Demo Rain Garden Debuts at Howell Park

Above: A city worker installs protective fencing at the just-dedicated Howell Park rain garden on Earth Day weekend.

On April 24, during Earth Week, the City of Evanston and a number of partnering civic groups dug and dedicated a demonstration rain garden at Howell Park, on the corner of Pioneer and Hartzell. The hope is that the garden's success will make it a model for similar public and private gardens throughout Evanston.

As the name suggests, rain gardens serve multiple purposes related to water: they contribute to the reduction or prevention of runoff that overburdens the sewer system; they direct rain away from yards and basements; and they conserve groundwater for the drier season to come. Properly planned and planted, they also help preserve and increase the inventory of native species of plants.
Spearheaded by longtime Evanston resident Donna Wolf, the Howell Park installation was designed to do all of the above. As the picture at right shows, Howell Park is known for frequently hosting large puddles for extended periods of time during the year.
The larger community was heavily and directly involved in the rain garden project. Organizations that engaged early-on in the planning and implementation included The Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN), Citizens for a Greener Evanston, the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago, Audobon (Chicago Region), Highland Garden Club, and Garden Club of Evanston.
A month earlier, many neighborhood residents came to Howell Park for a site view, as project representatives explained it (left). The community was then invited to further discussion at the North Branch Library, which frequently serves as a meeting place for that portion of north Evanston that has no other community center.
The community meetings may have been somewhat of a surprise to the organizers. Instead of neighborhood opposition, the sentiment expressed was largely supportive; if anything, numerous of residents felt that the garden should be broader in scope, or expanded to include some other and arguably soggier corners of the park.
On the Saturday of Earth Day weekend, numerous residents joined with representatives of the sponsor organizations and City Parks & Rec staff to dig out the ribboned-off areas, gently plant over a hundred established plants, and mulch over the areas. Prominent were Virginia bluebells, and wild (or Canadian) ginger (seen at lower right in the picture above). Temporary fencing was then installed to protect the plants from critters and passersby while they rooted.
Both the process and the product may serve as prototypes for other such gardens in Evanston. The growth of such gardens in this area is especially appropriate given its original geography, but every community can benefit from reducing the amount of water that sewers or agencies such as the MWRD have to handle, and the propagation of plants indignous to the midwest can only help the preservation of native bird and animal species.
-- Jeff Smith