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Lake County Master Gardeners Receive International Award for their Rain Garden Living Lab

Posted by Monica David -

Master Gardeners in Lake County Illinois received a second place International Search for Excellence Award for their Rain Garden Living Laboratory. The volunteers were recognized at the International Master Gardener conference in Iowa in September, 2015 and presented a poster on the project.

The Rain Garden Living Laboratory is a unique joint project between Lake County government and the University of Illinois Extension Lake County Master Gardeners based on a ½ acre rain garden located at the entrance of the Lake County Central Permit Facility (LCCPF) in Libertyville, IL. The Lake County Stormwater Management Commission offices are in this facility. Builders and homeowners within Lake County must come to this location to get a variety permits and other county department assistance.

The Lake County Master Gardeners offered an innovative plan to create a learning lab along with research-based educational materials to promote rain gardens as a tool for storm water management. The Master Gardener project team produced multiple avenues for homeowners to learn about storm water including assessing their property in the terms of storm water run-off, considering a rain garden for their location, and having a living laboratory to see native plants which will grow in a rain garden. Seasonal site signage has been designed to show points of interest in a rain garden throughout the year. Other educational information has been developed, including information sheets on individual native plants; identification sheets for a few common weeds; a rain garden planting design as an example for homeowner use; and instructions for the construction of a home rain garden which includes size calculations based on the homeowner's personal storm water discharge. This information is located on the Master Gardener's county website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/lm/lakemg/4877.html.

To assure success of the project, the Master Gardeners mentored the facility's maintenance staff in weed identification, differences in managing annual weeds versus perennial weeds, and overall good cultural practices in garden maintenance based on the research-based information provided through the University of Illinois.

The LCCPF faculty has conducted programs on the rain garden including open houses and workshops for homeowner associations, engineers, and site designers. Master Gardeners use the Living Lab as an outdoor classroom for education on native plant and weed ID.

As a result of the work, Master Gardeners were asked to supervise the volunteer planting of two rain gardens designed by professional consultants in another area of Lake County. For this project, The Moraine Township's Mooney Cemetery Drainage Project, Master Gardeners gave a presentation to over 70 volunteers as to what is a rain garden and a how-to lesson for installing the plant material on the day of plant installation. The Master Gardeners supervised and mentored the work teams with volunteers from the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Garden Clubs, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Church groups, and more. They developed a brochure including information about what is and how to plant a rain garden that was passed out to volunteers. A project binder was presented to the township that included research-based material of the planting information, including a glossary of terms, and information sheets on the 20+ native plants used. This became extremely important in working with volunteers with a lack of gardening knowledge.

This Moraine Township project won Lake County Stormwater Management Commission's Best Management Practice (BMP) Award for 2014 and received the award at a ceremony on January 8th, 2015.




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