U of I students imagine a natural campus landscape

December 20th, 2017 by

My name is Kate Gardiner and I recently joined the Illinois Water Resources Center (IWRC) as a part-time communications coordinator. Prior to starting at IWRC, I interned at the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment and earned my B.S. from the University of Illinois in environmental sustainability.

Since sustainability can be so widely applied, the University of Illinois now incorporates lessons in sustainability into a multitude of courses in different fields spanning from business to architecture. Recently, I had the opportunity to join Eliana Brown, outreach specialist and rain garden expert with IWRC, to visit a landscape architecture class and provide feedback for the students’ final design review.

One of the key objectives of Landscape Architecture (LA) 452, led by Katherine Kraszewska, is to teach students to identify and incorporate native plant species when envisioning a new landscape. This is a win-win, as the native plants attract pollinators and, when used in rain gardens, can improve downstream water quality.

For their designs, students were instructed to increase connectivity between pollinator pockets and consider stormwater management. Pollinator pockets are spaces with native plants, serving as an oasis for butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators traveling through the area. Pollinator pockets  are scattered throughout the U of I campus, including the Facilities & Services’ low mow zones and the Master Gardener Idea Garden.

We spoke with several students about their designs, here are some of our favorites!

Landscape architecture senior Layne Knoche designed a sunken courtyard by the Allen Hall dormitory. His plan included a small grass lawn, native plantings that attract pollinators, and a patio for students to sit and enjoy nature. He chose his plantings based on seasonality, moisture tolerance, plant heights, and what pollinators they attract so that the garden could be beautiful all year round as well as attract different species.

Maria Esker, also a landscape architecture senior, designed an interactive campus rain garden. It included a path through the garden, large boulders along the path for sitting, and a wide range of native plantings for people to enjoy year round. Her rain garden would catch excess runoff from the adjacent parking lot and be a relief for pollinators traveling through campus.

Eliana shared with the students that they did a great job integrating concepts they learned in the rainscaping course into their final designs. This wasn’t the first time she visited the class—Eliana previously shared her expertise in a stormwater rainscaping guest lecture (along with Extension Educator Jason Haupt).

These bright students all had innovative and sustainably-inspired designs, greatly due to the teachings and encouragement from their professor as well as their own creativity. While reviewing their designs, we learned that many of the students in the class are graduating this year. As they move on from the university and start their careers, I wish them luck and hope they take what they’ve learned in LA 452 with them and apply it to their future designs.

Top photo, left to right: Terri Hallesy, Maria Esker, Eliana Brown, Katrina Widholm 

Bottom photo, left to right: Katherine Kraszewska, Eliana Brown, Terri Hallesy, Katrina Widholm, and Kate Gardiner 

New video series helps gardeners get started

March 16th, 2017 by

Follow Illinois Water Resources Specialist Katie Hollenbeck as she shares easy tips for creating pollinator-friendly gardens and landscapes. Over the course of this seven-part series, she talks about everything from when to plant to how to create beautiful gardens with native plants.

“We really hope to connect with people interested in creating gardens with many purposes, like protecting water and soil quality, supporting pollinators and other wildlife, and planting plants native to this region,” Hollenbeck said.

“There are number of different kinds of plants that attract pollinators. People can really have fun designing a garden with lots of beautiful options.”

Be sure to check out all seven of the videos now available online!

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.

U of I students get creative with green infrastructure

November 20th, 2014 by

Eliana Brown recently joined the Illinois Water Resources Center as an outreach specialist. Prior to starting at IWRC, she worked at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Facilities & Services as the MS4 coordinator and at Illinois EPA as a field engineer. Eliana has a M.S. in environmental engineering and a B.S. in general engineering and marketing from the University of Illinois.

The following is a contributing post from Eliana, who has a passion for rain gardens and green infrastructure:
When you were a university student, did you ever reimagine your campus landscape? Students at the University of Illinois did exactly that as an assignment for Landscape Architecture (LA) 452, Native Plants and Design.
The U of I campus has 84 miles of storm sewer, most of which drain rainwater directly to Boneyard Creek. The LA 452 students designed landscapes with elements that capture water and allow it to soak in on-site to reduce loads to the existing storm sewer and creek. These elements (called green infrastructure) include rain gardens, swales, and green roofs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sees green infrastructure as a way to create sustainable, resilient communities that improve water quality.
EPA has a competition called the Campus RainWorks Challenge that invites “student teams to design an innovative green infrastructure project for their campus showing how managing stormwater at its source can benefit the campus community and the environment.”
According to Jason Berner, EPA environmental protection specialist, who has been involved with administering the competition, it is a great way for students to see how green infrastructure is related to the larger campus master plan. “It moves us beyond single pilot projects, but at the same time, blends both small and large scale thinking,” he explained.
LA 452 instructor Tawab Hlimi is leading the U of I Campus RainWorks entry. Students in his class helped brainstorm ideas for the entry. One of those ideas is pictured. Student Jiwon

Kim reimagined the grounds at the National Soybean Research Building (which happens to house Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Illinois Water Resources Center). Native plant rain gardens intercept stormwater from the building roof and parking lot. During large storms, the design takes advantage of existing storm sewers by overflowing excess water to them.

Like many cities and universities, the U of I began installing storm sewers more than 100 years ago. Storm sewers benefit cities by draining flooded areas. However, they can overload receiving streams and cause unintended damage. Adding green infrastructure elements to the existing infrastructure helps ensure a healthier ecosystem on-site and downstream.
Per Hlimi, “Through a campus wide application of rain gardens, students hybridized native plantings with a superficial stormwater management strategy to meet multiple objectives: accommodating the ‘first flush’ of frequent storm events through detention, infiltration, and biofiltration, reducing the load on existing subsurface infrastructure, improving the water quality entering into the Boneyard Creek, creating habitat for pollinators, and rendering the campus landscape as living laboratory.”
Perhaps one day in the not too distant future, students won’t have to imagine green infrastructure on campus. They’ll see it.
Learn how you can put in a rain garden on your property by checking out the Southern Lake Michigan Rain Garden Manual.

Jens Jensen Park water garden goes native

August 27th, 2013 by
Visitors to Jens Jensen Park in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park will notice a change to the landscape this year. The Fountain of the Blue Heron, nestled between the park’s grassy land and thick forestry, has been transformed into a water garden. But this is no ordinary water garden. Like much of the park surrounding it, this garden was built with plants that are native to northeastern Illinois. 
The fountain was redesigned by the Park District of Highland Park and the Chicago Botanic Garden, with funding assistance from Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, to give park visitors a closer look at how native aquatic plants like lizard’s tail, water willow, and sweet flag can be used to create beautiful, healthy water gardens. 
“Native plantings have gotten a bit of a bad rap,” said Bob Kirschner, director of restoration ecology at the Chicago Botanic Garden. “They are often seen as weedy and unorganized. We wanted to demonstrate how you can use native aquatic plants to achieve the ornamental look many people desire.” 

Using native aquatic plants like those in Jens Jensen Park is about more than just creating striking water gardens, though. Growing native species also helps curb the spread of invasive aquatic plants that outcompete native species and upset food webs. Invasive species common in water gardens are already threatening the health of Illinois waterways. For example, the fast-growing Brazilian Elodea—typically sold in aquarium stores and water nurseries under the name “Anacharis”—has been found in several lakes and ponds in Illinois, including in a community not far from Highland Park. Like many invasive plants, this waterweed grows in dense mats that block out sunlight needed by other species and hinders water recreation. And it is nearly impossible to remove once it has been introduced. 

“Once an invasive species has become established, the negative impacts on the environment cannot be fully reversed,” said Greg Hitzroth, an IISG aquatic invasive species outreach specialist. “By growing non-invasive species, gardeners can help prevent a new population of harmful species from taking root in local environments.” 
The over one dozen species of aquatic plants at home in Jens Jensen Park will also provide food for birds, insects, and other wildlife. Native plants are especially important for pollinators like bees and butterflies that keep northeastern Illinois’ natural areas flowering. 
Visit IISG’s Aquatic Plants in Trade website to learn more about aquatic invasive plants and read this water gardening brochure to learn how you can help curb the spread.  
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