There comes a time in every Minnesota year, usually late February or early March, when our collective patience with snow storms and sub-zero temperatures finally reaches its limit. This year, that happened sometime back in January. As I write, I can barely raise my shovel weary arms high enough to reach the keyboard, and the yard outside…well…it’s hard to remember what it used to look like. Though I can’t shake the nagging fear that perhaps the earth has shifted on its axis, making Minnesota the new North Pole, I’m fairly certain that spring actually will come eventually. At least it has every other year.
Next week, the Washington Conservation District (WCD) and local Watershed Districts will begin offering free landscape design workshops to help winter-weary Minnesotans plan raingardens and native plantings that help to create habitat and protect water resources. The first two workshops are scheduled for Tue., March 4, 6-7:30pm at the Washington Conservation Center in Oakdale and Tue., March 11, 6-7:30pm at the Woodbury City Hall. After a short 20-30 minute introductory presentation, workshop participants will spend the rest of the time working with Master Gardeners and Conservation District staff to begin designing water and wildlife friendly gardens for their homes. There will be a variety of plant guides and gardening resources on hand and, for those that register in advance, the WCD will print out aerial photos of their properties to use as well. At the end of the workshop, people can sign up for free site visits later in the spring.
In addition to the free garden design workshops, local Watershed Districts are offering cost-share incentive grants to encourage more people to plant raingardens in their yards. Raingardens are concave gardens that are sited to collect runoff rainwater from rooftops, driveways and roads. By allowing the water to soak into the ground instead of running off into storm sewers, raingardens help to recharge groundwater supplies and keep soil and nutrients from washing into and polluting nearby lakes and wetlands. Though dozens of common garden plants can be used in raingardens, many people choose to use at least some natives to attract birds and pollinating insects to their yards. Typically, cost-share grants include free design assistance from the WCD, as well as partial funding for plants and other landscaping materials. Grant amounts can range from $250 to $2500 depending on the size of the project and the potential benefit to nearby wetlands, lakes or streams.
Planning a new garden is a much better way to occupy your mind than cursing the snow and ice. Just think of the possibilities! You could have a shade oasis filled with ferns and woodland flowers, a piece of prairie with towering bluestem and coneflower, or a simple and colorful assortment of sedum and day lilies. There are big raingardens and small raingardens, raingardens that stair-step down hillsides and those that wrap around porches. Some are crisp and formal, while others are wild and wooly. Best of all, they like us, survive even the harshest winters, which means that planning a new garden this year means having a beautiful garden for many years to come.
To learn more about the upcoming workshops and find registration information, go to www.mnwcd.org/events.