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Public invited to rain garden workshop at Towson Unitarian

The new plantings will also include a "bayscape" garden of native plants near the church entrance.

Towson Unitarian Universalist Church has won a grant to produce a rain garden on a slope on its property. As part of the grant, the public is invited to a workshop to learn how to plan gardens that capture rainwater before it races into local waterways —and then help to plant the church's new rain garden.

"The workshop is about educating people and getting them involved in the process," said Jack Leonard, a landscape designer based in Hereford, who has designed the church's rain garden. He is involved in the planting of 10 more area rain gardens this spring, he said.

"Everybody will get information to design their own plantings," Leonard said. "In the end, everybody can walk away proud of what they accomplished."

The new plantings will also include a "bayscape" garden of native plants near the church entrance, as well as the 230-square-foot rain garden farther down the property's slope.

The rain garden is designed to handle up to an inch or so of rain — enough to keep most pollutants from going into the Chesapeake Bay watershed, he said. With the combination of earth berms, river rocks and plantings, the water should soak into the ground rather than run down the hill into the stream.

Plants native to the Chesapeake Bay watershed will be used exclusively. Flowering dogwood, inkberry holly, bee balm and goldenrod support local insects and birds, including butterflies and songbirds, Leonard said. Turtlehead, which sprouts flowers that resemble the head of a turtle, will be planted because it is a host plant for the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly.

Many gardens are filled with non-native plants that can't sustain the local butterflies and other creatures.

"You're not giving them anything to eat," Leonard said. "It's like having a restaurant without anything to eat."

Leonard noted that every property, residential or commercial, has a roof or paved space where runoff can occur. Each time a family plants a rain garden, runoff and pollution into the Chesapeake Bay watershed is reduced. Encouraging home gardeners to make rain gardens is a part of a larger effort, he said.

"We're going to fix it by getting people to understand the problem," he said. "Let's fix the problem piece by piece."

The church has seven acres in the Loch Raven Reservoir watershed, according to Janet Schollenberger, a member of the church's Green Sanctuary Committee who wrote the grant proposal.

Most of the property is heavily wooded with an unnamed stream at the edge of a picnic area. After a recent assessment by the Department of Natural Resources, invasive trees and vines, including Tree of Heaven, honeysuckle and poison ivy, were removed. This fall, Schollenberger said, they'll replace the invasive plants with native ones.

The Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, which provided educational support for the upcoming workshop, will lead the planting of new trees along with the Interfaith Chesapeake Trees for Sacred Places program, Schollenberger said.

"That's all to protect the stream," she said.

The project is right in line with work already going on among members of the Towson Unitarian Universalist Church.

Stewardship of the environment is one of the seven principles that guide members of the Unitarian Universalist Church, according to the Rev. Clare Petersberger.

It is listed on a banner hanging at the church door: "Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."

The congregation was certified as a "Green Sanctuary" in 2006. They've held worship services celebrating Earth Day. incorporated programs on the environment in religious education for both youthand adults, taught a course on "ethical eating" and had an energy audit of the church building, according to Petersberger.

Environmental consciousness is important for the planet, she said. "It's not whether the earth will survive but whether humans will survive," she said.

"Together we can help with things like this, with rain gardens," Petersburger said.

All are welcome to participate in the rain garden workshop to be held at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, 1710 Dulaney Valley Road, Saturday, April 18, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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