LeighsRainGarden  Rain Gardens in the Watershed

The Native Plant Society of New Jersey has an excellant Rain Garden Manual giving details on how to design and build a rain garden for your home.  The manual is available as a free download from the society's home page at:


Interview with Pete Kukle, Property Manager

Peter Kukle

This is Sam from Bergen Swan, I'm sitting here with Peter Kukle, who is a naturalist out of Bergenfield New Jersey. He's been a long-time supporter of SWAN, and he shares his love and knowledge of the outdoors on many guided nature walks.  He has a degree in botany from the University of California and has also studied biology, tropical ecology, forestry, and soils.  Peter does historically sensitive home renovations through his self-owned business, Habitat Renewal. He has collected plants in Central and South America for use in botanical gardens and herbaria, he has also been a certified Wetland Delineator, and also an NJ board-certified tree expert

How is the Merinoff property a good example of ecologically-friendly landscaping?

It's a large property in Haworth, New Jersey, and its about four acres, which includes lots of lawns, but also these lawns are not mowed regularly, and sections of these lawns are left to go wild, to let the native plants seed themselves and grow. Also there are native trees along a nature path. More invasive species have been taken out so that more native plants can take over.  Any wood that's cut down, branches, are left to lay and be recycled into the ground.

What varieties of native species are utilized in the gardens?

There's quite a few species in the rain gardens, all of them native: some are woody, and some are more herbaceous. There's dogwoods, fibernums, cardinal flower, cardinalis, which in bloom has striking red colors.  There's other flowering plants, there's native ferns, several species, which multiply sometimes very quickly, and then can be thinned down other places, some of them evergreen, so they retain their color in the wintertime, like Christmas fern. Actually, several ferns, one of them, ostrich fern, is edible when young and can be harvested.

How does the residence keep its plant life healthy without the use of harmful chemicals?

Basically it's about recycling, not taking the leaves that fall from the trees and throwing them out, you mulch them into the gardens and the base of the plants, where they decay and rot and go back into the soil. Composting is the key word there, not to remove dead leaves, branches, or other tree parts from that site.

What is the importance of honeybees to the ecosystem?

Honeybees are pollinators, some plants are pollinated by wind, others are pollinated by insects.  Bees play a very important role there. Without pollination, you don't get fertilization, without fertilization you don't get seeds that can turn to embryos or new plants. So, without those bees to pollinate the flowers you won't get new plants.  And you want that, because you need the new plants to regenerate and refurbish an ecosystem.

What does the residence do to offset energy costs?

They do quite a few things, one of those being solar panels. Large solar panels were installed on the house, facing south, to obtain as much light as possible, to help not use our fossil fuels from coal plants to create the energy. Also, there's a wood stove in the house and a fireplace, and any wood cut down on the property is cut into firewood. Firewood is then used in the stove to heat the house.

Is that wood stove new to the house, or has it been there the whole time?

No, the wood stove's a new thing, it was just installed, but there are fireplaces, but fireplaces don't generally heat a house, because there's a flue and a chimney, they actually pull a lot of heat and air from the house. So the wood stove is really efficient because it radiates heat into the house.

How does the rain garden work and how can homeowners create one of their own?

This particular rain garden is located along a driveway, which is blacktop, like many driveways. Blacktop driveways you get a lot of runoff, and runoff goes away off the property usually, creating erosion, maybe even going into a neighbor's yard. This particular rain garden stops the water from going down a hill, creating erosion, draining nutrients, and then going into the neighbor's yard, which isn't good because it floods their yard. So by way of a rain garden, water is caught in the garden itself, and native plants are able to suck up and absorb the moisture, therefore you don't need to water the plants. Also the ground is recharged, because the water is now able to percolate into the ground, as opposed to going down the street, into a stream to be lost.

How has your experience as a certified wetland delineator helped you in these sorts of situations, and dealing with wetlands ?

Well wetland delineation is the science and art of being able to identify a wetland, and there are three criteria: one is soils, one is plant composition, and the amount of water in the ground. It's important to know what a wetland is so that we can save these areas from development. Wetlands have a certain suite of animals and plants that grow there and require wetlands. So we have wetland plants, just as we have upland plants that require dryer soils. If we remove our wetlands, we remove the plants, and a habitat for frogs and other amphibians, reptiles, to live in. I don't use my wetland delineation certificate and education very much, but it's nice to be able to know that science.

Hopefully more people can become knowledgeable about parts of the environment like that. Thank you Peter, this is Bergen SWAN, signing off.

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More to come soon!