Rain garden at daycare halts flooding, prompts learning

Nelco Landscaping staff got the kids from Carol Matheys Center for Children & Families involved with planting native plants in the daycare’s recently completed rain garden in Oakdale. (submitted photo)

Carol Matheys Center for Children and Families has a new rain garden through a grant from the Washington County Conservation District. A rain garden, overflow gardens, and permeable pavers complete the project. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

A project to correct drainage problems turned into a learning experience for some pint-sized kids at a daycare center in Oakdale.

The parking lot at Carol Matheys Center for Children & Families -- located just east of Highway 120 on 43rd Street North -- sits in a low-lying area that was prone to flooding after rainstorms.

Carol Matheys executive director Stacie Penn says she contacted the city last year asking what could be done to mitigate the water issues.  City officials put her in touch with the Washington County Conservation District, which provided a grant to install a rain garden along the eastern edge of the parking lot.

Maplewood-based Nelco Landscaping was hired and recently finished the job. Nelco owner Brian Nelson said it was a challenging project due to the amount of heavy clay soil on the property, but says he’s pleased with the way the rain garden turned out.

In total, some 200 cubic yards of material was excavated for the rain garden that features over 700 native plants.

“You want to use a lot of native plants -- that’s the idea -- to bring it back to what it used to be. Native plants grow better, need less water and compete well against other plant species.”

Another reason native plants are used in rain gardens, Nelson explains, is because of their longer roots, which allow water to percolate into the soil. In contrast, most commonly planted non-native grasses have compact roots that allow water to quickly runoff.

The daycare’s rain garden filled with native plants captures stormwater running through much of the property. The water seeps into the ground and eventually reaches an underground pipe. Nelson says after a period of about 24 hours the water is released through the pipe into a nearby pond after much of the contaminants have been filtered out. A valve system controls the amount of water released from the collection area. 

Nelson also installed over 1,500 square feet of permeable pavers in the parking lot, further adding to the storm water management system.  The porous material keeps the parking lot from flooding, reduces runoff and filters out pollutants and soil.

Kids chip in and learn

Penn says Nelson was eager to share his knowledge of storm water management and native plants with the kids at Carol Matheys.

“He came highly recommended (by the Washington Conservation District),” she says. “He did a great job and his willingness to work with kids was equally great.”

Nelson held small instructional classes so the youngsters could learn about planting and what native plants are and how they are useful in controlling erosion. He said he had fun with the kids.

“They were really fantastic to work with,” he says. “It’s important to get the younger generation interested in learning about the importance of this.”

Penn says every child at the daycare, some as young as 3, were able to plant at least one plant in the rain garden.

“They enjoyed it. Kids love to play in the dirt,” Nelson added.

Gardening has roots at daycare

Discovering the benefits of growing fresh produce are part of the nonprofit daycare’s curriculum of having fun while learning.

“The whole learning process with the rain garden has solidified our gardening program,” Penn says.

She says the daycare started the gardening program for its kids a few years ago, when teacher Rebecca Walzak planted a vegetable garden onsite.

The small edible garden has fruits, vegetables and herbs -- sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, sweet peas, corn, watermelon, dill and pumpkins.

Walzak says it’s an early opportunity to teach young children about nutrition and establish life-long healthy eating habits.

“It also teaches them patience, since it takes a while for the food to grow before they can eat it,” she says. 

Penn says during the summer kids are able to enjoy the garden’s bounty during meals that they help prepare.

The youngsters also learn about responsibility. The plants need regular attention, from the initial planting, to weeding and watering.

Walzak says while most kids enjoy the garden, there are around “20 green thumbs” that like helping out with most of the planting and maintenance.

“They’ve all gotten good at not picking the flowers,” she says with a laugh.

Another plus, Walzak says, is that during harvest season kids get to bring home some of the fresh foods they help grow to share with their families. 

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.


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