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Posted March 27, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Rain drain: Workshop will show how to use garden to manage water

Mary Stickley stands in a rain garden
Mary Stickley, gardens and grounds manager at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley and a Master Gardener, stands in a rain garden in front of the Children of America on Jubal Early Drive in Winchester. This rain garden is similar to the one that will be installed at the Douglas Community Learning Center during an upcoming workshop. Stacey Keenan/Daily

Stickley stands next to a river birch tree
Stickley stands next to a river birch tree, which is a typical tree species used in a rain garden. Stacey Keenan/Daily

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By Stacey Keenan -- Daily Staff Correspondent

WINCHESTER -- An upcoming workshop hosted by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardeners Association hopes to show people how natural landscaping can help improve water quality, provide habitat for animals, mitigate flooding and reduce erosion.

The "Storm Water Management In Your Backyard" workshop, which takes place April 2-4, will guide participants through the process of building a rain garden. Participants in the three-day workshop will spend part of their time in a classroom setting and part of their time in the field assisting in the construction of a rain garden at the Douglas Community Learning Center on North Kent Street.

The workshop is the second in a series of three, says Mary Stickley, gardens and grounds manager at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley and a Master Gardener.

The Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardeners Association is sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension and is composed of trained volunteers who serve the communities of Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties.

"We're doing this in conjunction with Rutgers University. Rutgers got a grant to do a three-year program, and this is year two of the program," she says. "I have no idea how we partnered. I think our previous extension agent had some connection [to Rutgers]. Last year, we installed a rain garden at a home, at Hedgebrook Farm. This year is at a public community site. Next year, it's a commercial site yet to be chosen."

The association hopes participants in the workshop will come away with a better understanding of what a rain garden is, how it works and why it's important.

When it rains, large volumes of storm water run off roofs, roads and parking lots as well as other impermeable surfaces, and rush straight to conventional drainage systems, where the water finds its way into creeks, streams and rivers without first being treated.

"The idea is that our old system of storm water management, of getting storm water off a property as quickly as possible and sending it to the closest waterway, isn't working. All the pollutants go with it," Stickley says.

And, not only does storm water runoff carry pollutants into waterways, it also creates large areas of soil erosion, which can lead to a variety of other environmental problems.

"A rain garden slows [the runoff] down, spreads it out and filters it before it gets into the water system," says Stickley. "[A rain garden] is usually placed right before storm water goes into the water system. Specialized plants filter out and clean the water before it goes into the water system."

According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension Web site, a rain garden is "a landscaped area specially designed to collect rainfall and storm water runoff. The plants and soil in the rain garden clean pollutants from the water as it seeps into the ground and evaporates back into the atmosphere. For a rain garden to work, plants must be selected, installed and maintained properly."

The participants will also learn about plant selection for a rain garden, and the importance of choosing native plants, or plants that are adapted to the local environment.

"[Native plants] are specially adapted for withstanding pretty harsh conditions, and they naturally belong in a stream bed habitat," says Stickley. "They can withstand a lot or a little water, depending on the amount of water."

The first day of the workshop will be held at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley and is a lecture-type classroom session in which participants will learn the necessary background information. The second and third days will take participants to the rain garden site at the learning center, where they will work outside as well as have some indoor classroom sessions. Participants can attend all or a portion of the workshop.

"We want to teach people about storm water management and water quality, especially with the Shenandoah River here. We have to be really careful about storm water and water quality," says Stickley.

The Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardeners Association's "Storm Water Management In Your Backyard" rain garden workshop takes place Thursday through Saturday, April 2-4. The workshop begins at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, and runs until 8:30 p.m. The workshop continues on Friday, beginning at 9 a.m. at the Douglas Community Learning Center, at 598 N. Kent St., and runs until approximately 5 p.m. On Saturday, the day begins at 9 a.m. at the learning center, with the workshop concluding around noon. The workshop is free, but pre-registration is required by March 31. For more information or to register, e-mail Lynn Hoffmann, the association's education coordinator, at gwendydog@gmail.com

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