– Fran Topping

A few years ago Charlestown Elementary School chose Outdoor Learning as a focus. The site was to include a short existing trail that ran through the woods, a large sand area and the parking lot. The plan was to install three outdoor classroom areas and an all weather surface for activities. To mitigate the run off from the new area and parking lot, volunteers from the PTO dug a rain garden. I wanted the garden to absorb run off but also to be a place for students and teachers to learn about native plants.

A RIWPS education grant helped pay for many of the plants, mostly purchased at the great RIWPS native plant sale. Some town and Earthcare compost was added to the soil which was initially just compacted sand and rock. I was not that hopeful that the plants would survive, but they have and even prospered. I chose the plants that would not mind being frequently covered with water — swamp milkweed, fringed sedge, cardinal flower and swamp mallow, for example, to line the base where there would be run off from the parking lot. Higher up I planted Joe Pye weed, vervain, boneset, and New England aster. And higher still, I put in butterfly milkweed, columbine, penstemon, Pachera and shrubs.