The first-ever rain garden at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is receiving a complete makeover this fall. Illinois Extension and Facilities & Services (F&S) are renovating the Red Oak Rain Garden, located between Allen Hall and McKinley Health Center near Dorner Drive.

The rain garden provides flood protection, improves water quality, and promotes ecological health and enjoyment in the area. Before the garden, rainstorms limited sidewalk use and impaired the red oak. The revamped design will improve the garden’s ability to soak up rainwater in a beautiful, interactive, and educational way.

“We’ve been planning this project for two years and are excited to see it finally happening,” said Illinois Extension’s Eliana Brown, who is leading the project. “The work will enhance the garden’s aesthetics, encourage research as a living, learning laboratory, and add much-needed functionality such as wider sidewalks and Americans with Disabilities Act accessible spaces.”

F&S crews have removed, regraded, and improved sidewalks. Tree protection was performed ahead of the construction activities, and the grass underneath the red oak was removed in an all-natural way using cardboard. Native plant installation is expected to take place next month as weather permits.

Rainwater management is an ongoing challenge at the university. Several practices have been used on the Urbana campus to address flooding, including the development of the Red Oak Rain Garden in 2006. The garden is supported by the Student Sustainability Committee and others and helps achieve target stormwater goals outlined in the Illinois Climate Action Plan.  

In addition to serving as a demonstration garden, this project creates opportunities for University of Illinois students to volunteer their time and talent in service of this public asset. Students from the Landscape Architecture and Horticulture programs and from the nearby residence halls have worked alongside community members from the Extension Master Gardener and Master Naturalist programs on this project.

The Red Oak Rain Garden is a landscape that celebrates rain, invigorates the campus and community educational experience, and promotes well-being. Its goals include developing outreach materials with home landscapes in mind. For more information, see redoakraingarden.org and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at @RainGardenUIUC. Inquiries about the project can be sent to Eliana Brown at brown12@illinois.edu.