The students came out in groups of five, planted a plant and arranged a few rocks. Their hands got dirty in the muddy soil while they received a quick lesson on the vegetation, and within 10 minutes they were off to wash up and return to class.

The students came out in groups of five, planted a plant and arranged a few rocks. Their hands got dirty in the muddy soil while they received a quick lesson on the vegetation, and within 10 minutes they were off to wash up and return to class.

Minutes later, the next group arrived to repeat the process. The Ashland Middle School rain garden was finally taking shape.

“Today, they are coming out in groups of five and each planting a plant so they can have a feeling of ownership when it all comes together,” said North Mountain Nature Center AmeriCorps Service Learning Intern Libby VanWyhe. “It’s great. They’re getting a lesson in native plants and they’re getting to plant one.”

“Thank you,” said North Mountain Nature Center Stewardship Coordinator, Linda Chesney as a group of students finished planting. “It’s starting to look like a garden.”

Chesney explained the students planted Pacific soft rushes and arranged rocks to protect them from possible erosion in the “stream channel,” which is fed by rainwater from the adjacent downspout. Chesney said the rushes like to have their “feet wet.”

At one point, the rain garden project was under scrutiny by the City of Ashland. Being a newer concept, there were no proper construction guidelines or codes. The major issue was in tying private water into the public water system.

In a Tidings article on July 24, City of Ashland Building Official Mike Broomfield explained how public water pertains to the storm drain system and how private water may eventually end up in the public system, all of which ends up in Bear Creek. Anything affecting this system may have implications further downstream.

After reviewing the situation, none of these issues affected the AMS site.

“We didn’t need to address any downspout issues, so there were never any regulatory issues,” Chesney said. “None of the downspouts connected to a storm drain. If they were, there would be an issue. We are right on schedule.”

Construction of the garden began on Nov. 3, when entire classes participated in preparing the site for the garden. It became a laborious affair, but the students received an education in the process.

“When we started, we had entire classes come out, move sod and push back ivy,” VanWyhe said. “It was all part of a lesson plan given by North Mountain Nature Center concerning water and wetlands.”
According to Chesney, the ivy was a real issue.

“English ivy is an invasive species, extremely competitive and destructive,” Chesney said. “The ivy bed was three feet high. The kids removed about five yards of it.”

After all was said and done, a new downspout was discovered, to the benefit of the garden. This one, like the other, was not tied to a storm drain. Chesney hopes to eventually remove the remaining ivy and expand the garden.

Vicki Simpson from the Jackson County Water and Soil Conservation District explained some of the finer points of rain garden construction.

“The plants are placed according to the amount of water they need,” said Simpson as she filled a bucket of gravel to be placed in the water channel. “Right now, they are planting camas bulbs in the bottom of the channel, because they can handle the most water.”

Chesney believes the garden, designed by landscape architect Laurie Sager, could become a model for future rain gardens in Ashland.

“It certainly could be a model. It is in a visible location,” she said, “and kids are great at educating their parents.”

At one point, two students emerged from the building to do their part — plant a camas bulb. The two offered their views as they made a mad dash back to class.

“I think it is a good way for kids to get into nature and stuff,” said sixth-grader Kyler Williams. “I think it will be really healthy for the school and good for the kids.”

Sixth grader Dino Cellini said, “it’s good, because you’ll have a place to clean out all the rain.”
Chesney said the project is expected to be functional today and it will be embellished eventually. She also hopes it will be expanded.

According to a City of Portland Environmental Services brochure, a rain garden is “a shallow depression that collects rainwater and is often planted with native species.” The AMS rain garden is part of the schools water education program.

F.B. Drake III is a freelance writer living in Ashland. He can be reached at drakerusty@gmail.com.