Butterflies, lawns and free plants: RainScapes holds second congregation workshop

July 21, 2015
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Many congregations pride themselves on keeping fastidious lawns. Not a weed in sight.

But is that really a good thing?

Sure, it can be visually appealing. So, too, can special gardens and landscaping projects that have the added benefit of reducing stormwater runoff, providing rest stops for butterflies, and creating beautiful outdoor gathering spaces.

That was the key message at “Greening Your Congregation’s Grounds,” the second installment of the Sacred Grounds Workshop Series. Held June 21 at Colesville United Methodist Church in Silver Spring, the workshop featured plenty of discourse on why—and, perhaps more importantly, how—communities of faith can transform basic lawn space into a landscape that works hard for Creation (and doesn’t look too bad, either).

The workshop series is made possible by a grant program funded by the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection and administered by the Chesapeake Bay Trust.


Grace Episcopal Day School

Grace Episcopal Day School RainScape


What Happened at the Sacred Grounds Workshop?

The workshops share a name and draw some inspiration from the National Wildlife Federation’s Sacred Grounds program, which started in the Washington area in 2012.

The county RainScapes program is a key driver of the workshop series. The program offers cash rebates and free technical guidance to congregations (as well as households and businesses) for taking any in a variety of stormwater-management measures, including rain gardens, landscaping with native plants, rain barrels, or tree plantings.

During the workshop, Carla Ellern, a landscape architect and planner with the RainScapes program, took attendees on a tour of the Colesville church grounds, pointing out hillsides, swales, and traffic islands that could be transformed into powerful tools for catching and trapping rain water before it hit the sidewalks, parking lots and, ultimately, local waterways.


Sacred Grounds Workshop

Carla Ellern of the RainScapes program leading a tour during the Sacred Grounds Workshop


What goes into these landscapes matters, too. For example, the simple act of planting milkweed creates a “way station” for monarch butterflies. These iconic orange-and-black butterflies only lay their eggs in milkweed, and it is the only food their caterpillars will eat. Each fall, these butterflies make the arduous journey from the United States and Canada to the mountains of Mexico, and with milkweed stocks declining because of development and agriculture, these “way stations” can literally make a difference between life and death. Common milkweed, swamp milkweed, butterfly milkweed and poke milkweed are all native to our region, produce attractive flowers and are easy to include in just about any landscape plan.

There are any number of native plants that can be included in rain gardens and other landscapes. Including these plants means lower maintenance and less watering, as they are already adapted to the area’s climate and precipitation. As part of the workshop, attendees received native plants for free that they could bring back to their congregations.


United Church of Christ of Seneca Valley

United Church of Christ of Seneca Valley RainScape


There was certainly plenty of food for thought. Jen Morrill, an office administrator at Colesville United Methodist Church who hosted and attended the workshop, said her congregation would probably plant new trees and might consider other green projects, all helped along by the Sacred Grounds workshop and the information she gathered there.

“Yes, I learned a lot,” she said. “A lot of construction and renovation projects need to be done at one time…so we might as well address this while we’re in that process. There are a lot of small steps congregations can take to get to a big end result.”


By Scott Harris, Freelance Writer. Read Scott’s other posts on the benefits of environmental peer pressurebirds and climate change, eco-friendly ice rinksresidential solar, and energy savings at Hollywood East Cafe.

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