URBANA, Ill. – For years, when it rained in Champaign-Urbana pedestrians avoided the sidewalks between Allen Hall and McKinley Health Center. Now, they swing by after a storm to watch the Red Oak Rain Garden at work.
The Red Oak Rain Garden is a 10,000-square-foot demonstration site that soaks up rainwater, provides wildlife habitat, promotes well-being for everyone who walks by, and educates visitors about sustainable landscape design.
"As the first rain garden on campus, this garden is both beautiful and smart. It addresses flooding in an innovative way — by planting an attractive landscape that captures and cleans up stormwater,” says Eliana Brown, Red Oak Rain Garden Director and a Water Quality Specialist with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and Illinois Extension.
In April, the Red Oak Rain Garden team hosted a Garden Party to celebrate the completion of the boardwalk bridge that spans the garden. The bridge, which was completed in June 2021, is constructed of sustainably sourced wood that was gifted by Allerton Park. Engineering was provided by Tony Heath and Professor Emeritus Bill Gamble with construction management by Shannon Tucker. Paralympian and ACES doctoral student Susannah Scaroni provided advice to ensure that the bridge's design was fully inclusive.
The garden was welcomed with remarks from Illinois Extension Director Shelly Nickols-Richardson, Assistant Dean and Extension Natural Resources, Environment, and Energy Program Leader Shibu Kar. Brown thanked volunteers, partners, and supporters. Then she led a tour with Red Oak Rain Garden Landscape Designer and Extension Outreach Associate Layne Knoche.
The Red Oak Rain Garden’s ground cover of native plants acts as a small-scale wetland, with plant roots absorbing and filtering rainwater runoff instead of allowing it to overwhelm sewer systems and contribute to flooding. The garden also supports pollinating insects and birds.
“We’d like this garden to inspire people to create environmentally sound landscapes and reimagine their property,” Brown says.
Become a volunteer
Interested in learning about rain garden care and native plants? Workdays are 9 to 11 a.m. Fridays. If you’re interested in volunteering, email uie-RedOakRainGarden@illinois.edu.
Ready to start a rain garden?
Get started with these Illinois Extension resources.
- Native plant resources
- Prevent floods with rain friendly landscaping
- Homeowner Conservation Practices to Protect Water Quality (Purdue University)
Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.