Planting the Red Oak Rain Garden: Week 3

by Layne Knoche, RORG Landscape Designer

Winter break is here has come and gone and our team finally has some time to catch up on this blog. This post covers September 30th – October 4th: the final week of the plant installation. You can catch up with week 1 and week 2 to make sure you’re up to date on all parts of the trilogy.

Monday, September 30:

Hole drilling day.

Due to my foot injury, we had to get a little creative with moving the project forward. While I was still able to hobble around to paint out lines, pop and place plants, and coordinate volunteers, I was unable to continue one of the most important aspects of the installation – drilling holes. Luckily, Eliana — who was also injured (sprained ankle) — connected us with three great volunteers, Jim Payne, Brendan O’Shaughnessy, and Bill Handel, who came out to drill with Tony. This really helped speed along the planting process later in the week. Monday was dedicated to just this task, so we’d be prepared for more volunteers into the Tuesday and Wednesday timeslots. In just a few hours, hundreds of holes were drilled!

Tuesday, October 1:

Getting close!

Once again, we had a great group of volunteers from the Champaign County Master Gardeners and East Central Illinois Master Naturalists. Teams of three worked on planting Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans) and the rest of the Rosy Sedge (Carex rosea) and Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica), for which holes were drilled the day before. Joe and Linda got to work planting the last of the shrubs, including all of the Blue Muffin Viburnums, and “Tony B” worked with me with the last of the Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) in Cell 1.

While it helped having a good team of drillers on Monday, there were still a lot more holes that needed to be drilled. I was happy to discover that, as long as I was careful, I was able to do the drilling. Like the previous workdays, planting of the pre-drilled holes went quickly, and the volunteers were able to fill in after me. This took up most of the day, and we were able to water everything in by the late afternoon.

Wednesday, October 2:

Wednesday marked the day of installation for the last of our groundcovers before moving on to plant a few seasonal species.

We had more great workers from the Extension volunteers, as well as a couple more student volunteers as well. Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) and Prairie Alumroot (Heuchera richardsonii) were the final mass-planted groundcovers going into the garden. By late morning, they were in!

After lunch, I started setting the location for some of our biggest flowering plants under the trees, such as Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus). While the Goatsbeard is small now, it will eventually become quite large and will make beautiful, dense drifts of snow-white blooms with incredible texture.

Tomorrow is a big day for Kate – she finally gets her cast off! In addition to taking photos, she’s been supporting us by setting up our tent and water coolers and by bringing plants from the greenhouse, but as more of an “inside” person, she has not installed any plants. Until today…

Thursday, October 3:

The last day?!

I knew that the last day, or last few days, of planting would consist of fine details that, as the landscape designer, I’d need a lot of control over. For example, we had an area of Gray-Headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) to be planted. This species can be quite aggressive in the garden, therefore I designed it to coexist with Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) along the back edge of Cell 1, where a typical westerly- or northerly- breeze would carry seeds east and south, where there is mowed lawn. Because of fine details such as this, we did not set up a poll for volunteers. Rather, we relied on a few volunteers and myself to finish up the majority of the remaining work. There were a lot of exciting species to go in, and I’d been looking forward to this day for a long time.

Master Naturalists Karen Folk, Linda Bailey, and I started off the morning by planting into the shaded matrix. We planted Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) and Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum), as well as a few blooming species such as Black Snakeroot (Actaea racemosa), Purple Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) – legacy plants that Eliana saved from the garden pre-demolition, Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Smooth Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve), and Smooth Phlox (Phlox glaberrima).

We planted several drifts of Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Gray-Headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), and Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) in the dry, sunny areas of Cell 1. We also planted a large drift of Rose Mallow (Hibiscus laevis) at the bottom of the Cell 1 swale.

By afternoon, Eliana, who was increasing concerned about my injury, wanted to bring the installation to a close. To help speed things up, she contacted Bill Handel to see if he could return again to drill more holes. Happily, he was able to help us out. Thanks, Bill!

Student volunteer Tony Rudawski (aka Tony “B”), Eliana, and I planted the final drifts of Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum), Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida), Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida), Royal Catchfly (Silene regia), and Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia). These species all went in sunny areas of the garden in Cell 1 and Cell 3. Eliana was in a boot due to her injury, but was able to plant in Cell 1, which has a gradual slope so she could sit down to plant. She was thinking that we really needed one more person to help get this done, but didn’t know how to make that happen. Then, a little miracle. While in Cell 1, she looked up, saw a student who she thought was Kate’s sister, so she said hello. The student was NOT Kate’s sister but our newest volunteer, Elsa De Becker! Turns out Elsa is a ACES grad student who wanted to help out with the planting. She immediately joined our effort and the work was done in no time.

We’re pictured here after our last plant went in.

Unfortunately, bad news struck towards the end of the day. I received a phone call from the doctor who’d been working with my foot injury, and she explained to me that, since not much healing had occurred over the last week, I’d need to have some minor surgery which would sideline me for several days.

While we still had a few more ferns and Snakeroot that needed to be planted, I knew this would take very little additional time and as long as the plants went in before it got too cold, they would be okay. Due to my injury, however, this was the last official day of planting. WE ARE (officially) DONE!

[Epilogue: Layne’s surgery went great! And, all the straggler plants went in the garden. To be revisited in the spring. – EB]

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