Water-Related News

Gardens With a Purpose: Winter Haven's Rain Gardens Help Lake Water Quality

Rain gardens are spreading like scattered showers around the heart of Winter Haven.

And the city will soon have $400,000 to create more of them, with the funds coming mostly from grants. There are now 44 city-built rain gardens in the core of the downtown, with plans to double that in the next few years.

For two of the city supervisors responsible for managing flooding and controlling lake water quality and levels, this question answers itself:

Which is better: Rain that washes across streets and parking lots and makes its way — with assorted crud, harmful nutrients and debris — into storm drains and then into lakes, or, rain that simply soaks into the ground and refreshes the Floridan aquifer?

And that's where Winter Haven's aggressive installation of rain gardens comes in.

"We're changing 25 years of what wasn't working out the way we hoped," said Mike Britt, director of Winter Haven's Natural Resources Division.

Rain gardens are intended to catch water running off buildings; or, in some cases, runoff is directed into the gardens.

The area is dug about 9 to 12 inches down to retain excess water, and the soil should be sandy for fast drainage. Plants in the garden should be able to handle Florida's sun, summer rains and dry winters.

Two plants that do exceedingly well are muhley grass and swamp sunflower, according to M. J. Carnevale, a natural resources program manager for Winter Haven.