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BARRIERS AND OPPORTUNITIES IDENTIFIED: RAINGARDENS, NATURAL LANDSCAPING AND WATER CONSERVATION TOPICS WITH FOCUS GROUP RESEARCH IN 2008 SOUTHERN WASHINGTON COUNTY MINNESOTA
Angie Hone and Kay M. Qualley
New research in Southern Washington County reveals barriers and challenges to water conservation through landscaping with native plants and raingardens.
Focus group listening sessions held in August, 2008 with targeted citizens who live/work in Cottage Grove, Woodbury, Newport and St. Paul Park, MN revealed a level of concern about some aspect of water quality. Discussions centered on water use, landscaping preferences, current styles of landscaping at home or work, raingarden education and suggestions from participants regarding each topic.
Residential obstacles which emerged included: subdivision covenants with common area maintenance controlled by management companies; the aesthetic appeal of native landscaping with a low percentage of forbs; and a lack of knowledge about the need for raingardens. The perceived lack of maintenance of existing native plantings topped the list of triggers for negative impressions. Maintenance questions or terms like "weedy" and "unkempt" were pervasive throughout the sessions. Perceptions of beauty in the landscape, manicured yards as status symbols and the importance of strong seasonal interest in native landscapes were some of the topics.
Focus groups suggested incentivizing raingarden construction through grants or subsidies. Water bill rebates for homes that install raingardens were recommended for cities, much like recycling credits are handled in some communities.
Commercial and institutional barriers to the use of natural landscaping and raingarden plantings were: cost concerns and longer time frame for establishment of naturalistic landscapes and the complexity of selection and care of native plants. Businesses located in centers maintained by management companies often had no input into the care or selections of trees, shrubs, perennials or turf areas in a complex. Signage was seen as a key element in public and commercial native plantings to educate the public. "Native Sponge at Work" and "Protecting Your Environment" and "A Slice of the Countryside" were some of the themes suggested for signage.
Minimal recognition levels of the Blue Thumb and related educational programs or current work by watershed districts in the monitoring of waterways was evidenced. Partnerships with educators and public service groups for targeted water conservation projects and speaking engagements were suggested.
Background Informational References
Krueger, Richard. Focus Groups: A practical Guide for Applied Research, 2nd edition. California: Sage Publications, Inc., 1994.
Schmidt, Rust, and Dods, David and Shaw, Dan. The Blue Thumb Guide to Raingardens. Minnesota: Self-Published, 2007.