By Lee Ann Landstrom, Board Member

Rain and pollinator gardens in three Bloomington schools are in place this summer, thanks to contributors to the Minnesota Valley Audubon Chapter’s grants program.

Normandale Hills Elementary School

MRVAC – with Nine Mile Creek Watershed District’s help and expertise — co-sponsored a rain and pollinator garden at Normandale Hills Elementary School. The project’s goals were to reduce mowed turf areas on school grounds; increase pollinator and bird habitat; create a teaching garden for students to learn about phenology, plants, pollinators, birds and other natural processes; and contribute a community site to help neighbors learning about conservation.  It was planted May 21.

They transformed a grassy low spot into a beautiful raingarden with all plants pollinator favorites attractive to different bird species.  More than 100 parents and student volunteers prepared the shallow basin by removing sod and adding compost, mulch and a fence.  Fifth graders then helped plant more than 400 native flowers and shrubs. As a bonus, students made stepping stones in art class to create a path through the garden. Teachers plan to use the project as part of their lessons, giving students a real-world application for their studies.

The project wasn’t without challenges.  Sod mitigation was tough when covering it with tarps didn’t work, so they rented a sod cutter to remove some of it.  Another challenge was the fire drill in the middle of teaching nearly 70 students how to plant a root-bound plant plug.  Some of the plants did not get correctly planted as a result and will have to be replaced next year.

The fifth graders now have a better understanding of watersheds, raingardens and their function and native plants.   They deemed flower-planting fun, and there’s a system set up to water them over the summer.  The watershed district will install an interpretive sign – citing MRVAC as a donor – in the garden to teach passersby about its purpose.  It will continue to work with the school to replace plants as needed and create lesson plans that include the raingarden.

Jefferson High School

I assisted in planting the large pollinator “Unity” garden at Bloomington’s Jefferson High School June 4. This is a project of the Earth Corps club at the school. Earlier, volunteers cut and turned over the sod to kill the grass. The Tree Guys and Joel Sniegowski donated mulch and delivered it to be spread on the overturned sod. So the site was ready for 541 neonicotinoid-free native plants, planted by volunteer students, National Honor Society students, Jefferson teachers, Rotarians, Isaac Walton League members, Oak Grove Church parishioners and school neighbors.  Teachers and neighbors created a plan to water the site twice daily to combat the long, hot, dry spell.

Funding came from: MRVAC ($1,500), Lower MN Watershed District, Bloomington Rotary, Will Steger’s Climate Generation, World Citizen Scholarship and several individuals. The club is working with teachers in different areas, including science, art, English and special education. Several student clubs will do follow-up maintenance. Here is a link for a winter presentation about the project:

Photos by Lee Ann Landstrom and Nine Mile Creek Watershed District