IUPUC rain garden installation is a statewide collaboration and learning experience

September 28, 2015

Growing plants for food or decoration can happen anywhere, even in the confined spaces of a city.

Leading these efforts in Columbus, Ind. are IUPUC biology faculty members, Luke Jacobus and Barbara Hass Jacobus. As hosts of a two-day rainscaping education program, in conjunction with the Purdue Sustainable Communities Program, they look to grow rainscaping spaces in residential and small-scale public areas and to educate master gardeners, landscape professionals, and the community on rain garden planning, installation, and maintenance.

“Rain gardens are sustainable investments in our increasingly urbanized environment. They are win-win for humans and the environment,” said Dr. Luke Jacobus. “Rain gardens are low maintenance compared to most other kinds of landscaping, and they improve the natural services that our yard and lawn ecosystems provide, including better handling and filtering of the water that flows off nearby parking areas and sidewalks. Our garden is less than a week old, and it already is helping pollinator species, by giving butterflies a place to rest and take a drink of clean water.”

The project at IUPUC took root this past spring when senior Autumn Fox, a biology major from Jackson County, completed her funded research project Self-Sustainable Gardening. The focus of her research was the establishment of long-term ecology education and student research plots in neglected spaces on campus. Fox proposed the use of a research plot located in a parking lot on the northeast side of campus. Plants native to Indiana were selected based on their biological attributes allowing them to withstand the harsh conditions of the parking lot microclimate.

Growing up in the community of Seymour, Fox was surrounded by fields of hay and vegetable gardens. It was a love of the land that instilled in her an appreciation for gardening and nurtured the idea of an urban garden on the Columbus campus. "You choose native plants that have salt and heat tolerance, and can thrive in a variety of soils," Fox said. "Gardens can be placed in just about any urban setting, including street-side or in parking lots."

Last week, the proposed parking lot garden was brought to life in a two-day pilot workshop on the IUPUC campus. This collaborative effort of faculty, staff, students, educators, and landscape professionals brought together 20 individuals from across Indiana to install the 50 square-foot rain garden. Five varieties of plants make-up the garden - Big Bluestem, Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), New England Aster, Lance-leaved Coreopsis, and Compass Plant. The educational program included sessions with flipped classroom instruction through online learning modules, experiential training activities, field techniques, field trips to view rainscaping projects and culminated with the installation of the IUPUC rain garden.

The next phase of the project will partner IUPUC with the Bartholomew County Soil & Water Conservation District to install a rain barrel and collection system near the garden. Additional community partnerships will ensure the garden makes it through the early establishment phase over the next couple of years.