Showing posts with label raingardens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label raingardens. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Princeton's Fuel Tank Raingarden Threatened By Lack of Early Intervention

A couple years ago, the town planted this raingarden next to the fuel tank on Witherspoon Street. They put in some pretty cultivars of showy native species like black-eyed susan, purple coneflower, and St. Johnswort, then mulched it all carefully. Everything looked under control, as gardens do when they are first planted.

Even this summer, with flowers blazing, it looks like a success. 

But I can see that the seeds of its ultimate demise have already sprouted. This botanical drama has played out many times before--raingardens that failed for lack of strategic intervention when aggressive weeds started to move in.

Most deadly is the mugwort that has become established and is quickly spreading. That one invasive species alone could obliterate the intended plants in a few years.

Nutsedge, too, spreads rapidly.

Along with foxtail grass, 

and barnyard grass, the nutsedge is obscuring a nice stand of soft rush the town planted two years ago. 

More easily dealt with are the ragweed--a native weed with allergenic green flowers--
a flamboyant patch of crabgrass, 
and what looks like a patch of black medic. The mulch laid down two years ago surely helped, but its capacity to stifle weed growth clearly didn't last.

And what's this vine, crawling out over the other plants? Ivyleaf morning glory is a new one for me. 

Back in late April, when this photo showed the mugwort looking tamable, pullable, sprayable, I alerted the town that early detection and rapid response is what's needed to keep the weeds from taking over. The response was that a public works crew weeds the garden once or twice per year. That's not how a raingarden works. I know from long experience. Catch the aggressive weeds early, and the raingarden will ultimately become very easy to maintain. 

Vikki Caines, a longtime member of the Recreation Department who recently retired, kept beautiful gardens growing in areas near the community pool. But that was a labor of love, done in her spare time. It's love, of a parental variety, that leads one to acquire plant knowledge in the first place, and then to grow a garden and anticipate its needs, and check for weeds, much more than once or twice per year. 

How can your typical institution--where staff lack plant knowledge, motivation, and the flexibility in routine needed to catch problems early--successfully tend to a botanically complex raingarden planting? For the past 30 years, I've watched as many native raingardens and meadows planted by towns or universities have incrementally failed for lack of early and ongoing intervention by a knowledgeable caretaker. Maintenance requires more knowledge than installation, because the caretaker must know not only the intended plants but also the many species of weeds that inevitably try to move in. Yet we see over and over that money is invested in design and installation, while maintenance is deprived of funding and respect. We have doctors and nurses to care for people, but precious few plant doctors to care for landscapes. 

A bit of good news: Last year, I wrote a google review of the Betsey Stockton Garden planted on top of the Princeton University's Firestone Library, pointing out that white clover and other weeds were invading the flower beds. Whether the review had an impact, I can't say, but the university is taking better care of the meadow planting this year.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2023

PHS Ecolab Wetland Update -- Early June

The Princeton High School Ecolab wetland continues to bounce back nicely from its surprise defoliation last fall. 

If you pass by, you'll see the cattails that we're hoping to keep contained in one corner. The cloud of gray-green beyond is an annual grass planted by contractors as a cover crop, dotted with the deeper green of all the pre-existing native plants now re-emerging from their roots.
The ponds have water, despite the extended drought--sign that the sump pumps are now functioning again, delivering water from the school's basement up into the wetland. 

If you look a little closer, you may see some native blue-flag irises still blooming, happy as clams in this wet world.
On drier ground, the common milkweed is about to bloom.
Bindweed, in the morning glory family, is advertising its location. It's a non-native vine that is too aggressive. While I went around pulling it out (if we could use herbicide, we could kill its roots and be freed of an ongoing task), I checked to see what other plants are rebounding. 
Joe Pye Weed is back, as is fringed sedge.
Good to see boneset and Hibiscus popping up. They don't look like much now, but a (wild) gardener can see the promise in these little nubbins.
It can be a challenge to distinguish a blackhaw viburnum sprout from
silky dogwood. Both of these, along with elderberries, will grow back from their roots to become big shrubs. Since trees become oversized for the site, these shrubs will have to do as places for birds to land and hide. Large shrubs will also help curb the expansionist tendencies of cattails. 

We'll see how the lack of shade, now that trees have been removed, will affect the balance of the various species. Some plants like cattails and lizard's tail may spread more aggressively now that they are in full sun. But overall, the rebound is looking good.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Documenting the PHS Ecolab's Recovery From Last Year's Trauma

Passerby on Walnut Street may have noticed that the Princeton High School Ecolab wetland was completely stripped of vegetation by an outside contractor this past November. After the shock of having so many native shrubs and wildflowers suddenly gone, it took us awhile to realize that the roots of the native plants might still be alive beneath the bare dirt. Having lobbied successfully to have stewardship of the Ecolab returned to the teachers, students, and volunteers who had cared for it free of charge for fifteen years, we are watching for signs of its rebirth. 

Most obvious is the annual grass planted by the contractor for erosion control. But I took a closer look and found gratifying evidence that the wetland will rebound. Click on "Read more" below to see a photo inventory of 40 native species (and a few very manageable weeds) that have popped up thus far, ready to refoliate this wonderful teaching resource for the school's environmental science program.

The Life, Death, and Rebirth of the PHS Ecolab Wetland

On Nov. 6 this past fall, I was returning from a California tour with a latin/jazz band, feeling celebratory. The tour had gone well, but then I received word that something in Princeton had happened that would spoil the return. This is what I found the next morning. The Princeton High School Ecolab wetland had been stripped of vegetation. 

For the past fifteen years, since being converted from turfgrass to native habitat, the wetland has looked like this, packed with more than 30 species of native wildflowers, sedges, rushes, and shrubs like silky dogwood, elderberry, buttonbush, and swamp rose. Though packed with native vegetation, the Ecolab has continued to perform its function of collecting runoff from surrounding roofs and then releasing that water into the town's system of storm drains. Long ago, I learned from experience that native plants thrive in wet, sunny places. The Ecolab is a stellar example. 

Over the years, the magic of this planting has resided not only in the periodic infusions of runoff from the school roof, but also in the sump pump, nicknamed "Old Faithful", which consistently delivered a gift of water from the school's footings into the Ecolab every 20 minutes or so, keeping the wetland wet even through droughts. 

That consistent moisture has sustained frogs and crayfish, and even a very rarely encountered native plant called the marsh marigold. Through those fifteen years, the PHS Ecolab had been Princeton's premier demonstration of how to use water in the landscape before sending it down a pipe to Carnegie Lake. As its name suggests, it has also been used as a teaching tool by the highschool's environmental science teachers.

The project was in-house from the beginning. In 2006, seeing how lawnmowers struggled to cut the grass in this very wet detention basin, I contacted environmental science teacher Tim Anderson and school board member Charlotte Bialek, and together we got permission from the school to create what became known as the Ecolab wetland. High school students designed a series of three ponds for water to flow through on its way through the basin. The grounds crew dug the ponds, and students, teachers, and I dug "littoral" shelves around the edges of the pond, for plants that like to grow near water but not in it. The received important help from a federal agency, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, in shifting from turf to native vegetation, but that help was brief and freely given. 

Over the years, students, teachers, and I have managed the vegetation, keeping out invasive species and discouraging the more aggressive natives like cattails.

In the fall of 2021, Jim Smirk and other environmental science teachers invited me to speak to their students about the wetland's functioning and history. Teachers were excited about expanding the use of the wetland in their curriculum, and converting another detention basin on school grounds to native habitat for study. 

So, what happened? 

How did we end up with a big machine and bare dirt where a wetland had flourished? 

The answer resides deep in the nature of institutions and how they tend to view nature. While the teachers, students, and I were viewing the ecolab wetland's native diversity as a richness and an opportunity, another part of the school--in central administrative offices distant from the high school--was viewing all that lush, complex native growth with a less friendly eye. 

Ask yourself why the lawn continues to dominate our suburban landscapes. For those of us who love nature in all its complexity, a lawn is boring. But for others, nature's complexity is disturbing, confusing, intimidating, and must be fought against. A grounds crew's job is to subdue and simplify nature, not to nurture and work with it. Thus, two very different and opposing narratives about the Ecolab have thrived for more than a decade in different "silos" of the school system.

What finally brought these two opposing views into direct conflict was trees. The Ecolab was originally planted without trees, so as not to pose a threat to surrounding buildings. But at some point, a few willows sprouted on their own and were allowed to grow, on the premise that they would benefit the birds by adding structure to the habitat. When the trees got too big for volunteers to cut down, we asked the facilities department to remove them. Those periodic requests over a number of years, by phone message or email, did not gain a response. It didn't make sense. Here we were maintaining a useful, attractive wetland on school grounds for free. Why couldn't the facilities department help out by removing the trees that had become too large? We grew discouraged.

Though all our work and the teachers' enthusiasm for utilizing the Ecolab for educational purposes were widely known and praised, the counter narrative gained momentum in the school system's distant administrative offices. There, the Ecolab was portrayed as degraded, overgrown, and overrun by invasive species--too much for mere volunteers to care for. Despite awareness that the Ecolab was used for educational purposes, no one invited the teachers and volunteers to participate in decision-making. 

This past summer, unbeknownst to us, a proposal was solicited from an outside landscape contractor who had come highly recommended. In late summer, I caught wind that actions were being considered for the Ecolab, and asked to see the proposal. I submitted a detailed critique, stating that the proposal to give the Ecolab a "reboot" was deeply flawed and lacked a basic understanding of the Ecolab and how it functions. Others gave input as well, about how important the Ecolab is for educating students.

But this last-minute input was not sufficient to break the institutional momentum. The outside contractor was hired, and proceeded to use a disastrous approach. Instead of taking time to learn about the Ecolab's native vegetation and unique functioning, the contractor decided to act first and assess later. Instead of selectively cutting the trees with a chain saw, they brought in a backhoe and other heavy equipment. 

They came on a Saturday, Nov. 5, and by the end of the day, every bit of vegetation had been removed except for two buttonbushes rising incongruously from the bare dirt. Reportedly, not even the high school principal had been given notice. The devastation caught everyone by surprise, even those who had paid the contractor $18,000 for their services. 

For years, the Ecolab has generated a variety of reactions. For those of us who are comfortable with managing a complex planting with more than 30 native species, the Ecolab has been a treasured oasis of natural splendor for students to appreciate and study. For others who prefer the simplicity and clean look of turfgrass, it has been a disturbing presence on an otherwise neatly manicured school grounds. 

Perhaps growing out of that discomfort, attempts were made in the past to falsely blame the Ecolab's vegetation for school flooding. This misdiagnosis proved very costly to the school system. The high school suffered catastrophic flooding twice, causing extensive damage in the basement and requiring replacement on both occasions of the performing arts stage, after flooding warped the wood flooring. The environmental science teacher at the time, Tim Anderson, and I assembled compelling evidence to show that flooding was caused not by foliage in the detention basin but by water surging in towards the school from Walnut Street. So when an outside contractor came in this past November, claiming the Ecolab was full of invasive species and in need of a "reboot," it was just one more misrepresentation of this unique planting. 

Ideally, a traumatic event like this can become a teachable moment. In the months since, the reaching across silos has finally taken place. Apologies have been made to those of us--teachers and volunteers--whose work and knowledge had not been appreciated. 

I and others have been meeting with members of the Operations Committee, teachers, and schoolboard to get the Ecolab back on track. One day, discussing the Ecolab with other volunteers and the school's Public Information Officer, Elizabeth Collier, looking for a positive way forward, an idea came to mind. Why not use the clearing of the wetland as an experiment in regeneration? Though the contractor did some digging, most of the soil is still intact. Much of the diverse native vegetation would likely resprout come spring. Teachers and their students could then witness the rebound of a wetland from dramatic disturbance, and take part in actively managing the vegetation as it rebounds, removing any tree sprouts and other aggressive species, and adding additional natives in bare areas. 

The central administrators seem now to be listening to the environmental science teachers and others of us who are the most knowledgeable about the Ecolab's functioning and have been the most invested in its ongoing care. 

Update - May 2023

The latest I've heard is that the outside contractor will no longer be involved in the Ecolab. Presumably, this means that management of the vegetation will once again be done by the teachers, students, and knowledgeable volunteers. The school's operations department continues work to repair the sump pump that had been supplying the Ecolab for more than a decade with water even during droughts. "Old Faithful" apparently got old, and stopped working a year or two ago.

As hoped, the native vegetation has begun to rebound. First to reemerge were the marsh marigolds, one of which bloomed, surrounded by what still appeared to be lifeless dirt. The poignancy of this bloom brought back memories of James Thurber's The Last Flower, a story about how, after terrible destruction, the last flower on earth became the first of many. Plants play a similar role in the movie Wall-E.

I compiled a list of lessons learned. 

Institutional Silos -- This tale certainly speaks to how conflicting narratives can spring up in different parts of a large institution like a school system.

The Invisibility of Volunteers -- Our work as volunteers over fifteen years to maintain the Ecolab remained essentially invisible to the powers that be. Emails and phone calls were not enough. Until we began showing up at official committee meetings--essentially reaching beyond our silo--we did not exist. 

Devaluing that which is freely given -- In a lifetime of working with nature, I've seen how nature gives freely, and how all that generosity can be taken for granted, and be undervalued in a society that often judges value in monetary terms. Expertise and stewardship, too, can be undervalued if it's local and freely given, without any formal written agreement. 

The false security of hiring professionals -- It is astonishing just how incompetent the professional landscape company proved to be, despite being highly recommended by a highly regarded area environmental nonprofit. I've seen less extreme examples before, in which an outside contractor is brought in with disappointing results. Regardless of professional reputation, they lack the time to gain an intimate understanding of a local site, particularly one with unique qualities like the Ecolab. Unlike local volunteers who care about the school and the community, an outside firm has no "skin in the game" beyond fulfilling a contract. Spending money on professionals brings no guarantee of desired results. 

Managing nature's complexity -- There is an initiative to add additional complex plantings such as food forests to Princeton's highschool and middle school grounds. Having educational plantings on school grounds is convenient for teachers who would otherwise face the logistical challenge and expense of transporting classes to distant locales. A good model for growing complex botanical plantings on school grounds is the Princeton School Gardens Cooperative, which hires quarter time educators/stewards to oversee care of five school vegetable gardens. For this next initiative, it will be important to acknowledge that a grounds crew is typically focused on maintaining simplified landscapes of trees and turf, and that a separate caretaker who understands and cares about nature's complexity is needed for educational plantings. The grounds crew could, however, play a valuable role,  but only in a collaborative way with a skilled caretaker. 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Nature's "Depressions" Bring Beauty and Resilience

Another in my writings about the ecological, logistical, and psychological aspects of tending to a detention basin at Smoyer Park that we converted into a native meadow. Most of the photos and writing are from mid-July, 2021.

There's a garden that many people pass by but few notice. I saw my second monarch butterfly of the season there in mid-July, attracted to the subtle flowering going on there. It's at the far end of the parking lot in Smoyer Park, out Snowden Lane. Drive or bike down to the lower end of the lot, and by heading downhill, you're essentially following the water, doing what rain does after it hits the ground. And there you will find what most people, if they have any name for it at all, will call a detention basin, so-called because it detains runoff, slowing it down, capturing it in a depression so that it can seep into the ground and feed the aquifer rather than feed a flood.

Bureaucracies require it, engineers designed it, but probably none of them were thinking about what a great place this wet, sunny spot would be to grow native plants. That came later, when another arm of the government, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, worked with me and the town to turn this previously mowed space into what could more aptly be called a wild garden, or a wetland garden, or a wet meadow. 

"Depression" is a word that in psychology may have a negative connotation, and extended depression is surely something one would want to cure. But if you're an artist of some sort, a depression may mean the mind is doing important work at a very deep level, putting things together in a new way that may lead to a burst of creativity, insight, or both. To experience highs, one must be able to experience lows. 

Nature, too, needs its lows, even though depressions in the ground, too, tend to get a bad rap. "Drain the swamp" is a politician's stirring call to clean up the mess inside the beltway, and lots of swamps were drained when they got in the way of expanding our towns, cities, and farms. But as with people, a depression is where nature does some of its deepest thinking and finest work, feeding the aquifer and laying the foundation for foodchains with a rich variety of native plants. Gardeners like to lift plants up in raised beds, but many native wildflowers prefer the opposite, somewhere low down. Those are the seedheads of big bluestem in the photo, a dominant prairie grass in tallgrass prairies of the midwest, historically munched on by bison. 

You can see a fence bordering one of the ballfields at Smoyer Park in the distance, and most of the surprisingly many detention basins scattered across the Princeton landscape, in developments or at parks, are managed like a ballfield, with grass mowed to the ground, though no one would think to play a game there. One thing I've managed to do in town is get some of these converted to wet meadows--first at Farmview Fields, then at Princeton High School, then at Greenway Meadows and Smoyer Park. 

I walked through the Smoyer Park wet meadow in mid-July, to see how it's doing and to do some weeding of this half-acre wild garden. As any gardener knows, there's a lot that can go wrong, even in a meadow that's supposed to grow naturally. Many of these raingarden-like plantings, if untended, fill with a host of aggressive weeds, like mugwort, Canada thistle, and Chinese bushclover (also called Sericea lespedeza). Even natives like blackberry and some kinds of goldenrods can tend to take over.

Nature is complex, which can be daunting and even off-putting, or exciting for those who take an interest and build familiarity one plant at a time. That's where love comes in, because when you love something, you want to know everything about it. Botanists talk about plants like a baseball fan might take pleasure in quoting obscure statistics or reminiscing about certain players. Love turns complexity into joy. Love is also what gets one out there to check up on a wild garden, to make sure it's doing okay.

Knowing how much can go wrong can increase the pleasure at seeing so much going right. Now, this photo shows little in the way of blooms, but a gardener conversant with the species of a wild meadow can experience joy even before plants flower, is moved as much by what will be as what already is. Each stem of a favorite wildflower implies a bud, each bud a flower, and each flower a host of insects that in turn support a foodchain of wild life. 

A botanist gardener can see in this photo the spray of monkeyflowers in the lower left, the burst of rose mallow hibiscus in the center right, and behind them a favorite sedge called woolgrass rising towards maturity. Other species, too, are gaining in number and moving towards bloom--ironweed, partridge pea, blue vervain. From evidence of browsed stems, even the deer's appetites seem in balance, leaving many plants to grow unhindered. The diverse mix of sizes and textures triggers memories of other rich meadows seen--prairies in Ann Arbor, MI, Durham, NC, Chicago. How many people get to travel back in time and across half a continent, just by weeding a detention basin in a park in Princeton? 

Occasionally, a less sanguine thought can intrude. What difference does it make that a half acre meadow is prospering, when a whole planet is so quickly being overheated? Delight in mid-July could not completely eclipse news heard earlier that day, of environmental and cultural devastation in Europe, as an overheated atmosphere unleashed a flood that shattered all records. 

September 12, 2021

Since mid-July, Princeton had its own megaflood when Hurricane Ida swept through the night of Sept. 1. Basements flooded that had never flooded before. The DR Canal towpath was badly damaged, ten years after being similarly damaged by Hurricane Irene, and only two years after being fitted with a fresh cinder surface for walking, biking, and jogging. 

But one place I didn't worry about getting flooded was the detention basin at Smoyer Park. It's built for flooding, and fitted with native plants that have evolved to thrive on periodic floods. Though, being the caretaker, I will be worrying about whether I could be doing more to limit the spread of stiltgrass, carpgrass, canada thistle, blackberry, and various other overly aggressive species, to a passerby the meadow has a late-summer look of subtle earth tone radiance and balance. The white in the distance is late-flowering thoroughwort, mixing with the emerging yellows of goldenrod, a few lingering spikes of purple from the ironweed, and the bronze of tallgrass prairie species--big bluestem and Indian grass. 

Last year's post about Smoyer Park's basin: The Work Behind a Natural-Looking Meadow

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Weeding a Rain Garden in June

The curb at the Westminster Choir College parking lot looks like a serpent, dipping low to allow runoff to enter a constructed raingarden where pollutants and trash are filtered out, and the water feeds the plants. The raingarden does a lot of environmental work, so maybe someone could do some work to take care of it? Care of installed raingardens is not something most landscape companies do, and so the task falls to a local volunteer with the required knowledge, or the raingarden fills with weeds and gets mowed down and becomes yet more boring lawn.

In this scene, blue vervain grows in the spaces left by the expanding redbud and tupelo trees.

Switchgrass makes billowy mounds.

The raingarden is doing better than it was a couple years ago when I adopted it, but there are still weeds to easily undercut with a shovel, like wild lettuce and curly dock.

And bindweed to pull that would otherwise grow over everything.

The mugwort was proactively dug out last year, but a few are still popping up. The pink in the photo is red clover, a non-invasive exotic that gets left in the mix.

A bedstraw species smothered an area ten feet across before being pulled up. This may be the native stickywilly (Galium aparine), but was being way too aggressive for the setting.

Here's the bindweed growing up and over a late-flowering thoroughwort that's worth protecting from aggression for its late summer flowers.

Not shown here is the crown vetch, another aggressive grow-over-everything weed.

White clover and dandelions would require more time to weed than this volunteer has.

One nice discovery, not remembered from previous years, is a swamp milkweed, which would have little chance of growing if the aggressive weeds weren't controlled.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

How To Rescue a Raingarden

It's doing better now. The blue vervain has rebounded impressively. After being mowed down for most of a year, the native grasses--big bluestem, wild rye, and switchgrass--had looked like gonners, but they too have reappeared in numbers and are reaching for the sky.

Most raingardens, like many Americans, lack medical insurance. There's no money to restore their health when the weeds take over. There's money to design them, and install them, and sometimes even regulations that require they be planted. But to keep them thriving and looking good? Well, they're pretty much on their own.

If you think about it, most urban landscapes are cared for by people who know next to nothing about plants. If the medical profession were run like the landscaping business, hospitals would be manned by custodians equipped with leaf blowers and weed whippers, and anyone who came in with a medical issue would be left to fester, then eventually mowed down when they became unsightly. Under such conditions, trees can survive, and some foundation shrubs, but if you're a plant that's neither tree nor shrub nor turfgrass, life could be short.

The landscape architect who designed this raingarden, in a parking lot a few blocks from my house, likely had considerable training, and hopefully makes a decent living, but the designer is long gone and the garden will only survive if it is maintained. Whoever maintains it must know and be able to recognize, at every stage of their growth, not only the intended plants the designer was familiar with, but also the many kinds of weeds that threaten to overwhelm the intended plants. There's no time to pull every last weed, so efficient maintenance requires knowing which weeds pose a serious threat to a balanced planting, and which are benign. And by the way, all the money was spent on design and installation. Nothing's left to pay the people who determine the plantings fate and need the greatest knowledge.

I should have intervened sooner. Instead, a few years ago, having urged those responsible, to no avail, to hire either me or someone else who could give the raingarden the skilled care it needed, I watched as the intended plants got overwhelmed by a bumper crop of 7 foot high pigweed and lambsquarters. The next year, the landscape crew noticed how weedy the raingarden had become, so they mowed it all down and started treating it like a lawn. That's the classic progression: garden to weeds to lawn. The lack of plant knowledge makes most landscape care like a light switch. There are two positions: on and off. You either let it grow "natural" or mow it down. No selective intervention. Our inner gardens, which is to say our bodies, are cared for by knowledgeable people, who provide skilled medical intervention if need be. Why not a raingarden? The answer is that people matter, while saving a raingarden, like saving a livable planet, is considered optional.

Strangely, I feel lucky. Yes, I'm putting in a half hour here and there of volunteer work because of a culture's disconnect with plants, but one thing I learned from my astronomer father was to make a project more interesting by thinking of it as an experiment. How dramatically will a neglected raingarden respond to a little TLC? How little time can be invested and still get a good result?

There's such pleasure--why don't others feel this?--in rescuing a garden like this. Multiple levels of restoration happen at the same time: beauty, diversity, ecological function. And then there's the strategy, like playing bridge--using finesse to gain the best results with the cards you're dealt, dealing with multiple variables as the drama plays out. A different strategy is applied to each kind of weed. This is wild gardening, not total control. Leave the daisy fleabane with its weedy form but attractive flower. It's not doing any harm and won't take over. Take advantage of last night's rain to pull otherwise stubborn weeds out of the softened earth. Find satisfaction in the ease of undercutting a dandelion with a shovel blade. Catch mugwort or Canada thistle early, before they have a chance to spread. Feel the deeply American frontier mix of wit and muscle, mind and body. Live the wisdom of a hand-me-down phrase like "a stitch in time saves nine."

Otherwise, you end up with large swaths smothered with bindweed,

or carpeted with crown vetch. These will take something more than a clean undercutting with a shovel.

The solitary lambsquarter poses no threat at this point, and could end up in a salad.

The amaranth is already some insect's salad.

The smartweed (Polygonum) could prove aggressive, but the Japanese beetles are doing a good job of weakening its spreading tendencies. May as well leave it for now.

Velvet leaf isn't doing any harm, and will likely be eclipsed as the intended plants gain dominance.

Pilewort and

horseweeds are native weeds that grow tall and gangly, contributing to a weedy look if left in.

The catnip is staying for the meantime, though as a mint it could prove aggressive.

The Queen Anne's Lace (the same species that makes the carrots we eat) is pretty, but I've seen it take over fields in the midwest. Maybe remove it after the flowers fade.

There's no perfection here, and no certainty that each decision is the right one, but the results have been heartening, with the original plantings showing more resiliency than expected.

Next time I'm walking the dog over that way, maybe I'll remember to take pruners to trim back the redbud. Perhaps it should be called "casual insistence", this integration of garden rescue into the fabric of one's life, pulling weeds every week or two while the dog waits patiently. There are a few of us in town hard-wired to care in this way, with inner clocks that say "time to go take a look", who find this sort of casually serious and seriously casual persistence with a garden to be satisfying. Perhaps someday more people, maybe even some professional landscape crews, will discover the pleasure, and fewer raingardens will be lost to the weeds.

In the meantime, breathe in the cool air of an early summer evening, and feel like a conductor molding nature's growth force into a symphony, orchestrating the comeback of a raingarden nearly lost to the world.