On a Saturday morning in June, I made the walk from my house in Waterloo to the Mount Hope Neighbourhood to volunteer at a rain barrel fundraiser for a local charity. As I walked I began to notice subtle changes in the landscape. From biodiverse, grass-free lawns blooming with wildflowers and pollinator-friendly plants to low-growing ground cover to edibles it was easy to see the different ways residents in this neighbourhood are safeguarding the environment and have made a commitment to bettering the overall community aesthetic. People’s desire to diversify their yards was not limited to their lawns – standard grass boulevards were commonly replaced with an eye-catching arrangement of colourful flowers and other small succulents as well!
As a volunteer with Reep Green Solutions I had the opportunity earlier that week to interview Mount Hope resident Stephen Barath, who recently installed a rain garden. In our interview, Stephen made me acutely aware of the neighbourhood’s heightened conservation ethic. However it was not until I saw the gradual transition from grass lawns to little forests during my walk that I felt like I was entering a little utopia.
As part of Reep’s RAIN Smart Neighbourhoods project for a total of two weekends, – and under the watchful eye of his wife and two young daughters- Stephen installed a rain garden on one of his rental properties. Digging holes and choosing native plants to Stephen “was fun”, which became increasingly evident to me over the course of our interview. As a daughter of a professional landscaper myself, it was invigorating to see the enjoyment and pride Stephen had towards his garden. It warmed my heart further to hear that his two-year-old daughter even got her hands dirty to help her Dad dig a couple of holes. That evoked memories of time spent with my own Dad as a child. And although my father sees projects such as these, understandably, as “part of the job”, Stephen’s understanding of the importance (and fun, as he reminded me repeatedly) of these projects to safeguarding our water and beautifying the community left a lasting impression, as he has already decided to build another rain garden on a different property.
Not entirely convinced it was all fun and games, I challenged Stephen to tell me something unexpected he had experienced while building the rain garden. In jest, neighbours would stop and say things like ‘Did the water main break?’ while only one neighbour was able to correctly identify what Stephen was actually up to. A little girl who was walking home with her grandmother after school even exclaimed ‘look Grandma that man is still digging holes’. After describing them, Stephen went on to say that these exchanges with his neighbours were always welcomed so he had a reason to take a break from digging and chat about the wider benefits a rain garden can reap for the community.
For his tenants the rain garden removes almost all the grass on the property. There is no longer a need to mow and Stephen imagines this could be seen as an added benefit from their perspective. Although, based on my brief time in the community, initiatives such as these are not really done for the sake of convenience.
Being that Father’s Day had recently past, Stephen’s father came for a visit and while in town the two made time to see the new rain garden. Stephen admitted to me that while the garden didn’t look like much at present, his father observed “like the acorns they used to plant together when Stephen was young, the garden will begin to bloom in due time”. And just as Stephen’s father continues to point out the different trees the two had planted in his youth, I imagine Stephen will likewise do the same with his own daughters in the years to come – pointing out the different lawns they worked on, number of holes dug and plants specifically chosen by Mom and the girls. Thanks to the help of Reep’s RAIN Coach the family had resources that helped them to identify which native species were best suited for the area and varying shade tolerances.
Overall, my greatest take away from meeting Stephen and his family, is that while fun, you don’t start these projects – especially the do-it-yourself ones – simply for yourself. These spaces are created to share; whether that be with the little girl and her grandma who live in the neighbourhood, or to the environment student casually strolling by one Saturday morning.
Visit Reep Green Solutions’ RAIN Smart Neighbourhoods web page to learn more information build your own rain garden and incentives available residents of Mount Hope on a first come, first served basis.
Author: Sarah Josee Lukaszczyk comes from the Niagara Region and enters here fourth year of study at the University of Waterloo this fall. Her interdisciplinary background in climate change and conflict studies has enabled her to work in green infrastructure, international development and research. Outside of school and work, she humors herself by watching shows like 8 out of 10 Cats does Countdown and making up band names.