Louis is one of the major contenders for rain gardens in the nation and DePew said Webster is, “leading the pack,” compared to other universities. The two agree that, though rain gardens are an up-and-coming sustainability effort, they are helping to shape the future of ecosystems.

“The beauty of these cheap plants is that concrete can’t clean pollutants off of a parking lot,” Woodbury said. “Plant roots can… When you have natural systems with lots of plant diversity, and insect and mammal and bird diversity, it’s all about creating systems that function and are diverse. It all starts with plants.”

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