Long Reach homeowner has a deep-rooted love of stormwater protection

Bay-Wise practices on display at Howard County Master Gardeners event

  • Janine Pollack has created a "Bay Wise" garden around her home. Here, she sits in front of her backyard pond.
Janine Pollack has created a "Bay Wise" garden around… (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
September 15, 2014|By Janene Holzberg | For The Baltimore Sun

Maintaining an environmentally friendly landscape at her family's home in Long Reach comes as second nature to Janine Pollack, who loves gardening and the outdoors.

The pluses, some obvious and some not, are numerous.

They include the inherent adaptability of native plants to the area's climate as well as their ability to attract insects, which attract birds, which attract wildlife.

But the primary ecological benefit — which goes undetected by most visitors surveying the natural beauty of Pollack's outdoor canvas — is the ability of strategically placed landscaping to prevent polluted stormwater runoff from spoiling waterways and eventually fouling the Chesapeake Bay.

Such benefits, and the principles behind them, will explained to visitors Sept. 20 when Howard County master gardeners host a Bay-Wise Garden Tour at Pollack's home; the event is open to the public.

Nine stations will be set up around Pollack's yard and staffed by master gardeners, according to Holly McFarland, a member of the county's trained Master Gardener corps, which is administered by the University of Maryland Extension. Their ranks now number 153.

Many homeowners and businesses became more aware last year of the damage uncontrolled runoff can cause when Howard County began instituting a stormwater remediation fee, referred to derisively by some as Maryland's "rain tax." Collected funds, which are levied differently by the 10 Maryland jurisdictions required to impose them, go into a watershed protection fund.

The pollutants accumulated in stormwater runoff as it wends its way into storm sewers and streams include sediment, animal waste, lawn chemicals, gas, oil and trash.

"We're trying to teach individual homeowners that using Bay-Wise practices is something everybody can do on their properties," McFarland said. "Collectively, we can make a great difference."

Pollack and her husband, Nathan, bought their two-story home next to wooded open space in 1999. In 2004, Pollack began planting such native perennials as joe-pye weed, three varieties of milkweed and purple coneflowers to attract butterflies, birds, bats and other creatures to her yard.

But the homeowner also wanted to find solutions to soil erosion and standing water, two landscape management problems that master gardeners can help residents tackle.

"This is what [Bay-Wise landscaping] looks like," Pollack said, gesturing around her yard to a visitor. "It's not only beautiful, but I feel I'm doing my part to not pollute the bay."

Pollack is an environmental engineer and a fan of Doug Tallamy, the University of Delaware professor and author of "Bringing Nature Home," a book on native gardening and biodiversity.

His talks first inspired her to try native gardening, she said, and her work has paid off handsomely.

Since spring, Pollack has counted eight birds' nests in her trees and bushes, including cardinals, mockingbirds, catbirds, wrens and robins.

A small pond with a fountain that she had professionally installed has attracted a bull frog, whose low rumblings can frequently be heard, as well as a brightly colored northern green frog. She has added goldfish to the pond and can see snails and tadpoles just below the water's surface.

And her standing water and erosion problems are a thing of the past.

"A yard like this is all about finding a balance," Pollack said.

The other kind of balance she had to strike when planning the space for her family, she said jokingly, was providing the couple's three young sons with a large enough expanse of grass in the backyard to practice soccer moves.

But the improvements that Pollack has made are what set her property apart.

Rain gardens, which are installed in various places around the Pollacks' one-third of an acre, are mulched planting beds positioned strategically to absorb rainwater.

"The purpose of a rain garden is to hold rainwater and let it soak in slowly, within about 24 hours," Pollack said. "It infiltrates the ground instead of running off the property.

"And no, the water isn't there long enough to attract mosquitoes," she added, answering a question she's often asked.

Rain barrels collect and store rainwater from the rooftop. Instead of dumping out from downspouts onto lawns, the water can be used to water plants.

The use of steppingstones set in small pebbles that allow rain to soak into the ground below is also considered a Bay-Wise practice.

The county's program was started in 1997, a year after the Bay-Wise concept was conceived in Maryland, McFarland said. She counts herself among the 144 owners of certified Bay-Wise properties in Howard County.

Thirteen Maryland counties and Baltimore City offer certification in Bay-Wise landscaping, she said.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed, which covers 64,000 square miles, encompasses most of Maryland, all of Washington, more than half of Virginia, a sliver of western Delaware, the middle third of Pennsylvania and a snippet of south-central New York.

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