Planting Pollinators and Saving Stormwater: Gardening and Greening Projects This Year

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By Jennifer Kunze

At the Amazing Port Street Commons, we’re just entering the fall growing season, when some plants are finishing their maturation process and others are just beginning.  The pumpkins are turning orange, the corn is turning brown, and new beds of winter crops like kale, radishes, beets, and snow peas are just beginning to peek above the ground.

As we look toward the winter, it’s not too soon to think about next spring – especially because of some exciting projects now being planned.  Residents, churches, and partners in the McElderry Park have been collaborating on ways to improve the environment in McElderry Park, particularly our land and water use, gardening and planting, and the sustainability and health of the neighborhood.  As a part of that campaign, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has awarded these partners a grant to implement greening projects that will foster greater environmental awareness and a stewardship ethic within our community.  Project locations include Amazing Grace Lutheran Church, Prince of Peace Baptist church, and – with your participation – potentially even your own home.  The project’s two partners, Blue Water Baltimore and the National Wildlife Federation, will focus on two related goals: increasing native wildlife habitat and decreasing polluted runoff.

Rainwater Conservation

The city of Baltimore, including McElderry Park, was built on marshes, grassland, rivers, and forests.  Harris Creek once ran through McElderry Park, connecting Clifton Park with the Canton waterfront and providing both habitat for wildlife and resources for Baltimore’s residents.  Gradually put into pipes under our streets in the early 1900s, the watershed is now entirely underground – the storm drains and stormwater pipes leading to the Canton outfall are all that is left.  When rain falls in McElderry Park, it flows into those storm drains and directly to the Inner Harbor at the outfall in Canton, carrying trash, oil, and other pollution with it.  Excessive rainfall can put a lot of stress on the system, contributing to flooding, infrastructure damage, and even sewer overflows.  Fortunately, there are ways of collecting and storing rainwater where it falls, allowing us to use it in McElderry Park and preventing the issues that run-off creates.  Blue Water Baltimore is a local organization with a mission “to restore the quality of Baltimore’s rivers, streams and harbor to foster a healthy environment, a strong economy, and thriving communities.”  Blue Water Baltimore will work with local residents at partner locations to install a wide range of stormwater mitigation practices to improve the neighborhood, including:

  • replacing 1200 square feet of road and 400 square feet of sidewalk in the Amazing Port Street Commons (600 North Port Street) with pervious pavement, designed to allow rainwater to soak through it into the ground.
  • installing 300-gallon cisterns to capture the rainwater that falls on the roof of Amazing Grace Lutheran Church before it enters the storm drain, allowing gardeners to water plants in the Amazing Port Street Commons during dry spells.
  • building a 1200-square-foot bioretention system at Prince of Peast Baptist Church, intercepting rainwater that falls on its parking lot in a rain garden designed to allow it to soak slowly into the ground.
  • installing a combined 300-gallon cistern and 110-square-foot rain garden to capture stormwater from adjacent rowhomes at the intersection of Jefferson Street and Port Street.

Native Wildlife Habitat

The marshes, grassland, rivers, and forests that once covered Baltimore historically supported native wildlife, including orioles, sparrows, and millions of other migrating birds flying north and south along the Atlantic coast.  With the growth of the city, those habitats were replaced with concrete, and those animals were pushed farther and farther away from their previous homes.  It is possible, however, to support beneficial local wildlife within the city, beautifying the neighborhood and increasing the diversity of life in our neighborhood.  Plantings of certain native flowers and shrubs can provide the four factors native wildlife, like butterflies and birds, needs to thrive: food, water, cover, and places to raise young. By creating both large habitats in the neighborhood’s green spaces and community gardens, and small habitats in your own backyard, we can beautify the neighborhood and make it more healthy for people, plants, and animals alike.  The National Wildlife Federation, a national organization that works “to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future,” will work with partner locations and individual residents to implement projects that will become part of a network of oases for urban and suburban wildlife spanning Baltimore City, including:

  • designing and planting a 200-square-foot pollinator garden in the Amazing Port Street Commons.
  • planting 16 native trees on the grounds of Prince of Peace Baptist Church.
  • planting additional street trees near project sites, by the Baltimore Tree Trust (which has planted 251 street trees in McElderry Park in the past two years).
  • supporting up to 20 homes in McElderry Park in completing native habitat plantings and becoming certified as Community Wildlife Habitats.  Participants will receive education about urban wildlife and stormwater issues, consultations on design of their garden spaces, and $400 vouchers to Herring Run Nursery to support their planting projects.

This program is an exciting opportunity to beautify our neighborhood, make it more sustainable, and educate our children about the natural environment; to make it successful, we need your help!  If you have any questions or comments about this program – especially if you are interested in making your property a Community Wildlife Habitat or becoming a part of the planning team for the projects centered at Amazing Grace and the Amazing Port Street Commons – please contact Jennifer Kunze at the Center for Grace-full Living at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church at 410-563-9743 or amazinggracebaltimore@gmail.com.  Together, we can seize this opportunity to make McElderry Park a cleaner, greener, and healthier place.

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