Teamwork and “autumn joy” – A winning combination

by Sage Passi

Lesley Perg, a new Ramsey County Master Gardener, assisted students
at Roseville Area Middle School (RAMS) rain garden this fall.

We are in the final phase of completing our Clean Water Legacy-funded school rain garden projects. Jumping into the thick of things on a blistery hot fall day might not be everybody’s cup-of-tea in the world of school gardening, but Lesley Perg, a Master Gardener who transferred to the Ramsey County program from California this summer, was “cool as a cucumber” as she supported her team of seventh graders as they planted gallons of ‘Hot Lips’ Pink Turtlehead in the middle of one of these large-scale rain garden plantings in late September. I marveled at her calmness and comfort level as she stepped down into the crowded center of the garden in this complex matrix of planting areas. This was her first experience volunteering with our watershed district.

Merlin Schlicting, Ramsey County Master Gardener, contemplated the arrangement
of feather reed grass in another tight planting area at Roseville Area Middle School.

Room to move was at a premium in many areas of the garden and the number of students wielding long-handled tools could have been a bit daunting. But neither issue seemed to rattle Lesley and when the day was done, I didn’t hear any real complaints. Well, maybe, only about the heat. The same was true for the other Master Gardeners who stepped up to the plate over the past two weeks during our fall projects at Roseville Area Middle School (RAMS) and Central Park Elementary.

Teamwork makes anything possible.

I think everyone involved felt like through our teamwork we truly accomplished something HUGE! And we did!

Fifth graders plant at Central Park Elementary rain garden.

Where was this satisfaction coming from that was shared by this team of Master Gardeners, a Master Water Steward, and District staff who helped out students and the teachers? It can be truly rewarding to assist kids who have never held a shovel before and witness their comfort and confidence grow as they try it out. Assisting these young gardeners in transforming the mulched spaces into vivid landscapes to help their downstream lakes was truly inspirational. Our excitement continued to linger in the air as we all dispersed, tired but fulfilled at the end of each of our days of planting. 

Dominique Guzman, Central Park 6th grade teacher, gave a
high five to one of his students after he completed planting several pots.


Stephanie Wang, Master Water Steward helped “tease” the roots
for the student she was assisting at Central Park.

This positive energy was accentuated by the arrival of the bees and butterflies who appeared moments after we secured the flowering plants like Fragrant Hyssop and Walkers Low Catmint in the ground. Chris O’Brien, our new communications staff person, even caught that on camera!

We had to problem solve to make these projects successful. I spent many days recruiting and scheduling Master Gardeners, measuring and laying out the planting areas, calculating the number of students we could fit into a plot and figuring out all the logistics. When the planting days arrived, everyone contributed to the whole process from helping shuttle and move plants around, orienting students about how to plant, filling and hauling water buckets, matching up mountains of gloves and pitching in to load up the stacks of tools, pails and other equipment into my car at the end of each day.

The morning calm before the storm. Gloves matched? Check.
Who is working where? Master Gardeners review their assignments. Check.


Watershed Project Manager Paige Ahlborg fills large barrels for watering. In addition, she did grant writing and reporting, communicated with contractors, reviewed bids, planted and so much more! Barr Engineering was responsible for the design and project management of all of our Clean Water Fund projects.

The real heroes were the kids who applied their own planting skills learned in their native countries, and the young people who stepped outside their comfort zone, got their shoes dirty and tried planting for the first time, then offered to plant a second pot. We were proud of each student for their accomplishments and the way they each “showed up.”

Go TEAM Go! What a powerhouse of youth energy!

The sheer scale of these projects certainly made our work more challenging this year. Luckily most of the planting areas were amended with sand and compost, making it much easier dig than last fall at Maplewood Middle School where we had to cut through some very compacted berms. 


Nancy Berry, Ramsey County Master Gardener, guided students who were planting Autumn Joy Sedum on the hillside at Central Park Elementary. The bees love their flowers!

But the hardest challenge came from the weather. The temperatures hovered in the eighties and nineties for both weeks and the humidity was high. Thankfully fall has finally arrived for our next installment of projects coming up in October!

Kids cooled down after planting the rain garden at Central Park Elementary.

The District began developing these projects over three years ago when we applied for an accelerated implementation grant from the state to assess all our public school sites and prioritize locations for BMPs on their grounds. A couple years later we were awarded a Clean Water Legacy grant to implement six projects.

Last summer the first three rain gardens were installed and then planted in the fall by students in Maplewood and North St. Paul. This fall we worked with five classes at Central Park Elementary in Roseville and ten classes at RAMS to plant close to 800 gallon pots in these two rain gardens.

After two days we were down to the tenth class at Roseville Area Middle School!
 First step, move the mulch. Second step, dig the dirt out.
Third step, pose for the camera.

Next month we will be cranking up that number to a “whopping” seventeen classrooms from Woodbury Elementary and Middle Schools that will be completing our final rain garden planting at their location over three days in early October. That project will involve 564 students. Watch for that story in an upcoming Ripple Effect.
 The photos below help paint the story of our efforts this fall.

Tracy Leavenworth demonstrates how to plant a pot of prairie dropseed at Central Park Elementary. She provided instructions for all
of the classes the four days at each of the schools. No small feat!



Anthony Larson, Roseville Area Middle School science teacher, advises his team of students.


Happiness written all over her face!

Thank you to everyone for a job well done! We are looking forward to seeing our rain gardens grow and thrive in the future.

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