Jen Weisblat’s Willowick backyard gets really wet when it rains.

Our feet sink into the ground as we walk across her yard

“I obviously have a lot of water problems because it’s always wet here. It’s always been swampy ever since we moved in,” Weisblatt said. “After we moved in, we noticed the (sump) pump sucking water out of our basement area The water is pumped from here.”

When the water pumped from the basement combines with the falling rainwater, the area becomes a beautiful swamp.

When it was flooding, we couldn’t use our backyard — and we still kind of can’t — for what? Like every spring, right. “Usually we don’t get to use our backyard until July,” she said.

Zaria Johnson


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Willowick resident Jane Weisblatt (left) and Master Rain Gardener Partners Program co-leader Kaylee Acres (right) discuss plants in Weisblatt’s garden and plan to move them next to her rain garden on Thursday, August 17, 2023.

Gardener Faceplate. You’ve heard of rain gardens as a solution to standing water and flooding.

She was among the Chagrin River Watershed Partners Master Rain Gardener Program summer session participants who wanted to learn more.

The program was adapted from one created by Susan Bryan of the Washtenaw Water Resources District in Ann Arbor, Michigan and brought to Northeast Ohio in 2019. It offers certification for residents hoping to build a rain garden for themselves and certification for professional landscape architects and contractors. Hoping to expand their skill set.

In five weekly classes, students learn all about things like soil types, drainage, and plants. They also hear from those who have taken the course and built rain gardens and visited plant nurseries for more hands-on learning.

Course co-leader Kaylee Acres said it’s about what makes a rain garden a rain garden.

“The rain garden is different in that it works with nature to filter out all those pollutants,” she said. “It’s a little bit lower in the ground, so it’s designed to capture and hold that water and allow it to slowly drain back into the environment rather than just being sent down a storm drain untreated.”

Pam Fielder and Gene Weisblatt are sitting at a table talking to each other.

Yigal Kaufman


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Lakewood resident Pam Fiedler (left) and Willowwick resident Jane Weisblatt (right) engage in conversation on Chagrin River Watershed Partners Master Rain Gardener Thursday, July 27, 2023.

Pam Fidler lives in Lakewood in a house with a lush backyard full of gardens and green spaces. But there is a dip in her garden that collects water, which inspired her to come up with an innovative solution.

“First time we went into the house. It was a lowland area and I’ve always wanted to make a rain garden,” Fiedler said. “So, when I saw there was a class on rain garden, I said, ‘I have to sign up for this because my yard looks like a vegetable garden.’

The class offers more than one way to get rid of standing water in the yard, said Laura Bunnell, co-leader of the program. Rain parks benefit the waterways of Northeast Ohio by collecting harmful rainwater runoff from rooftops and sidewalks that would otherwise make its way into Lake Erie.

“Along the way, you pick up pollutants, which can be debris, garbage, dog feces, and even things you can’t see like pesticides and fertilizers, all of which go into our sewers completely untreated,” Bunnell said. to catch storm water and allow it to soak into the ground.

Jennifer Schell, a classmate from Lakewood, doesn’t have a problem with her home flooding after it rains, but said she wants to build a rain garden to help keep Lake Erie healthy.

“This chapter made me realize… being so close to Lake Erie, and in our watershed, how important that is,” she said. “I was very worried about… Lake Erie algae blooms, so this kind of algae goes along with everything I’m thinking about already.”

Lakewood resident Jennifer Schell speaks with class participants in Chagrin River Watershed Partners' Master Rain Gardener Program on Thursday, July 27, 2023.

Yigal Kaufman


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Lakewood resident Jennifer Schell speaks with class participants in Chagrin River Watershed Partners’ Master Rain Gardener Program on Thursday, July 27, 2023.

Joe Roberts lives in Cleveland and deals with flooding in the basement of his home. Although he works primarily as a vegetable gardener, he enrolls in the class in hopes of solving his problem and creating a new addition to his garden. He said the teachers helped create a collaborative environment that encourages learning.

“I was amazed at the knowledge the teachers had,” said Roberts. “I mean, any question I had, they were able to answer it and they were honest about it (and) they don’t make you feel like, ‘Why are you asking that question?'”

At the end of the course, participants have plans for their rain gardens. The final requirement for master rain gardener certification, along with a free shirt, is to build a rain garden for themselves or their community.

Willowwick resident Jane Weisblatt poses with her rainy garden while holding her rain gardener master shirt.

Zaria Johnson


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Willwick resident Jane Weisblatt poses with her rainforest garden after earning her master rain gardener certification on Thursday, August 17, 2023.

Clevelander Brandon Weber said he hopes to build one at his church that will grow fruits and vegetables for the community and help educate visitors.

“We need to incorporate sustainability not only within the church, but then use that as an outreach,” Weber said. “So, I thought this would be a great opportunity to incorporate the rain garden as well and teach people about it.”

Some participants, like Jane Weisblatt of Willowick, didn’t wait for her final plan. I got a job shortly after first grade.

“I’d go out a little in the morning for about a half hour to an hour, depending on how hot it was, and dig and dig and dig,” she said.

Weissplatt’s rain garden is still in its infancy, and the plants need time to bloom and fill up the space. But she hopes this will solve her flooding problem and perhaps spark a trend in her neighbourhood.

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