Drive by a group of condominiums in suburban Washington County and you’re likely to see acres of lawn with relatively uniform landscaping. One of the biggest benefits to living in a condo is having a property management company that takes care of drudgeries like mowing, shoveling, and raking leaves. Because they are hiring out the work, homeowners’ associations usually stick with landscaping that is simple and easy to maintain. Recently, however, some local associations have begun to break the mold and are incorporating native plantings and raingardens that don’t need to be watered and help to create habitat for pollinators and birds.
Evergreen Country Homes in Woodbury lies off of Radio Dr., northeast of the Tamarack Nature Preserve. Last year, the association approached Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District to ask for advice in dealing with drainage problems on their property. Due to compacted clay soils and a berm along the edge of their land, there was standing water whenever it rained and the lawn rarely dried out enough for people to walk on it. When landscape designer Tara Kline came out for a site visit, she realized that there could be an opportunity to change the landscaping so that more water would soak into the ground – good for the people in the neighborhood – and less would run off into the nature preserve – good for the tamarack bog. Working with board members from the association, Kline put together a design that replaced around 3,325 square feet of turf with native plants. The swale features “thirsty” shrubs like dogwood that soak up lots of water, as well as plants like cup plant, joe pyweed, blue flag iris, and sedges that provide both beauty and habitat. Importantly, Kline also put a lot of effort into creating a design that would be easy for a landscaping company to maintain. There are only a few species of plants and they are grouped in clumps, instead of being scattered throughout the planting. This makes it easier to identify and control weeds. The planting also has in-laid brick edging along its length, which makes it easier to mow around and helps to maintain a tidy appearance.
Though the project ultimately improves the shared outdoor space at Evergreen Country Homes, it also provides a public benefit by reducing runoff pollution to Tamarack Nature Preserve. For this reason, the association was able to tap into special grant funds through the Washington Conservation District, as well as cost-share assistance from the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District. Just north of Carver Lake, the Lakeridge of Woodbury Homeowners’ Association received similar assistance this fall to install two new raingardens that help runoff rainwater to soak into the ground instead of flowing downhill to the lake.
On a sunny evening in October, a few dozen neighbors at Evergreen gathered in a driveway to celebrate the completion of their new native planting. They nibbled cookies and sipped hot apple cider (everyone had expected it to be colder in October) and listened as Kline talked about the plants in the new garden and what they will look like as they grow and mature. People smiled as they turned to their friends, saying, “Maybe more associations should do projects like these.”