Master rain gardener Judy Ross, of Plymouth Township, celebrates after building a rain garden at her residence.

Master rain gardener Judy Ross, of Plymouth Township, celebrates after building a rain garden at her residence.

Photo provided by the Friends of the Rouge


Friends of the Rouge promote master rain gardener program

Rain gardens benefit individuals and the environment

By: Jonathan Shead | C&G Newspapers | Published February 11, 2020

 Having ponding and puddle issues between their two yards, two Canton residents came together to build rain gardens on each of their properties. The result was reduced ponding and soon-to-be lush gardens.

Having ponding and puddle issues between their two yards, two Canton residents came together to build rain gardens on each of their properties. The result was reduced ponding and soon-to-be lush gardens.

Photos provided by the Friends of the Rouge

METRO DETROIT — Heavier amounts of rainfall in the past few years are making springs in southeast Michigan wetter and have become a rising problem for the region’s waterways and properties.

Landscape designer and Friends of the Rouge Restoration Coordinator Matthew Bertrand said higher water levels are also collecting more pollutants, causing adverse effects on our waterways and drinking water.

“Many of our lakes, rivers and streams are dealing with similar issues,” he said. “Our sewer systems are overtaxed. Our waterways are dirty and flashy. A lot of this threatens drinking water, especially in the Lake Erie area, with the toxic algae blooms they’ve experienced. There’s a huge concern about managing that pollution.”

Bertrand said that the major source of pollution in the Rouge River today is the community.

“The brake dust off our cars, the tires as they wear down — all of that stuff gets in the air and washed into the river, concentrating there. It becomes a huge pollution issue.”

He added that increased areas of hard surfaces — concrete and paved areas — aren’t helping. Instead of stormwater soaking into the ground, it now flows off of the hard surfaces, causing major issues, like flooding and erosion.

However, the Friends of the Rouge have a solution for what Bertrand calls a regional best practice: rain gardens.

A rain garden, which doesn’t look much different than a regular garden, “basically mimics a sponge,” he said, capturing large amounts of stormwater that would otherwise run downstream and soaking it up or sending it into the air.

“In 2019, Friends of Rouge installed 25 rain gardens, and together, those gardens soaked up 75,000 gallons of water every time it rained. Those gardens are capturing an enormous amount of water that would otherwise flood downstream,” Bertrand said.

In the process, residents receive a beautiful garden.

Marie Everitt, of Plymouth, graduated and earned her certificate as a master rain gardener in 2019. She believes there’s “so many reasons” why others should learn about and build rain gardens, themselves.

“Obviously, for the people who have any kind of water issues, whether they have flooding in the basement or ponding over sidewalks, it’s kind of a no-brainer how to fix those problems,” she said. “At the same time, as you solve a problem, you increase the beauty in your yard and increase the pollinators. It’s a win-win that way.”

Everitt said even those who don’t have property issues still can and should educate themselves on rain gardens. Even if you don’t have a problem, it doesn’t mean you’re not causing a problem for others downstream, she said.

“If we don’t look at managing it on the individual properties, it’s just going to get worse. It’s just going to continue.”

While spring may not be upon us quite yet, Bertrand said winter is actually the perfect time to start learning about rain gardens “so you can hit the ground running when spring comes” and be part of the solution.

The Friends of the Rouge will offer a five-week master rain gardener course 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays Feb. 15-March 14 at the Jack E. Kirksey Recreation Center, 15100 Hubbard St., Livonia. Course costs vary by residency.

The Friends of the Rouge also offer a self-paced version of the course that people can access online, which takes participants through a series of video sessions to learn about rain gardens and build their plan. Information for both in-person and online courses can be found at therouge.org/master-rain-gardener.

Any experience level is welcome. Bertrand said the program is designed to “meet folks wherever they’re at.”

He believes there is more value in taking the course in-person, however, in the form of community building. Participants learn from course instructors and their peers. He said many have even offered a helping hand to each other in implementing their gardens through the form of “digging parties” and sharing supplies.

The program has a Facebook group where participants can interact, and they offer free consultations to help people during planning and implementation.

“The master rain gardener program is fostering a community of passionate gardeners who want to make a difference in the world. They are interested in supporting each other, regardless of background and capacity to do good things,” Bertrand said. “It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by the doom and gloom of environmental issues, but the reality is there are so many people doing good things and trying to work together. We’re trying to bring those people together so they can make a difference.”