Author Archives: Rishya N.

About Rishya N.

A Boston bird-nerd & ocean enthusiast dedicated to climate action. Mass Audubon's Climate Change Communications Manager.

When it Rains, it Pours – This Type of Garden Helps

A residential rain garden in Leominster, MA – EPA.

A rain garden is a collection of plants, often native grasses, shrubs, or flowers. Sounds just like a normal garden, right? Except rain gardens do something a little extra by helping absorb storm water, therefore lessening the damage of flooding. As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of extreme storm events, flooding is a real consequence we must learn to adapt to.

Let’s take a look at how this works.

Dealing with Impervious Surfaces

Roads, roofs, and sidewalks (among other artificial structures we build) are made up of materials called “impervious surfaces” due to the fact that they are water resistant. That means when water hits these materials, it’ll sit on top and pool instead of soaking into the ground.

Impervious surfaces create a tricky situation during any sort of storm event with precipitation, because it exacerbates flooding as water continues to collect with nowhere to go.

Enter Rain Gardens

Rain gardens are built in depressed areas of the ground and comprise of deep-rooted flora that enjoy extra water. When storm water builds up and overflows from impervious surfaces, these rain gardens can catch it before it floods important infrastructure. With help from the right types of soil, the garden slowly sinks the water into the ground. So instead of allowing storm water to build up and flood our houses, apartments, neighborhoods, and towns, rain gardens redirect storm water into the earth.

Added Benefits

Rain gardens are typically made of native plants, which is great for pollinators already facing threats from climate change, pollution, and other environmental issues. Not to mention the plants, soil, and mulch that make up rain gardens help filter out pollutants in storm water, preventing nutrient runoff that results in consequences like algal blooms.

Where to Start

If you want to see a real example of a rain garden, visit Mass Audubon Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester. The Barbara Elliot Fargo Education Center is surrounded by rain gardens to absorb storm water runoff from their parking lot.

Before planting your own rain garden in your home or in your community, see if one is appropriate for your space. Then, check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of resources on how to get started, with specific resources for Massachusetts as well!

Don’t have the time or space to plant a rain garden?  Reducing the amount of impervious surface or lawn cover at your home or in your community is another way to manage storm water. Consider native plants that are particularly thirsty to fill these spaces instead.

Climate Action through Salt Marsh Restoration

 DNRT’s and Mass Audubon’s TerraCorps members, staff, and volunteers hard at work.

When we look to nature, we can find many ways to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Restoring nature so it can perform these services is, in part, how Mass Audubon acts on climate. Wetland restoration work being done on the South Coast is a prime example.  

On February 15, Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust (DNRT) and Mass Audubon’s TerraCorps members, staff, and volunteers spent the day achieving this goal by removing invasive plant species on DNRT’s Ocean View Farm Reserve (neighboring Mass Audubon’s Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary). This effort is under the recently awarded Southeast New England Program (SNEP) Watershed Grant. SNEP Watershed Grants are funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through a collaboration with Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE). 

The Big Deal about Invasive Species 

Invasive species are known for their ability to easily spread past their native habitats — either by accident, opportunity, or purposeful introduction — and establish themselves into new habitats. Upon their arrival, these species tend to out-compete native flora or fauna for resources. This can cascade into a variety of consequences such as already vulnerable wildlife losing critical food sources or homes. 

Why Wetlands? 

Wetlands are our first line of defense when it comes to withstanding climate impacts like flooding, which we are now seeing more of due to sea level rise and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events. Not to mention, healthy wetlands (like a salt marsh) store more carbon per unit area than some of Massachusetts’ forests, helping us mitigate climate change at the same time. 

But wetlands also need to be able to adapt to climate change’s impacts. As tides creep further up our shores, flood and salt intolerant wildlife move upland as a response. An abundance of invasive species inhibits how well native plants (and their accompanying animals) can migrate landward. 

Staff and Volunteers at Work 

Following COVID-19 public health guidelines and armed with loppers, handsaws, and chainsaws, staff and volunteers worked together to remove invasive species such as Autumn Olive, Multiflora Rose, and Bush Honeysuckle.   

The invasive brush must be cut from the ground to enhance Ocean View Farm Reserve’s ability to act as a wetland buffer, or an area with plants that helps protect the wetland and all its climate services. Volunteers stacked the cut brush on tarps and pulled the brush over 100 yards to a suitable area for disposal.   

The job doesn’t end with invasive species removal, however. Staff and volunteers then began planting native grasses and flowers that are both salt and flood tolerant. As sea levels rise, these actions will help facilitate wildlife and habitat movement landward as a response.  

The Bigger Picture 

The work is tedious and grueling, and relies on the dedication of staff and volunteers to restoring nature and protecting our world from climate change. Invasive species removal is just one component of the grant, which funds a variety of other science and restoration activities at Mass Audubon Great Neck and Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuaries.

All these initiatives are designed to better understand how sea level rise impacts our coastal wetlands, how to protect these habitats from climate change (and therefore the wildlife and human communities surrounding them), and how to model broader climate resilience efforts in the region. 

Thank you to our partners DNRT and TerraCorps for their collaboration on this project, Home Depot for donating tarps for our staff and volunteers to use during removals, and all the Mass Audubon and DNRT volunteers who lent their time and efforts to the project.