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Crossroads first Calgary group to use rain gardens for roof runoff

New gardens are coming to east Calgary communities, helping alleviate floods and stormwater runoff.

The Crossroads Hub is meant to be similar to an oversized home garden, located in front of the Crossroads Community Preschool. Two rain gardens are currently under construction.

Adrian Buckley (second from right) is the co-owner of reGenerate Design, the landscaping company in charge of the 2020 installations. CONTRIBUTED

How they help

Rain gardens work when two holes are dug that retain roof runoff. They reduce the amount of runoff into storm sewers. They can reduce the severity of flooding, create restorative environments, and reduce the need for pipe upgrades if widely used.

Crossroads Community Association president Annette Bennett said implementing these gardens is very important.

“We can set an example to community members and they can see what can be done with rainwater,” she said.

“And how important it is to preserve that rainwater so it can be kept off of the sidewalks and the streets and used properly.”

Community buildings are very large and often discharge runoff close to the street, said Leta van Duin, executive director of the Alberta Low Impact Development Partnership. They’re the group help Crossroads with the project.

The roof runoff may not be clean due to dust and other things being collected on it, which then goes back into the waterways.

“If we can take the bulk of that flow out of the system, that’s actually a fairly significant amount,” said van Duin.

Rain water will be stored in the reservoir of the garden and the plants will absorb the runoff.

Flowers with benefits

van Duin said with densification, the city is creating more runoff than previously with similar infrastructure. Using existing landscaping areas, where there’s space available, is a way to offset that.

She said rain gardens are an easier way to give extra capacity, rather than creating a bigger stormwater pond. We can’t afford to have single-purpose solutions going forward, she said.

“What’s so wonderful about them as they really have such multi-pronged stack benefits,” she said.

This includes having habitat and ecological benefits, cleaning air and water ecosystems, as well as the health and wellbeing of humans and other creatures.

“By adding to the earth throughout our community, it just helps us adapt to the future,” van Duin said.             

Construction of the garden

The gardens will have more than 600 flowering perennials, mostly native.

Native plants last longer as they come earlier in the spring and stay late into the fall. They don’t need excessive care. As well, they are a source of food and shelter for local insects and pollinators. Non-native plants include Daylilies and Siberian Iris.

Bennett said it will help people see the benefits that rain gardens can bring.

“Hopefully it will encourage them to build their own in their front yards,” she said.

“It will create a diverse ecological environment.”

The garden will be established and fully sustainable after two to three years.

Construction of the garden is ongoing and expected to finish by the end of this summer. Next summer, there will be an opening event for the gardens and an information session.

Future home of the Crossroads Community Gardens.   Mayland Heights is unique in many ways, unfortunately one of those ways is that it is isolated from neighboring communities. There is no easy pedestrian or bicycle access to other neighborhoods due to the fact that Mayland is bordered by two major highways and by light industrial to the East (Barlow Trail) and South, making Mayland an island unto itself. Mayland residents must rely on parks, playgrounds and green spaces within the community. The existing Mayland green spaces have little in the way of seating areas or landscaping. The parks have not been modernized in many years, and most are grassy areas are without any attraction to encourage use by residents.  Our plan is to establish 10 to 12 raised garden beds, with the possibility of expansion as demand grows. These garden beds could be utilized by various community association groups and individual community members, as well as the 6 schools in the area, to teach our youth about how to grow food. We plan to designate donation garden beds, where volunteers can cultivate vegetables to be donated to the Crossroads Community Church's free monthly community dinners, as well as the Cornerstone Youth Center's nutrition/cooking programs. We would like to add a pathway through the garden area to a Gazebo or other outdoor meeting/seating area with a spectacular view of Calgary’s downtown and the mountains. We imagine the path to be lined with hardy, fruit-bearing trees. To honor the Treaty 7 indigenous groups we also plan for a planting space for traditional herbs and plants used by these peoples. This will allow for great educational opportunities for Mayland Heights students of all ages to learn how plants were used by the indigenous peoples of the Prairies. Further to the beds and pathway, we envision a small natural playground area to be just outside the Crossroads Community Preschool.   There are numerous subsidized housing complexes, apartment buildings and seniors housing apartments in the community, many of which do not have access to green spaces or opportunities for gardening. This project will benefit all, whether it be through a new natural playground, a beautiful green space to gather, or raised beds to grow some fresh vegetables. Gardening and nature is beneficial for young and old, both for exercise and for therapy. We would like to see the current grassed area become an inviting space where outdoor activities like yoga in the park, bird watching, youth sports, wedding pictures, family gatherings, musical and theater performances, and a casual community meeting space, can be encouraged and enjoyed. We feel that this revitalization will help to transform the Crossroads Community Center into a place in the community that encourages families and neighbors to join together. In short, we see this undertaking not just as a revitalization and beautification project, but as a vehicle for building community cooperation, wellness, and pride.
The rain garden after work done by the community. CONTRIBUTED

van Duin said while they’re raising awareness for homeowners, it’s also a learning process for them. They want to find the best methods for implementation and reducing costs.

She said they hope it will equip people with knowledge about incorporating native plants that benefit or honour local critters and find better ways to deal with landscapes. She said current methods aren’t sustainable.

“I’m really excited for the potential to do this. We’re pretty excited about the kinds of things we’re going to learn and what we can share with citizens,” she said.

There are a number of other hubs being built in Calgary. They include location in Cambrian Heights, Capitol Hill, Highland Park, Parkdale, Thorncliffe-Greenview and others in 2021.

Alberta Environment and Parks funded the project under the Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect the location of the garden on the Crossroads property.