Category Archives: Blooming Alleys

Demonstration Blooming Alley Tour

Thanks to everyone who attended and assisted with the tour of the Demonstration Blooming Alley on August 6! 40 people joined Metro Blooms to socialize, see an example Blooming Alley, and learn about stormwater management practices. Attendees got to see raingardens, native plantings, and permeable pavement strips along the 49th and 50th blocks of 16th/17th Ave S. It was a great opportunity for Alley Captains, participants, designers, community volunteers, and others interested in Blooming Alleys to meet each other, and we’re so glad the weather held out for the event! If you weren’t able to make it this year, stay posted because we’ll be hosting similar tours in the future.


A native planting one year after installation.


People interested or participating  in Blooming Alleys from different neighborhoods got to meet at the Alley Tour!


We split up into small groups to walk the alleys and take a closer look at the practices and how they work.


July 16 and 17 Blooming Alleys Install

Thanks to the Target and Thomson Reuters volunteers who helped us complete our first Blooming Alley installation of 2015! Volunteers helped us mulch, plant, and water raingardens and native plantings. The groups came from project management, so they made short work of the installation! It was great to meet everyone and share a bit about what we do at Metro Blooms.

Volunteers hard at work spreading mulch in a raingarden!

Volunteers used raingarden plans to position the plants with the correct spacing.

More planting!

The next morning, Thomson Reuters got to dig in the dirt and plant the seedlings in the ground. After the gardens were completed, volunteers took a tour of the Demonstration Blooming Alley, and learned about some of the functions of raingardens and the goals of the Blooming Alleys project.

Volunteers finish a brand-new raingarden!

Volunteers water a finished garden.

Metro Blooms landscape designer, Andy, shows the volunteers some of the features of a Blooming Alley.

The raingardens and native plantings in this alley have been installed! Residents will wait until the fall for their permeable pavement to be finished. We are expecting to do two more Blooming Alleys installations this fall. Thanks to everyone who helped make this project a success!

If you or your business would like to help at one of Metro Blooms’ installations in the future, email

Blooming Alleys Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some of the questions we’ve been asked as Blooming Alleys projects are getting started:

Why are you focusing on alleys?

Blooming Alleys create great community spaces for the neighborhood and make ideal pedestrian and pollinator pathways.  Additionally, the majority of runoff from a typical property, as well as the most polluted runoff, drains to the alleyway.  The suggested practices capture runoff and allow it to sink into the soil to be cleaned and cooled naturally, rather than running into the alley, the nearest storm drain, and directly to a body of water.

Who are the partners on this project?

Partners vary depending on the neighborhood of the project, but all Blooming Alleys partners include: The City of Minneapolis, Metro Blooms, The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, Friends of Lake Nokomis,The Lynnhurst Neighborhood Association, Diamond Lake Neighborhood Association, Friends of Diamond Lake, Hennepin County, the Clean Water Fund, Nokomis East Neighborhood Association, Blue Thumb Partners, Master Water Stewards, Master Gardeners, and neighborhood citizens.

What does it cost to participate?

This project is funded by the Clean Water Fund, Hennepin County, Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, and the City of Minneapolis. The funding is already committed in Nokomis so participants will only have to contribute about $350-$650, depending on the project and how many people on each block are participating. In Lynnhurst and Diamond Lake, the community will apply for a cost share which typically covers 50-75% of the project cost up to $2,500. There will be no cost to homeowners until the installation phase of the project, and no commitment required until the cost share has been determined.

What would these projects usually cost?

By participating in Blooming Alleys, you will only pay up to 50% of what the project would usually cost. Raingardens generally cost $10-$25/sq. foot, and permeable pavement generally costs $30-45 sq. foot.

When will I be asked to commit to an installation?

You won’t be asked to commit to an installation until you’ve had your site consultation, received your plan, and are told what your cost share would be. At this point we’ll ask you to make a decision about whether or not you’ll move forward with an installation.

What does the cost share cover?

After you have a site consultation, you’ll receive a plan detailing all of the stormwater management options for your backyard and driveway.  Once we reach about 30% participation on the block we’ll ask you which practices you’re interested in having installed (if any).  The cost share will cover 1-2 projects/property (depending on number of people participating and type/scale of projects – permeable pavement is more expensive than a raingarden).  Anything beyond that we can still install as part of this project but you’d be responsible for the additional cost.

What if I don’t want a raingarden or permeable pavement but still want to participate?

Many people are interested in doing something but aren’t quite ready to pursue a large project like a permeable pavement driveway.  There are many other options, such as redirecting downspouts, installing a rain barrel, and putting gutters on your garage, that are great practices which protect water quality.  We’re more than happy to connect you with Master Water Stewards who can help you implement these practices.

Where can I see examples of these projects?

Last year, Metro Blooms installed a demonstration alley between 16th & 17th Avenue and 50th and 51st Street, just to the west of Lake Nokomis. You are welcome to look at this alley on your own or attend an Alley Tour on August 6 from 5:30-7:00pm.

When will my alley be installed?

That depends on you and your neighbors and the neighborhood you live in.  Nokomis Neighbors for Clean Water is a 3-year project to install 15 Blooming Alleys so we’ll be completing installations from Fall of 2015 – Fall of 2017.  Diamond Lake & Lynnhurst Blooming Alleys will wrap up their first round in 2016.  Our goal is at least 30% participation (around 10 properties) on each block.  Once we have that many participants we’ll move forward with the installation phase.  For some blocks this may happen right away and for some it may take a bit longer.  Metro Blooms works with volunteers, the Conservation Corps of Minnesota, and other sub-contractors to install the proposed practices.

What are the project boundaries?

Blooming Alleys projects will only be installed within the Lake Nokomis Watershed, Diamond Lake Watershed, and Lynnhurst neighborhood. Stormwater runoff in these areas will drain directly into Lake Nokomis, Diamond Lake, or Minnehaha Creek.

Who maintains the practices once they’re installed?

Maintenance education will be provided by Master Gardeners, Master Water Stewards, and Metro Blooms.  Participants will be responsible for maintaining their practices but we encourage blocks to organize group maintenance or hire an interested neighbor to maintain gardens and permeable pavement.  We are always available after project completion to answer questions about maintenance.

How do I get involved?

Metro Blooms is actively seeking blocks in the Lake Nokomis Watershed to participate in the Blooming Alleys project in the coming years. If you are interested in getting your block involved, email

Blooming Alleys Update

In less than two weeks, Metro Blooms will be installing the first Blooming Alleys projects of 2015! We will be installing 5 raingardens in a Blooming Alley near Lake Nokomis on July 17, with permeable pavement installs to follow this fall. We are expecting two other Nokomis Blooming Alleys to be installed this fall as well. With the help of Alley Captains, Master Water Stewards, and neighbors, Alley Parties are under way in other blocks as well as site consultations and plans. Once our landscape designers make stormwater management plans for each property, participants will decide if they’d like to move forward and have an installation.


A finished Blooming Alley

The installations are exciting, but the planning process is also an exciting time! We’ve been meeting with Alley Captains in all of the participating neighborhoods, attending Alley Parties, and meeting residents at Site Consultations. It’s been fun to see people energetic about reducing their stormwater runoff, but also about meeting their neighbors and doing this project with their block. One block commented that Blooming Alleys was a good opportunity to meet their “across-the-alley” neighbors.

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An Alley Party

We’d like to invite everyone to our tour of the demonstration Blooming Alley on August 6!  We’ll be meeting in the alley behind 5017 16th Ave S. at 5:30 and the tour will end at 7:00. We’ll discuss some of the finished projects and how to maintain them.This will be a time for anyone interested in Blooming Alleys to meet Alley Captains, participants, community volunteers, and others involved with the project. RSVP to We hope this will be a good time for people to ask questions about Blooming Alleys and learn how to participate in or start a Blooming Alleys project on their block.


Last year’s Alley Tour

Blooming Alleys Partnership Results

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 (!


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.

What is Blooming Alleys All About?

Blooming Alleys is a program of Metro Blooms that aims to protect waterways, create habitat, and transform communities by working with blocks of residents to re-imagine what their alleyway looks like and how it functions. The goal of Blooming Alleys is to reduce the volume of stormwater runoff flowing to the alleyway while creating a beautiful community space. Metro Blooms is planning to install a variety of features, such as raingardens, that serve to reduce runoff and filter pollutants before they reach neighboring bodies of water. By completing these projects at a neighborhood-scale, Metro Blooms is able to educate neighborhoods about runoff pollution and its effects on local bodies of water.  Alleys are the focus of this project because they contain polluted runoff from driveways and backyards, and have the potential to become a social space for the neighborhood.

Metro Blooms installed a single demonstration alley in the summer of 2014, involving 10 residents in the Nokomis neighborhood. Metro Blooms has plans to complete 15 more Blooming Alleys in Nokomis, 5 in the Lynnhurst Neighborhood, and 5-7 in the Diamond Lake watershed. These projects seek to decrease bank erosion and flooding, expand pollinator habitat, and improve conditions for aquatic life and recreation. By capturing runoff in the ground before it flows into the lake, water can be cleaned and cooled in the soil rather than reaching a body of water immediately. Residents do not pay until the installation phase, and then residents will be able to participate in a cost-share payment method.

In order to accomplish these goals, Metro Blooms is planning to coordinate efforts among organizations with similar missions. Those involved include Master Water Stewards, Master Gardeners, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed P1010903District, The Conservation Corps, Blue Thumb partners, The City of Minneapolis, and neighborhood volunteers.


Each participating block is headed by an Alley Captain who has expressed interest in the project to Metro Blooms. Metro Blooms assists the Alley Captain in involving the block and hosting an educational Alley Party, where Metro Blooms and Master Water Stewards explain ways that residents can improve stormwater management on their properties. Metro Blooms will give information to neighbors interested in altering their stormwater management practices, but unable to commit to the Blooming Alleys project. Those interested in pursuing a cost-share project will receive on-site evaluations for potential projects from Metro Blooms, and the installation of these is photo (23)completed by The Conservation Corps. Metro Blooms will provide additional resources on Blooming Alleys maintenance, and Master Gardeners and Master Water stewards will assist at neighborhood maintenance events after the projects have been completed.


Blooming Alleys Partnerships

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 IMG_5224without 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 IMG_5228large 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!

An Alley Blooms

An Alley Blooms

 Finally, it was an alley’s time to shine. Blue Thumb recently hosted a tour of 10672422_10152739480736585_3347332051396641627_nthe first Blooming Alley in Minneapolis, a green project to redesign back alleys. The tour showed that narrow back lanes separating neighbors from one another can be reinvented as places that connect people and function to protect the environment. All it takes is a little know-how, a willingness to think “outside” of the conventional alley, and the synergy of neighbors working together toward a shared goal—key ingredients in a Metro Blooms initiative called Nokomis Neighbors for Clean Water.

 Restoring Lake Nokomis is the ultimate goal. The lake is classified as impaired 10703498_10152739480596585_8131284344578906323_nby the MN Pollution Control Agency, or too polluted to support a healthy ecosystem. Most of that pollution is urban runoff, dirty stormwater that flows through backyards and down paved surfaces such as alleys, eventually reaching the lake. The idea behind a Blooming Alley is simple: invite neighbors on the block to re-invent their alley as a shared common space that also diverts runoff and encourages natural habitat. Think raingardens and permeable pavement, which allow stormwater to filter slowly through soil before reaching the lake, rather than running directly into storm drains.

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Blooming Alley Tour & Happy Hour

Written by Aleli Balagtas

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.

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Lake Nokomis Alley Get-Together

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.

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