Sunday, June 10, 2018

How Raingardens Reduce Plastics Pollution

Chances are, this trash would have ended up in Carnegie Lake; might even have continued downstream and out into the ocean to join those massive gyres of plastic we hear about. But something filtered it out before it could get into the local waterways.

That something is a raingarden, in this case the two raingardens I've "adopted" at Westminster Choir College. You can see how the curb dips down to allow water to enter from the pavement.

People think of raingardens as plantings that reduce flooding, feed pollinators, and filter pollutants out of stormwater, but they also serve to protect waterways from trash.

Here's the typical stormdrain along the edge of a town street. A plastic water bottle and other small bits of trash, along with the nutrients in the leaves, stand poised to enter the stormdrain that will carry them down to Harry's Brook, then on to Carnegie Lake. Most storm drains have openings large enough to allow plastic bottles and other trash through. An additional issue, as can be seen in the photo, is that the asphalt around stormdrains eventually breaks down, requiring repair. Many stormdrains around town show signs of being patched multiple times in the past--a time-consuming, labor intensive proposition.

Here's another broken stormdrain. Not the most flattering depiction. Most are in good condition, and they certainly are a compact way to get rid of stormwater, but they essentially convey the problems of trash and nutrient pollution "down the pipe", for downstream aquatic life to deal with.

The raingarden, by contrast, traps the problems at the source, protecting the local waterways. Somehow, this fact didn't sink in for me until I found myself picking up the trash while doing some weeding. I was essentially cleaning a runoff filter, like one might clean the lint filter in a clothesdryer. That concrete structure in the photo is the drain. Water rarely if ever rises high enough to flow into it, seeping instead into the soil.

The photo, taken in the spring, doesn't show the raingarden at its aesthetic best. The native plants planted here are warm-season species that don't grow up and fill in until the beginning of summer. Below is a more flattering example of a wetland planting with species that get going early in spring,

The soft rush (dark green), sedges (light green), and sensitive fern grow naturally along a seepage slope at Smoyer Park.

The lush growth owes to the more stable supply of water from the seepage slope, while a streetscape planting will have greater extremes of dry and wet.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Upcoming Free Events -- Theater, Jazz, Video

(Also posted at

CLIMATE CABARET -- A free performance of original climate change theater and locally sourced "Sustainable Jazz" at the Labyrinth Bookstore in Princeton, 6pm on Wednesday, June 13. This performance will feature climate-adapted versions of Shakespeare, The King's Speech, a song from the Wizard of Oz, along with theatrical sketches ranging from comic to poignant. A suburban lawn undergoes therapy for recurring feelings of emptiness and chemical addiction, and for the first time, an environmentalist house cat will share her thoughts and concerns about earth and the human race. Actors: Cheryl Jones, Basha Parmet, Kitty Getlik, Fred Dennehy, Steve Hiltner. With Phil Orr, piano, and Steve Hiltner, sax/clarinet.

SUSTAINABLE JAZZ -- Another free show, this one hosted by the Princeton Public Library, from 2-3pm on Sunday, June 17. Steve Hiltner and the extraordinary pianist Phil Orr will perform Steve's original jazz compositions from their upcoming album. Styles range from straight-ahead jazz to funk, rumba and tango. Check out Phil's many other creative collaborations, including the ongoing Jazz On Broad series in Hopewell, at

VIDEO PREMIER – Farming in the Millstone Valley: Past and Present 
--to be held at the Princeton Garden Theatre at 7:30 PM Tuesday June 12th, 2018. The viewing will be followed by a panel discussion. A preview of the video was shown at Eno Terra, but the final version has many new images. The video was made by the Millstone Valley Preservation Coalition (MVPC), in association with the Van Harlingen Historical Society. Kingston and the Princeton Nurseries Kingston Site are included in the video.

BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR OSWALD VEBLEN -- An outdoor picnic event at Herrontown Woods in celebration of Oswald Veblen's 138th birthday (still going strong) is being planned for 2pm Sunday, June 24. Oswald and Elizabeth Veblen donated Princeton's first dedicated nature preserve, Herrontown Woods, in 1957. The Friends of Herrontown Woods have been caring for this wonderful legacy, and researching the fascinating history of the Veblen House and farm cottage. Veblen was featured recently in a Princeton Alumni Weekly article, entitled "The Power of Small Numbers." Time to throw him a party. More details will be posted when available, at