In our first post about the Blooming Alleys Partnership I described the collaborative meeting we had in April, here at Sabathani, with all of our project partners to figure out what successful Blooming Alleys projects will look like and how this partnership enables and contributes to that success. We spent much of May working on a qualitative analysis of the loads of data that we received from that meeting. First, everything was transcribed. Next, we assigned a code to each idea/note (was the idea related to social fabric, changing social norms, water quality, etc). Then we put it all into a big, giant Excel table to break down further. From that we were able to pull the really “big ideas” that came out in each conversation and across all of the conversations.
One of those big ideas was the need for clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each group of partners, so we created a detailed description of roles based on the people that participants told us were important to these projects. Those roles are briefly outlined here. If you’d like more detailed information, let me know and I’ll get it to you (firstname.lastname@example.org)!
Girl Scouts and neighbors work together at an Alley Party
Alley Captains: Work with Metro Blooms to plan an Alley Party for their block and manage communication within the block. Master Water Stewards: Assist with outreach, education, installation, and maintenance. Master Gardeners: Assist with planting design, installation, and maintenance education. Minnehaha Creek Watershed District: Provide expertise on stormwater management practices & potential funding source for engagement & installation. Blue Thumb Partners: Provide expertise in stormwater management including raingardens, permeable pavement, trench drains, and native plantings. Outside Groups/Volunteers (ex: Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Friends of Diamond Lake, Friends of Lake Nokomis, Neighborhood Organizations): Participate in volunteer outreach and installation events. Metro Blooms: Lead initial project scoping and fundraising with neighborhood leaders, communications, coordination or volunteer groups, recruitment and training of Alley Captains, Alley Parties, ongoing project management, and site consultation, design, and installation activities.
In addition to figuring out the roles of partners, we’re using other “big ideas”shared by partners in how we explain the project to potential participants and partners, to effectively market the project, to define success, ensure we’re implementing sustainable projects, and in creating useful resources. Here are some of the big “ah-ha” moments we had when analyzing these results:
The majority of participants see this project as a way to improve alleys and strengthen the community. The environmental benefits are not so much a main reason to participate as a benefit received for participating
Participants want to use this project to develop a unique space in the alleyway and set an example for others. A space that’s clean, friendly, warm, inviting, and colorful
Parties are so important – building a stronger community and spending time with neighbors seems to be the biggest reason people are interested in these projects
We need multiple “starting points” for participants – not everyone wants a raingarden or wants to participate at all. But maybe they’d be willing to re-direct their downspout to a neighbors garden!
Alley Captains, neighbors, and Master Water Stewards interact at a Community Get-Together
Developing this partnership model has already been immensely helpful in our Blooming Alleys projects. We recently had project specific meetings for partners involved in the Lynnhurst, Nokomis, and Diamond Lake Blooming Alleys projects. Because many of those partners had been engaged in the development of the model (or at the very least received numerous emails about the process) they were already very familiar with the projects. Because they’re familiar and comfortable with the project already, talking to neighbors about it seems less daunting and inconvenient. Additionally, we’ve created some new resources including an FAQ (so important!), a Story Map filled with examples of Blooming Alley projects (so cool!), and Alley Party postcards. Above all, we recognize our reason for implementing these programs (water quality) is not the main reason that most people participate (community!) and that’s okay! Stronger communities have more participation and are more likely to adopt and maintain their stormwater management practices – all things that ultimately lead to improved water quality and habitat.
As I finish this blog by typing in the name, I can’t help but think “the BAP, the Blooming Alleys Partnership” and how I can’t wait to use the term in the future because it feels like we’re really creating something awesome here. Something that has the potential and drive to have a huge impact, not just on water quality and habitat but in creating strong, thriving communities.
In the fall of 2014 Metro Blooms worked with some great community members just to the west of Lake Nokomis to install the first ever “Blooming Alley” in Minneapolis. Since then, the idea has caught on like wildfire. We’re expanding the project around Lake Nokomis to another 15 alleys and the Lynnhurst neighborhood and neighborhoods surrounding Diamond Lake are starting their own Blooming Alleys projects. This means that over the next 3 years we’ll get to work with 260+ property owners to transform the look and function of 25 alleyways. Together these alleys create a 6-mile long corridor along Minnehaha Creek. Wondering what the heck Blooming Alleys is? Check out the demonstration for more info.
With all of this work ahead of us, we would never be able to accomplish it all without some great partnerships. But who will we work with? Who will do what? What are all of the roles that need to be filled? What do these communities care most about? To answer these questions, we worked with Peggy Knapp of the Freshwater Society to lead us and all of our current and potential Blooming Alleys partners through a series of discussions to get us the information we needed.
We invited about 60 Master Water Stewards, block leaders, Master Gardeners, landscape designers, and community partners to this meeting. It was very successful, with lots of discussion between a variety of partners (and we thank them all so much for their time and input!). We left the meeting with about 30 large post-its filled with everyone’s notes. Since then, our intern, Saif, has transcribed all of those into a 14 page word document. I can tell you from first glance, it’s so much great information! We’ll be analyzing all of this data over the next few days to pull out the patterns that emerge across the conversations and within each conversation. This will tell us what’s most important to everyone in this process.
We’ll share that information with everyone that wants it and then use it to define and assign clear roles for all partners. It will also provide us with information about how to market these projects and the resources we need to provide to make them successful. Again, thank you to everyone who participated. We look forward to sharing the results!
The following describes the current understanding of how the Blue Thumb program would be governed and would operate following a merger of the program with Metro Blooms. The Rice Creek Watershed District and Metro Blooms are working toward achieving a final transfer agreement in late May. Separately, a transition plan covering Blue Thumb governance, financial management, and communication, more detailed but not legally binding, will be finalized and carried out collaboratively by Blue Thumb partners and Metro Blooms.
What advantages does merging with a non-profit organization have for Blue Thumb?
The intention of the creators of Blue Thumb was for it to become a non-profit organization. Non-profits are eligible for additional funding sources. They are not bound to a single geographic area unless by design, and often excel at establishing partnerships and working with volunteers. Given Blue Thumb’s close programmatic alignment with Metro Blooms, the steering committee is excited about the possibilities to strengthen and expand our work throughout the state.
Will I continue to have access to Blue Thumb materials and displays?
All Blue Thumb materials created prior to the transfer will become publicly available after the transfer, either upon request or to partners who have access to the ftp site, including display materials that would be available for check out with payment of a $20 maintenance fee. Handling of materials created following the transfer would be determined by the new Blue Thumb governance.
I am interested in participating, but am unable to pay the 2015 membership dues in full. What are my options and how will the new dues structure be evaluated moving forward?
We understand that 2015 budgets were approved before membership dues were officially rolled out, and will work with partners to determine a contribution for this year that meets your needs. Raising money through dues, grant writing, and sponsorship will be an important part of creating a more sustainable program in the future. We will convene a workshop group to discuss fundraising efforts including the 2015 dues structure and possible changes for 2016.
How might the roles and relationships with local government partners change?
Government agencies often pay dues to or contract with nonprofit and for‐profit businesses. The Blue Thumb partner agreement would legally transfer the Blue Thumb program and assign the Blue Thumb copyright to Metro Blooms in accordance with program governance and related terms designed to continue partner support and remain responsive to public goals into the future. The agreement likely will provide for a period in which Metro Blooms will operate the program by license before program ownership is transferred, while it and partners refine governance and operational structures to ensure these goals are achieved. Metro Blooms has a history of successful contract work with 10‐20
government agencies each year, including the Legislative‐Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources from 2009‐2011. If there are new benefits that you would like to see in 2016, please let us know!
How will we ensure financial accountability and transparency for partners?
The Blue Thumb budget would become the responsibility of the new board of directors following a merger of the program with Metro Blooms.
As a non-profit organization, the Metro Blooms board of directors has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that the organization’s records and accounts are accurate. To meet this responsibility, monthly financial statements are presented to the board as well as quarterly statements where the approved budget is updated to more accurately reflect the actual versus projected revenue and expenses. The quarterly statements would be shared with the Blue Thumb advisory committee and made available to all partners upon request.
The annual budget is approved at the December board meeting. Blue Thumb partners would have the opportunity to comment on draft budget items paid for with membership dues through a process established by the advisory committee. Membership dues would only be spent on pre-approved activities as outlined in the annual budget. An annual report detailing expenditures and achievements would be provided for partners as well.
How would Blue Thumb and the newly formed organization be governed?
Blue Thumb partners would have several opportunities to participate in governance of the organization including on the nominating committee to interview and select new members of the board of directors, as a board member through an application and interview process, or on an advisory committee with a
liaison to the board to promote communication between the two entities.
With all that partners have invested, does Metro Blooms have the institutional knowledge and capacity to maintain and improve the Blue Thumb program and the services it offers?
Dawn Pape has been hired as the Director of Marketing and Partner Engagement for Metro Blooms. As the Rice Creek Watershed District education and communication specialist, Dawn started Blue Thumb in 2006 and developed it with the help of many partners. She is working part‐time for Metro Blooms at
this time and her hours may increase as funds become available to support this new and exciting position.
Wow. I know I said last year was busy, but 2014 was so busy we hardly had time to blog about, well, anything. Over the last 12 months we’ve worked with some amazing partners to install 96 raingardens, 6 bisowales, 1 trench drain, and 4 permeable pavement systems. We’ve held 7 corporate volunteer events, educated 430 citizens at our workshops, maintained 18 stormwater management practices, worked with volunteers to evaluate and recognize almost 1,000 gardens, and significantly expanded our work with businesses. I’d say who’s counting, but clearly we are – after all we’ve got to let all of our generous supporters know what we’re accomplishing! None of these projects would be possible without the work of dedicated citizens who are doing so much to make a difference in their environment. So before we move on to 2015 and a new series of adventures, let’s remember some of the great projects and partnerships we’ve had the fortune to be a part of in 2014.
Each year we work with the Conservation Corps of Minnesota, citizens, and neighborhood organizations to install raingardens through our “Neighborhood of Raingardens” program. In 2014, we had a record number of projects – 7 different neighborhoods installed 67 raingardens which provide over 8,000 square feet of urban habitat for pollinators and filter thousands of gallons of stormwater runoff each year. Five of the neighborhoods, Sheridan, Columbia Park, Longfellow, Cedar Isles Dean and Field Regina Northrop, were new partners, and two, Cleveland and Audubon, continued previous partnerships. During the Cleveland installations we had the opportunity to teach a group of students from South Korea about raingardens (see photo). In total, Metro Blooms has partnered with 18 neighborhoods since 2009 to install 423 raingardens through this community-driven program!
Lesson Learned: A giant pry bar is the best tool to remove copious amounts of rocks from unpredictably difficult soil (Cedar Isles Dean we’re talking about you!)
In other areas of the metro we were able to partner with local government organizations to design and oversee unique stormwater management projects. We’ve been working with the City of Bloomington since 2012 on their project Green Streets for Blue Waters to design a backyard bio-swale and 18 curb cut raingardens in an area of town that drains directly to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This summer we saw that project come to fruition while we provided oversight during the installation of the curb cut raingardens and maintenance education for residents post-install. You can read more about that project in our previous blog. We also finished up an engagement and installation project with the Vadnais Lakes Area Watershed Management Organization (say that fast) for which we worked with a variety of community organizations and businesses to install 6 stormwater management projects.
Lesson Learned: Pull tree seedlings that creep into your garden early on, or you’ll need a saw, a team of strong pullers, and possibly a horse to get them out.
This was a very exciting year for our Nokomis Neighbors for Clean Water project and residents all over looking to spruce up their alleyways. The general idea of the project is to work with neighbors to create community spaces along their alleyway that also have an ecological function: to infiltrate stormwater and provide habitat. Last spring we got to design a super fun and effective engagement process to implement with neighbors from a couple of blocks to the west of Lake Nokomis. You can read all about that here. Then, this summer along one of the blocks we installed the first ever Blooming Alley for Clean Water in Minneapolis with funding from the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, the City of Minneapolis, and Hennepin County. In total, ten residents gave up space on their property and shared in the cost to install 5 raingardens, 4 permeable pavement systems, 1 trench drain and 6 bioswales. We worked with 35 volunteers from Cummins, the neighborhood, and the Conservation Corps of MN to install the raingardens and bioswales during a two day digging and planting extravaganza. The permeable pavement and trench drain were installed by the fabulous crew at Earth Wizards.
I know you’re already planning to check out the alley this spring, so I’ll tell you now, it’s located between 50th and 51st Street and 16th and 17th Avenue just to the west of Lake Nokomis. The neighbors would LOVE to see you out there. In addition to providing funding, the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross Blue Shield created a short video about the project as part of their Pulling Together Minnesota campaign, demonstrating how community action can create super cool spaces where neighbors are able to interact and be active. Check it out below. To cap it all off we hosted a Blue Thumb Alley Tour for interested professionals and citizens. Almost 50 people attended, proving the community’s desire to create beautiful community spaces that protect water AND habitat. I mean really, how could that not interest you?
Lesson Learned: Working with communities means you have to be flexible, but it also guarantees your outcomes are meaningful, and in this case simply inspiring.
In addition to our community-focused projects we got to work with a couple of schools on raingardens this year. Last spring we worked with Professor Mark Pedelty’s class at the University of Minnesota to design and install a raingarden outside of Rapson Hall College of Design. Thank goodness for dedicated students from Mark’s class and Mr. Pedelty himself – we didn’t have the help of the Conservation Corps on this particular project and it was seriously hard work! Off campus, our MN GreenCorps member, Aida, taught 4th and 5th graders at Bethune Community School in north Minneapolis about environmental stewardship and raingarden design. Thanks to funding from the Hennepin County Green Partners program we were able to install and plant the garden with students in May and then teach them about maintenance this fall.
Lesson Learned: Do NOT, under any circumstances, try to excavate, mulch, and plant a 1,200 square foot raingarden in one day without professional help.
Well I think I’ve rambled on about installations long enough. Now for the other half of Metro Blooms’ uniqueness: education and garden evaluations! We kicked off our Raingardens and Beyond workshop series last February, a bit earlier than usual, but after a cold winter we figured everyone was ready to start thinking about being outside again. From February-June over 430 people came to 16 workshops throughout the metro to learn about raingardens and work with a landscape designer and Hennepin County Master Gardener to design their own property. By October, 42% had already installed a raingarden or were currently working on one and another 30% have plans to install one in the future. Stay tuned for our 2015 workshops, Raingardens and Beyond: Clean Water, Healthy Habitats. We’ll be incorporating more information about pollinators and the plants they rely on in 2015.
In other education news, Metro Blooms became the new host site of the Blue Thumb program this year. Blue Thumb is a regional network of water quality professionals including local governments, nurseries, landscape companies, and nonprofits. We had a great time hosting Blue Thumb activities this summer/fall including the Blue Thumb Alley Tour, tour of Lakeville stormwater management practices (led by Ecoscapes), Landscape Revival, and State Fair booth and are now exploring a permanent relationship with the program.
Lesson Learned: State Fair visitors LOVE the Blue Thumb “Magic is in the Roots” display. We need more cool displays.
Our Development Director, Barb, had a very busy year, adding 7 corporate volunteer events to her already packed schedule! We partnered with about 250 volunteers in 2014 to accomplish some fantastic projects. Those volunteers include our 113 garden evaluators, who evaluated some 970 gardens throughout Minneapolis. The evaluations culminate in the top 10-15 gardens which we recognize at our annual Garden Awards event. The event was at the Columbia Manor again this year and nearly 200 people attended to recognize beautiful Minneapolis gardens and the people that create and maintain them.
Lesson Learned: Not only does Columbia Manor have delicious desserts, they also have fantastic appetizers (thanks Prom Catering).
2014 also marked a very exciting year for us in the commercial sector. We received a Great Streets Business District Support Grant last winter from the City of Minneapolis to work with businesses along East 38th Street and within the Whittier Neighborhood of Minneapolis. The grant supports site consultations, education, stormwater management plans, and assistance with funding applications for businesses in eligible areas. Our office just so happens to be located along 38th Street, in Sabathani Community Center, and our designers have had a ball working with them and other businesses such as the Black Forest Inn and the Fire Arts Center.
Lesson Learned: Business owners don’t attend workshops and site consultations at Black Forest Inn seem to take twice as long as usual…I’m sure it has nothing to do with their delicious menu:)
I swore this year maintenance was going to get its own paragraph, because we (by we I mean our designer Andy) put a lot of work into it. This year we partnered with the Conservation Corps of MN to maintain stormwater management practices at 14 Minneapolis Public School (MPS) sites. But the exciting part is the stormwater credits: we worked with the schools and the City of Minneapolis to secure over $60,000 in stormwater credits for MPS every year due to their stormwater management practices. We also started working with the City of Champlin to maintain a few raingardens on City property and partnered with volunteers to pull weeds and re-plant at Sentyrz, Irving Triangle, and Folwell School in Minneapolis.
Lesson Learned: Canada thistle looks pretty, until you sit on it multiple times. Then it’s not pretty, at all.
Like I said, it was a busy year! Thank you for sticking with us and for your continued support. We’ve got some exciting projects coming up in 2015, and we can’t wait to share them with you. In the meantime, Happy New Year from all of us here at Metro Blooms:)
Come see Metro Blooms’ first Blooming Alley, and rediscover back alleys. The idea is to look beyond garbage cans and garages and envision alleys as inviting, ecological community spaces. That’s what neighbors on a block near Minneapolis’Lake Nokomis did last spring when they started planning their alley makeover as part of a project called Nokomis Neighbors for Clean Water. This is alley beautification with a green mission: to create lovely neighborhood spaces that incorporate strategies to reduce storm water runoff and promote native habitat.
Stormwater flowing through backyards, driveways and alleys is a major culprit in Lake Nokomis pollution. Metro Blooms undertook this project to partner with local groups, government and residents to reduce the problem. The key is community engagement: provide the tools—namely, expertise in landscape design and stormwater management—that allow residents to work together to find a solution, and make their community a better place to live in the process. Funding from the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, the City of Minneapolis, and Hennepin County supported the project and, over several months, Metro Blooms helped neighbors on the block design and create the first Blooming Alley.
On April 12th, 2014 more then 35 neighbors from two blocks in the Lake Nokomis watershed got together to reimagine their alleyway. Why? How? Where? Was there food? you may be asking. To answer the most pressing question, yes, there was food. There was also creativity flowing, neighbors interacting, idea sharing, and community forming. It was a fantastic event that was made possible by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of MN and three awesome block leaders.
The Why: Lake Nokomis Neighbors for Clean Water is a project that Metro Blooms has been working on with neighborhood and local government partners to clean-up Lake Nokomis by re-inventing backyards and alleyways. Lake Nokomis is impaired, which means there’s too much pollution in it to support a healthy aquatic ecosystem. Most of that pollution comes from urban runoff, and most of THAT pollution flows through backyards and down alleyways to reach the lake. Furthermore, alleys could be such cool spaces for neighbors to interact, and they can be pretty (really!) if we can change the way we view and use them.
This perennial prairie grass is native to the Central and Eastern United States and Canada. It requires full sun and prefers well-drained soils. For that reason, it’s also extremely drought-tolerant. Prairie Dropseed occurs commonly in prairies and along roads and gets its name from the tiny rounded seeds which drop to the ground in autumn.
Watch for: Small clumps of this grass with fine, hair-like green leaves up to 20 inches long that form an arching foliage mound 2-3 feet tall. Foliage turns golden/orange in the fall, and a light bronze in winter. Prairie Dropseed blooms in late summer, forming open, branching flower panicles on slender stems which rise well above the foliage clump. Flowers are rusty-tan and noted for their unique fragrance (notes of coriander).
Other names: Northern Dropseed
History:Sporobolus heterolepisis a native Minnesota species. It was one of the first plants used in prairie restorations as it is heat and drought tolerant and does well in habitats with naturally-occurring fires. Native Americans ground the seeds of Prairie Dropseed to make a tasty flour.
Tidbits: Prairie Dropseed is a favorite of small rodents, which burrow in the tufts of leaves. It’s a larval food plant of the Leonard’s Skipper butterfly and the nutrition-packed seeds attract birds throughout the winter.
Gardens/Cultivation: An attractive plant for any raingarden or green roof, Sporobolus heterolepis is slow growing and requires little maintenance. It serves as great ground cover for hot, dry areas and is considered by many to be the most handsome of the prairie grasses, due partly to its “tidy size”. This grass should be planted 18-24″ apart.
It’s certainly been cold in Minnesota this last month, but it’s going to warm up this weekend and with that warm-up maybe you’ll start thinking about the up and coming garden season! Or maybe not, but in either case, we wanted to remind you of some winter maintenance practices for your garden so it’s ready to perk up again come spring.
Snow Removal: Do not plow or shovel snow into your raingarden. It may look like a natural place to pile the white stuff, but resist the urge! Excess snowpack on your garden can compact the soil and minimize its infiltration capacity. Mark the boundaries of your garden to ensure that snow plows and shovels don’t cause damage. Do your best to keep de-icing salt and sand out of your garden area as excessive accumulation of salt and sediment can be toxic to your plants and inhibit infiltration.
Speaking of salt, a couple of tips:
Salt is most effective at melting ice when the temperature is at least 15 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s colder than that, salt isn’t very effective.
Salt is harmful to our water bodies, so before you use it remember that very little salt is needed to melt ice. Always apply according to package instructions and don’t overuse!
Next Year’s Plan: Plan your next raingarden installation. Use your available time in the winter to dream up your new garden possibilities. Review photos of your raingarden to see if there are any bare spots or plants that have overgrown their space and plan for new plants or dividing existing ones. Need some inspiration? Come to one of Metro Blooms’ raingarden workshops! We’re going to be hosting a couple at the end of February this year so you won’t have to wait long to begin your design.
Equipment Maintenance: Clean and repair garden tools so that they are in great shape to be put to use in the springtime. You may also still be able to find some sweet deals on garden tools at your local hardware store, in case you need to replace a shovel or buy some fancy new gloves.
If dreaming up future gardens just isn’t enough for you, I recommend hopping in a Car2Go and taking a trip to the Como Zoo to breathe in some of the conservatory air, sure to remind you that flowers still bloom and the world is colorful, even in the depth of winter.
As 2013 winds to an end, we find ourselves spending a lot of time planning for NEXT year. At Metro Blooms we’re writing work plans for 2014, anxiously awaiting the results of grant applications, and scheduling maintenance and installations for the coming summer. But I thought before the hustle and bustle of a new year begins, we should take a few minutes to remember the work that we’ve already accomplished, and the triumphs and lessons learned in 2013.
Queen of the Prairie is a rare, native perennial that favors high quality habitat. Named filum for “thread” and pendulus for “hanging”, this plant’s name refers to some species’ small tubers strung together by fibrous roots. It thrives in full sun, wet to moderate moisture, and sandy to loamy soil and is often seen in meadows, prairies, and woods.
Watch for: An erect perennial, 3-6 feet tall. The flower is a showy pink inflorescence on a long naked stalk and blooms June-July. While blooming, the flowers look a lot like wind-tossed pink fluff. The central stem is smooth and has a tendency to look reddish in the sunlight. Leaves are alternate, compound, and can be up to 2 feet long. Each leaf has 1-7 palmate leaflets with coarsely dentate margins.
Other names: Filipendula
History: The root of this native Minnesota species has been used throughout history to treat various heart troubles and has also been used as a love medicine as it’s considered an herbal aphrodisiac. In addition, it can be used to treat skin rashes as the root has a high tannin content.
Tidbits: The Queen of the Prairie is a very interesting plant. It produces pollen favored by bees, beetles, and flies, but doesn’t create any nectar! It’s also very useful for restoring fields as it is an indicator of high quality habitats.
Gardens/Cultivation: Filipendula rubra prefers the cooler climate of the Great Lake region to hot, dry summer heat. Leaves can become spotted from foliar disease, but the plant is otherwise not subject to diseases or fungus and the foliage is not commonly eaten by deer or other herbivores. Deadheading is not necessary as the flower heads are decorative and it does little to encourage rebloom. If division is necessary, it’s best to divide this plant in the fall.