LEAP award-winners’ landscapes, gardens show ‘sustainable’ can still be ‘stunning’

Kids of all ages get involved in studying nature at St. Peter Catholic School’s butterfly garden in North St. Paul. The insect life the garden attracts -- especially the monarch butterfly caterpillars the students monitor through metamorphosis -- make it a multidimensional “classroom.” (submitted photos)

This shady, green retreat doesn’t look like your usual townhome complex. Lake Grove association members’ initiative changed out pavement -- that created a river of runoff -- to green plantings. Now they enjoy newfound quiet and privacy as well as new sights of birds and insects in the neighborhood.

Voilà -- the garden at L’etoile French Immersion School attracts bees, butterflies and birds -- even a wild turkey. The school’s plantings also serve fundamental purposes, stablilizing erosion on a hillside and stopping rain where it falls.

An appropriately-aged white picket fence helps contain exuberant native plants in Kathy Sidles’ garden in St. Paul. As well as pursuing native plantings, Sidles recently installed a rain garden to catch and filter runoff before it enters the stormwater system.

Emma Nichols
Special to Lillie Suburban Newspapers

Now that spring has finally sprung, property owners are more than ready to leap into gardening projects.

Some have gotten a jump on them by maintaining healthy landscapes year round, using sustainable approaches that save time, labor and money.

Several conscientious locals are the winners of 2012’s LEAP award, give through the Landscape Ecology Awards Program. This program recognizes private and public property owners in the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District who use sustainable landscape practices in their yards and properties.

Awards are given annually, based on the candidates’ work removing invasive plants, adding beneficial native species, decreasing storm water runoff and improving wildlife habitat.

The 2012 LEAP award winners included two schools, two private residences and a townhome association in the cities of North St. Paul, St. Paul, Woodbury and White Bear Lake. This year’s winners were The Church of St. Peter in North St. Paul, St. Paul’s L’Etoile du Nord (French Immersion School), the Lake Grove Homeowners Association in White Bear Lake, and the residences of Phyllis Hunter in Woodbury and Kathy Sidles in St. Paul.

Plant it, and the butterflies will come

The Church of St. Peter was chosen for the approximately 40 species of native plants in their butterfly garden, nearly all of which were grown from seed and are maintained by students at St. Peter Catholic School.

These students also conduct research frequently in the garden and present their findings at other schools in the area and at the University of Minnesota. Lead volunteer teacher Michele Anderson says the garden brings nature right to the students as they observe it up close. “They are citizen scientists,” she explains.

She also finds tending the garden tends to unite the youngsters. “Working together to keep a garden going is incredibly good for class spirit, because they have a mutual goal and project in mind.”

St. Paul’s L’Etoile du Nord, or French Immersion School, was chosen for its work in stabilizing an eroding hillside and installing a rain garden and butterfly garden. Over 90 percent of the restoration used native plants.

Science teacher Henriette Ngo-Bissoy expressed her excitement that the children are learning about watershed stewardship. She added monarch butterflies and a wild turkey are frequent visitors to the site.

Lake Grove Homeowners Association initiated the removal of a large amount of concrete and blacktop surfaces and planted various native trees and plants in their place. In addition, water-run off issues were addressed and an increased number of birds and butterflies now reside there. Townhome resident Donna Barnes said that residents now see many different types of birds regularly, as well as small animals. She also enjoys the aesthetic appearance and the privacy the landscape offers. “Residents enjoy the added foliage, which provides a welcome measure of privacy in a multi-unit housing setting,” she said.

Private residence owner Phyllis Hunter of Woodbury lives across the street from the Tamarack wetland, one of the most diverse wetlands in the Twin Cities. Her home was chosen for the rain garden she installed, which directs stormwater from her roof into a rain barrel, where it’s stored until she needs to water her gardens, or onto her lawn. These improvements helped protect the swamp and the ecosystems there.

Kathy Sidles’ home in St. Paul was chosen for her garden, which she has been maintaining for 20 years. Over the past 10 years, she has been adding native plants and she recently added a rain garden to catch and filter rain that runs away from her driveway. The attraction to birds, butterflies and humans was immediate. Sidles explains that the activity in her garden in constant. “Neighborhood children love playing in our yard and learning about plants,” she said. “There is always something happening!”

LEAP winners received a sign to be placed on their property, a plaque, and a gift certificate for native plants.

For more information about the LEAP awards, visit the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District website at www.rwmwd.org. For more photos of prize-winning properties, look for this story on lillienews.com.

How’d they do it?

These are general catagories the LEAP team uses when judging nominated properties:
• mowing with mulching to control weeds in lawns
• using fertilizer and pest management wisely
• planting to buffer and control rainwater runoff
• adding natural areas and gardens
• encouraging native plants while preventing invasive species from taking hold

Upcoming workshops

The Maplewood Nature Center will host a “Rain Garden Demo” Thursday, May 16 at 6:30 p.m. Participants will see a garden at Timber Park, 2133 Atlantic St., Maplewood and learn how to control aggressive plants that may be taking over a rain garden, divide them and identify substitute plants. Rain-garden “newbies” will get a look at an established garden so they can consider their future choices of plants. The workshop is free; attendees should dress for the weather. Call 651-249-2170 or email info@maplewoodnaturecenter.com to register.


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