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“Water, water everywhere,” is a nice idea, but unfortunately there’s no such thing. As global climate change accelerates, it will become even more important to preserve and protect this scarce resource.
To replenish streams and other waterways, water has to percolate through soil and bedrock—not go gushing down storm drains and sewers. You can do your part to minimize runoff at home. Tom Brightman, Land Steward at Longwood Gardens, has these recommendations:
● Go with the flow. Assess the drainage pattern on your property. Look at where stormwater comes from and where it goes. Work with that, rather than trying to alter it.
● Slow things down. Plant trees and shrubs to decelerate rain before it hits the ground, giving it more time to infiltrate. You can also keep runoff velocity in check by using berms as catch areas to minimize water’s erosive force.
● Take up a collection. Rain barrels are a great way to manage stormwater. Most of them have spigots so you can fill a watering can or attach a hose. According to the EPA, a rain barrel will save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months, making it good for your budget as well as for the environment. You can even link several barrels together to store more water.
● Go native! Plant native species: once established, they are more suited to local rainfall patterns.
● Act natural. Certain herbicides and pesticides are toxic to aquatic life, and must be kept out of groundwater. Never overuse these chemicals. Pay attention to the weather forecast and avoid applying herbicides or pesticides before it rains. Always check the product label and follow the instructions.
● Keep it light. Minimize compaction of soils so stormwater can infiltrate properly. A lawn can be almost as impervious as concrete, due to its dense root system and the compaction from people and machinery; consider replacing some or all of a grass lawn with other plantings.
● Keep your distance. Farms and stables should ensure that excess nutrients from manure and discarded bedding cannot drain into a waterway. Keep those items at least fifty feet away from any water flow.
● Think ahead. If you’re building a new home or modifying your current one, use permeable paving for driveways. Drain water from the roof into a cistern rather than onto the pavement. And plant lots of trees!
● Soak it up. Consider creating a “rain garden,” a shallow depression planted with deep-rooted native plants and grasses positioned near a runoff source to capture rainwater and stop it from draining away.
For information about managing stormwater, visit http://dsf.chesco.org/water/lib/water/pdf/brochures/stormwater.pdf. To learn about rain barrels for home use, visit http://www.epa.gov/region3/p2/what-is-rainbarrel.pdf. For information about creating a rain garden, visit http://www.raingardennetwork.com/.
Longwood Gardens isn’t just a horticultural showplace. It’s also home to natural wetlands that serve as an essential part of the ecosystem.
Land Steward Tom Brightman, who is responsible for the health and care of 700 acres of natural and perimeter lands at Longwood, explains the term “wetland.” “It refers to areas that have a water table high enough, during enough of the year, to support vegetation suited to saturated soil conditions,” he says. “Swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas are considered wetlands. Ponds are different. They generally have standing water all the time, so fish can live there. We typically don’t want fish in wetlands because they eat young amphibians.”
Longwood’s property contains at least ten distinct wetland areas, which drain into four different watersheds. “Given that we’re in such a high topographic landscape position, what we do and how we protect the environment affects what happens downstream,” Brightman says. “We want the water to leave in good condition. Healthy wetlands accept stormwater, then process and clean it. To help this process, we plant native species and remove invasive species, buffer those areas from excessive nutrients and sediment, and provide adequate shading to keep temperatures cooler and provide habitat for birds, reptiles, and amphibians.”
A water control mechanism was installed to maintain optimum levels in the large, constructed wetland opposite the business entrance. “We manage the water level there primarily for waterfowl and wading birds,” says Brightman. “Typically in spring and early summer we expose mudflats for migrating shorebirds, then in late fall and early winter we raise it for overwintering birds. In December and January we can have upwards of five thousand ducks and geese.” Although that area is not open to the public, some “Birds of Longwood” tours visit there.
Appropriate vegetation keeps the wetlands robust. Some plants of particular note at Longwood are Beggar ticks (Bidens sp.), Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium sp.), monkey-flower (Mimulus ringens), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), black willow (Salix nigra) trees, pin oaks (Quercus palustris), winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), and sedges.
Wetlands and streams at Longwood Gardens will be expanded and enhanced when Route 52 is moved. This is good news for the many animals that live here year-round, or stop by during their annual migration.
“If you have diverse native bird, mammal, amphibian, and reptile life, the system is functioning well,” Brightman says. “It means you have the right environment for the insects and plants that support them.”
If Brightman’s recent experience is any indication, conditions of the wetland habitat at Longwood are first-rate. “We just lowered the water the other day to expose some mudflats,” he says. “I saw five blue herons in one spot, egrets, a green heron, and other wading birds.”
Visit http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/ for more information about wetlands. For specifics about “Birds of Longwood” tours, visit http://www.longwoodgardens.org/BirdsofLongwoodTour.html
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Enjoy family-fun activities, an outdoor concert, and behind-the-scenes experiences.
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Get ready for an evening of oohs and ahhs, as Longwood presents spectacular Fireworks & Fountains shows guaranteed to make your summer memorable.
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Registration is now open for our 2013 Continuing Education courses!
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