What Raingardens Do

In New Orleans, raingardens reduce the use of pumping stations. Our pumping stations account for 40% of our municipal greenhouse gas emissions and are expensive to operate.

  • Deep plant roots and a porous soil mix store and absorb water, 30% more than a conventional lawn.
  • Raingardens support a greater variety of wildlife than typical landscaping while preventing the stagnant street ponding that breeds mosquitoes.
  • Plant species native to the region or from a wetland are accustomed to heavy and fluctuating rainfall, decreasing maintenance needs.
  • Many pollutants are remediated through physical, chemical, and biological processes like settling, accumulation by plants, and the activity of soil micro-organisms.
  • Water and the water cycle become visible and beautiful aspects of the landscape. Improved aesthetics increases the quality of life in and fosters pride of an area.

Existing Projects: Oretha Castle Haley, Historic Green, Green Build

View the Groundwork New Orleans RainGarden Sites with this Google Earth Widget

Oretha Castle Haley Project Sites

Aerial Diagram

In December 2006, Groundwork New Orleans partnered with Timberland Boot Company, City Year, Ashe Cultural Arts Center and the Oretha Castle Haley Main Street Program to create a large scale beautification and rainwater management project along Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.

The rain gardens were designed by Charles Reith, a Tulane University ecologist who now serves as Director of Carbon and Energy Management at energy consulting firm Pace, and Peg Staeheli, Principal of SvR Design, a Seattle-based sustainable engineering and landscape architecture firm. The first to be installed in the city, the rain gardens serve as a model for addressing street flooding issues, strikingly improve the aesthetics and livability of the commercial corridor, and enhance the ecological performance of the landscape that description paragraphs goes with the Oretha Castle Haley project and no other project.

Odd-numbered sites are on the Lake side of the street, even numbered sites are on the River side of the street. Groundwork retrofitted all existing landscaped for water capture and infiltration and protected existing trees and shrubs.

Site 1307

Four curb-cuts allow stormwater to drain onto the site. The existing soil was amended with sand to allow water to infiltrate quickly and compost to nourish the plants. Two crepemyrtles, Lagerstroemia indica, were preserved, providing shade. Virginia iris, Iris virginica, color the site in Spring. Cabaret maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis 'Cabaret,’ requires only annual pruning to maintain.

Site 1515 Dowtown

The extant curb cut is too high to capture street runoff, however, the sites have been graded to receive significant amounts of runoff from the sidewalk and church roof. In the drier and sunny parts of the site are planted Mexican hat, Ratibida columnifera, with bright flowers and lacelike leaves. On the downtown edge is purple coneflower, Echnicacea purpurea, with fat leaves and sky-reaching pink cones.

Site 1515 Uptown

The existing curb cut diverts storm-water onto the site, watering the Virginia iris. A 14-foot high palm tree on the western edge of the site provides substantial shade. Dead leaves have been gathering under it, recycling nutrients back into the soil. The circular shiny plant is dollar wart, Hydrocotyle umbellata. Though considered a weed in many lawns, it is a native that thrives in moist environments, providing a maintenance-free alternative ground cover.

Site 1520

Dormant during adjacent construction activity.


Maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis, native to Asia, prefers moist streamsides or meadows, making it perfect for the raingarden. Purple fountain grass, Pennisetum setacuem ‘rubrum,’ is native to Northern Africa and the Middle East. It has no known pests, is not aggressive, and requires only yearly pruning. Virginia irises inhabit the lower parts of the site.

Site 1615

Dormant during adjacent construction activity. The site is graded to receive water and covered with cardboard and weed-blocking fabric to minimize interim maintenance.

Site 1719

The site is partially or fully shaded for most of the day, favoring ferns. Two large crepemyrtle trees and Cleyera japonica shrubs create an appealing site. The curb is too high to allow water onto the site.

Site 1817

There is a large crepemyrtle and two Cleyera japonica which have been pruned to create a full hedge facing the street. Purple fountain grass and maiden grass Miscanthus sinensis fill the site so that almost no weeds grow. A dwarf palmetto is growing under the crepe myrtle.

Site 1814

The site has great potential because of the amount of water entering the site already. Note the concrete columns, remnants of benches and fence posts installed some decades ago.

2009 Andrew Wilson School, Broadmoor,New Orleans, LA

Groundwork New Orleans organized, with the help of the Broadmoor neighborhood group and the USEPA Brownfields program,  a volunteer program to install RainGardens along the perimeter of this LEED design school to help fulfill its goal of LEED Platinum designation.  The images below show the installation on 15 November 2009 through the work of over 100 volunteers.  Check out the pictures of the event SLIDE SHOW HERE.  The second slide shows the raingardens at work on 9 July 2010 immediately following a 1.8 inch thunderstorm. 




2008 Historic GreenNew Orleans, LA

Groundwork New Orleans was solicited for its knowledge of rainwater catchment to participate in Historic Green. Organized by the Emerging Green Builders committee of the United States Green Building Council among others, the annual initiative integrates sustainable building and landscape practices with preservation of the historic lower ninth ward. Williams Environmental Group of Virginia designed the raingarden installed in a couple’s lawn. Groundwork New Orleans designed and installed the rainwater harvesting system, including gutters and a rain barrel, to complete the management of water on the property. The system continues to help mitigate localized flooding issues and reduce the demand on the potable water supply. The residents wrote that “We were entirely impressed with the dedication, diligence, timeliness and, of course the esthetic” of the project. The project has served as a jumping off point for ongoing collaboration with another local partner of Historic Green, the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development in Holy Cross.


Green Build Tulane University School of Architecture New Orleans, LA

Groundwork New Orleans worked with EcoUrban, LLC to design and install landsaping at a Tulane University student-built house in Central City. Our approach included matching environmental best practices with cost-effective, affordable, low-maintenance techniques. These included a porous driveway that would absorb rain rather than create runoff. The driveway was made with crushed, recycled concrete. Unlike crushed rock which has to be brought into New Orleans from hundreds of miles away, the recycled concrete was delivered from New Orleans East. In place of a conventional and store-bought weed-blocking fabric, we salvaged cardboard from a grocery store dumpster across the street. Rather than purchasing packaged mulch, we secured wood chips processed by Bayou Tree services from local trees.

The purpose of the project was also educational. Tulane University City Center’s open-house event "De-Confusing Green" Served as the forum for teaching Central City residents and the general public about sustainable building and landscaping.


Groundwork New Orleans Raingarden program is designed for community adoption of the raingardens prior to, during, or following installation. The direct beneficiary of a raingarden’s ecosystem services are encouraged to adopt it; however anyone is welcome to adopt a raingarden! Raingarden adopters become a “Green Blocks” partner, and appropriate signage is provided for the garden.

Adopting a raingarden means being trained by Groundwork New Orleans staff in sustainable maintenance and agreeing to perform maintenance regularly throughout the course of a contract, supported by volunteer days organized by Groundwork New Orleans. The adopting party will be provided with a list of appropriate planting alternatives, and thereby will have control over the appearance of the garden they have adopted. As an alternative, adopters can help pay a Groundwork intern hired from the community, providing a job training opportunity.