Professor uses horticulture knowledge to build rain garden

Dr. Mary Myers, an associate professor of landscape architecture and horticulture, built an extensive rain garden in her own front yard.

Dr. Mary Myers turned her front yard into an experiment.

In Spring 2012, Myers, an associate professor of landscape architecture and horticulture, built a 200-square-foot rain garden in her front yard to absorb excess storm water on her property, much of which comes from her roof, she said.

Drawing from her experience as a landscape architect, Myers said she wanted to ensure the garden would sustain both function and form. She incorporated 153 native plantings into the design.

In Fall 2014, Anne Raver of The New York Times wrote an article about her rain garden after Doug Tallamy, a colleague of Myers’ at the University of Delaware, made the publication privy to Myers’ green efforts.

In Myers’ northern suburb of Wyncote, she said neighbors often pass by the rain garden and say, “Oh, it’s really beautiful.”

As a professor of sustainable design, Myers examined her own property and questioned what she could do to incorporate methods of sustainable design into her suburban landscape.

She said she asked herself, “What can I do to walk the walk and talk the talk?”

Her rain garden is comprised of a series of 18-inch ponds that hold the storm water on her property. According to Myers, houses, roads, sidewalks and so on, fragment the sprawling landscape of the earth.

The hydrologic cycle, a vitally important biogeochemical cycle of the Earth, is highly contingent upon the proper absorption of water into the soil and plants, which is then released back into the atmosphere. However, as a result of ‘urban sprawl,’ much of the Earth’s soil is covered with hardscape – like homes or roads – Myers said, and water is not absorbed properly.

The hydrologic cycle “is a very healthy cycle until it’s disrupted,” Myers said.

The ponds and the plantings she selected for the garden aim to promote the natural cycles of the earth and serve as a means by which to increase biodiversity on her lot. Upon moving into her home in 2005, Myers said she found only 23 different species of plants on the property – 70 percent of those plantings were non-native.

When researching plantings that would best suit her rain gardens, Myers said she focused not only on regionally native plantings, but also plantings that are native to the U.S.

Myers said her property now hosts 153 unique species, 85 percent of which are indigenous to the U.S. From a local nursery, she selected wetland plants that absorb water and release it back into the atmosphere.

“People like to look at it [the rain garden] because it’s constantly changing,” Myers said.

She said the plantings selected have flourished in the wet environment and create a beautiful sight.

“The majority of homeowners want and think they need a green, grassy lawn,” said Professor Bess Yates who teaches Green vs. Grey Urban Ecology. “They’re great for recreation and picnics. But unfortunately are very financially and environmentally expensive to maintain.”

Implementing and installing sustainable landscape features like Myers’ rain garden could be advantageous for homeowners at different levels, Yates said.

“Philadelphia … has a special problem with stormwater, because it causes overflows from the combined sewer system,” said Dr. Daryl Carrington, who co-instructs a sustainable design course with Myers. “Managing stormwater with green infrastructure is substantially less expensive in first cost and maintenance cost than sewer systems.”

As both Myers and Carrington discuss in their classes, understanding the processes of the earth and learning how to work with the earth to promote its healthy function is vital to maintaining the garden. Implementing green infrastructure like a rain garden can help reduce stormwater problems.

Myers said her mother, an ecologist, taught her to love the environment. Myers said she and her siblings were encouraged to play outside and were encouraged to interact with their environment.

Myers studied landscape architecture at the University of Wisconsin, completed graduate studies at Harvard University and obtained her Ph.D. from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland.

“Dr. Myers is a leading researcher in understanding and measuring the benefits ecological services provide,” Carrington said.

Finnian Saylor can be reached at

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