Vernon Park rain garden debuts on community clean-up day

The autumn chill didn’t stop nearly 80 volunteers and organizers from planting trees and raking leaves at Vernon Park on Saturday. Love Your Park Day was organized by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, Philadelphia Horticulture Society and the Fairmount Park Conservancy. More than 50 green spaces were spruced up simultaneously by residents for the fall season.

In Germantown, the long awaited rain garden was presented, and Mayor Michael Nutter stopped by for a visit. In a sea of rolling wheelbarrows, leaves getting raked, arts and crafts and tree plantings, a salt-and-pepper-haired woman crouched down in a sea of mulch and planted a geranium.

Ruth Seeley, a member of the Friends of Vernon Park community group that hosts weekly clean-ups and prunes bushes and plants flowers, had been working on the rain garden for months along with a coalition of other local groups like the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership Inc and Chew & Belfield Neighbors Club.

“We had a lot of digging out to do here,” she said. “It’s very rocky under there.”

Spiderwood, Bee Balm, Irises, dogwood trees and sedges — the latter is a type of water-loving grass — were strategically planted in the rain garden as native plants with deep root systems. The garden was created to reduce water runoff from the Center in Park building roof and will compensate for the first inch of rain each time it storms.

Seeley said the rain garden is more than just a pretty addition to the park; the rain water is naturally purified when it seeps into the ground rather than going through Philadelphia’s stormwater system.

“It isn’t just that you don’t want it running straight into the drain. It’s that you really want quality drinking water for the future,” she said. “The more kids learn about that, the more that they will want to take that on.”

Nutter spoke to the crowd about the city’s sustainability efforts.

“This year we’re trying to plant 2,000 to 3,000 more trees and create 500 acres of open space,” Nutter said. On composting efforts, he noted, “We are raking leaves, not just to throw them in the street where they are going to clog up our inlets. We rake them, then we mulch them … and we give away mulch for free.”

Longtime Germantown resident William Jackson said he was moved to volunteer after watching the garden preparations earlier in the week. “They did a beautiful job,” he said, admiring the rain-garden flowers.

Still, Jackson said Vernon Park has some issues with young kids “making trouble” at the playground. He would like to see police patrols and more trash cans installed in the park.

The Friends of Vernon Park say they will continue maintenance of the rain garden throughout the season and expect to watch the garden in action the next time a rainstorm rolls around.

Dan Anderson, the energy coordinator for Center in the Park, said the Vernon Park rain garden marks the beginning of what will be ongoing efforts there. His organization will hold a number of workshops to help residents conserve energy including a teach-in about rain barrels.

“We need to make this a part of our culture,” he said, “and implement these ideas of being eco-friendly into everyday practices.”

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