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Waterosity Comes to the Arboretum


Carolin Dittmann and Kathy Zuzek, Owner of Verbena Design and Landscaping and former University of Minnesota Former Graduate Student and University of Minnesota Extension Educator

Water is the essence of life.  All living beings on earth depend on water for survival.  Water is also a source of joy and beauty.  Here in Minnesota with our 10,000 lakes, the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi, and the beauty of Lake Superior and the rivers that cascade into it, it is easy to celebrate the beauty of water.  It is also far too easy to ignore how wide-reaching our impact on water resources is.  From agricultural and industrial uses that benefit everyone to our individual use of water in our daily lives, we all consume and pollute water.  All of us – individuals, communities, and agricultural and industrial enterprises – need to act with wisdom and stewardship to manage and conserve our water resources, ensuring that safe water will be available as a source of delight and health today and in the future.


Photo 1: Its easy to find the beauty of water in MN. Kathy Zuzek

These are the themes of Waterosity, the 2009 summer exhibition at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.  Waterosity explores and celebrates the beauty and the complex interdependence of people, plants, and water by presenting interactive displays and activities about the joy of water and our need to be wise advocates of our precious water resources.  The exhibit runs from June 6 through October 4 and brings together the voices of artists, scientists, and horticulturists to explore the interplay of people, plants, and water.

There are many facets of Waterosity for visitors to choose from:

  • A new Water-Wise Living Exhibition includes two demonstrations called The Cutting Edge on Lawns and Harvest Your Rain.

  • There are also several permanent features at the arboretum that complement Waterosity’s message for visitors to enjoy and to learn from.

  • The Go Green with a Splash exhibition is an outdoor public art display of Waterosity themes showcasing the winning artwork of a juried competition.

  • Programming for families and children includes the Water Works Plant Lab, the Blue & Green Express, Heart of the Beast Theatre presentations, and the Washed-up Treasure Map self-guided tours.

  • Water-Wise Living Tours led by docents will be offered each Saturday morning.

  • On July 11 and 12, visit the Arboretum to take part in the Go Green With a Splash Party full of special Waterosity events.

Water-Wise Living Exhibition

Two Water-Wise Living demonstrations, The Cutting Edge on Lawns and Harvest Your Rain will show how people can use and manage water in environmentally responsible ways in their yards and gardens. 

We can all be part of conserving water as we care for our lawns and gardens.  The Cutting Edge on Lawns exhibit will be placed on the island in front of the Oswald Visitor Center and will demonstrate ways to conserve water.  Stroll into the Gardener’s Idea Shed to see interactive displays on wise watering and gardening practices and products that both save water and promote plant health.


Surrounding the Idea Shed are demonstration plots of new water-efficient grass varieties currently on the market as well as future lawn grasses being developed by University of Minnesota turf research scientists.  Additional plots are planted with a no-mow mix and an ecology lawn mix.


Photo 2: Grass germinating in preparation for the Cutting Edge on Lawns display. Kathy Zuzek

As property owners, we also have an important role to play in improving water quality by managing the water that lands on us, which is what the new permanent Harvest Your Rain exhibit will illustrate.  When it rains or snows in urban areas, storm water washes over streets, roofs, paved areas and other hard surfaces, moving large volumes of water, sediment and pollution to sewers and adjoining water bodies. This pollution that runs off into waterways is called non-point pollution and includes litter, household hazardous products, motor oil, car washing detergents, fertilizers, pet and animal waste, boat discharges, septic systems, pesticides, eroding soil, and leaves left on streets and driveways (EPA, 2008).


Photo 3: Non-point pollution at a sewer grate. Carolin Dittman

As homeowners, we may feel that our contribution to managing runoff and water quality is insignificant.  But remember that every residential property is part of a larger community and of a watershed, and that the combined effect of many property owners taking steps to manage their storm water will have significant results.  The Water-Wise exhibit called Harvest Your Rain involves retrofitting three existing picnic shelters to show property owners different ways that they can manage storm water runoff from their roofs and paved surfaces.

One picnic shelter will show how to link a home’s gutter system to a set of rain barrels.  A rain barrel is a simple, inexpensive and time-honored way to start managing your storm water.  Water collected by a rain barrel or a set of linked rain barrels can be used to water plants, fill birdbaths, or for any other outdoor use.  (Dittmann, 2008)


Photo 4: Rain Barrel. Carolin Dittman

Rain gardens will be constructed around a second picnic shelter.  Rain gardens are shallow depressions filled with shrubs, ornamental grasses, and flowering perennials that thrive in changing water levels.  When sited and constructed properly, rain gardens are attractive plantings that capture and accumulate water from rooftops and other impermeable surfaces surrounding your home or garage. After a rainfall, water is detained in the rain garden for 24 hours or less until it infiltrates or evaporates. The plants in the rain garden help to infiltrate the water and trap pollutants. (Dittmann, 2008)


Photo 5: Rain garden. Carolin Dittman

A green roof will be installed on a third picnic shelter to demonstrate how an impermeable roof that sheds rainfall can be replaced with a  living carpet of plants capable of absorbing significant amounts of rainfall.  The benefits of green roofs to buildings and communities are significant beyond storm water management; they reduce energy costs, improve air quality, mitigate heat island effects, and provide green space in urban areas.  (MN Green Roofs Council, 2007)

Other Waterosity-related Features at the Arboretum


Photo 6: Green roof on top of Minneapolis Public Library building.

The existing parking lot rain gardens provide a working model of how to handle rainwater runoff in a large-scale parking area, featuring swales and plantings able to tolerate drought and short-term flooding.

The five bays of the Marion Andrus Learning Center parking lot demonstrate the differences between impermeable and permeable paving and how these differences in combination with different landscaping styles affect the amount of runoff generated during rainfall.  Porous pavements reduce runoff by allowing storm water to pass through surfaces that would otherwise be non-permeable.  These new materials are modifications of traditional concrete, blacktop or interlocking concrete pavers that present a solid surface for pedestrian and vehicular traffic while allowing water to move into through the surface and base material.   (Dittmann, 2008)


Photo 7: Porous pavers. Carolin Dittman

Ten years ago the Spring Peeper Wetland Restoration program started.  A field has been restored to a sedge meadow wetland similar to the plant community on the site originally.  Visitors can stroll on the boardwalk through Spring Peeper Meadow and enjoy the plants, birds, insects, and frogs that once again call this wetland home.

Go Green With a Splash Juried Exhibition

Ten designs submitted by artists, scientists, horticulturists, landscape designers, architects, and environmental organizations and chosen through a juried competition process will be installed outdoors in Arboretum gardens and natural areas, especially in and around water features.  Some of these designs explore a ‘Plants & Water’ theme by focusing on the essential nature and movement of water in plants.  Other designs explore a ‘Green & Blue in the Ecosystem’ theme with exhibits about invasive plants in wetlands, interactions between plants and animals that live in watery places, the role of wetlands in flood prevention and groundwater filtration, or the use of living willow-woven walls for erosion control.  Designs focused on a third theme, ‘Pools of Reflection’, explore the impact of humans on our water resources.


Waterosity Family and Children’s Activities              

The Water Works Plant Lab will be available for kids and their families on Saturdays and Sundays this summer at the Marion Andrus Learning Center.  Here children will learn more about water, plants, and making good choices through hands-on activities and through teacher-directed formal programming.  Children can peer inside of a plant’s “plumbing” to see where water goes after being taken up by a plant, meet plants that live on or under water, and explore the interaction of water and individual plant parts.

The Blue & Green Express is a kid-friendly version of the arboretum’s tram ride that will be offered on Thursday evenings this summer.  The express will be led by family program staff and will include activity-based stops at Waterosity features full of songs, games, and narration.

The Washed-up Treasure Map is a hands-on, self-directed tour for families and kids.  Using a treasure map, children will search for Waterosity exhibit features and report their activity by adding a wet thumb print to each point on their maps.

Heart of the Beast Puppet & Mask Theatre has created a suite of shows on the interaction of people, plants, and water.   Presentations of Strawberries in Winter, The Lawn vs. the Prairie, and Ina Lotta Watta will be offered during the summer.

Water-Wise Living Tours

Each Saturday, there will be docent-led tours of the Harvest Your Rain exhibit, the Cutting Edge on Lawns exhibit, and plantings featured in Waterosity displays.

Go Green With a Splash Party

On July 11 and 12, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum will be the site of the Go Green With a Splash Party with special Waterosity programming:

  • Attend a class taught by Craig Otto from Water in Motion will on Money-Saving Solutions for your Landscape Irrigation System.

  • Visit the Information Fair and Water-Wise demonstration stations on both Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 to 3:00.  The information fair will be hosted by an array of organizations, non-profits, cities, and government agencies focused on water supply, quality, and usage.  University of Minnesota Extension staff and trained Master Gardeners & Naturalists will host demonstration stations throughout the gardens at prime Waterosity features.  At both the info fair and the demonstration stations, visitors can view displays and have questions answered on rain gardens, green roofs, porous paving, rain barrels, low-input lawns, drought tolerant plantings, water gardens, shore land management, plants that live in water, and water-wise gardening tips.

  • Ride one of four Green & Blue Express tram tours each day.

  • Attend one of the two daily presentations of Are You Thirsty? by the Heart of the Beast Theatre.

  • At the Ordway Picnic Shelter, create an original piece of art at Art Splash in the Garden using watercolor or fish prints with the help of artists from the Minnetonka Center for the Arts.

  • Listen to a jazz band performance.

  • View the Water is Life art display.

  • Participate in free door prizes and drawings for other gifts.


More detailed information on Waterosity will be available on the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum website ( on June 6.



Dittmann, C. 2008. Residential Stormwater Management: Guidelines for Analysis, Planning, Design and Implementation in Urban Landscapes. Master of Agriculture Final Project. Department of Horticultural Science. University of Minnesota.

Minnesota Green Roofs Council.  2007.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2008. What you can do to prevent NPS pollution.

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