WHITE BEAR LAKE— When Conrad Nguyen and Stacey Brown first moved in, they happened upon a VLAWMO booth at MarketFest in downtown White Bear Lake. What started as an interest in rain barrels soon grew into a passion for native plants and shoreline restoration. Their new property on Birch Lake had a substantial erosion issue due to a gully that carried runoff from the house all the way to the shoreline. With a bit of research and insight from landscaping experts, Conrad and Stacey turned the gully into an opportunity by installing a boulder staircase in its place. The boulder placement and regrading helped to slow down the runoff as well as improve the aesthetics and accessibility. Over the last three years, they’ve completed three cost-share projects to create a comprehensive shoreline restoration. One of these is a native planting on the upland slope, and two more fill out the shoreline on each side of their dock. Along the way, they’ve learned much about native plants, invasive species, pollinators, and even wood ducks.
Size: 1,980 ft2
Tools used: Staked biologs, boulders, coconut erosion control fabric, ecoturf biodegradable anchoring pins, hardwood mulch, Rodeo® herbicide for removing invasive near water.
Shoreline plants: Blue flag iris, Joe-pye weed, American high bush cranberry, red osier dogwood, sensitive fern, Sprengel’s sedge, Canada anemone, Canada blue joint, beebalm, butterfly weed, wildrye, wild geranium, columbine, hoary vervain, purple coneflower, blazing star, swamp milkweed, little blue stem, Indian grass, maple, birch, mountain ash
Size: 1,000 ft2
Tools used: Coconut erosion control fabric, hardwood mulch, boulders
Upland plants: Pale purple coneflower, purple coneflower, butterfly milkweed, white prairie clover, hoary vervain, black-eyed Susan, little bluestem, bottlebrush, prairie dropseed grass
What do you enjoy most about your cost-share projects, the shoreline restoration and the native plantings?
We really enjoy the whole process of creating something beautiful and impactful. We have many pollinators visiting regularly, from bees to butterflies to hummingbirds. It’s much more than it used to be. Part of the shoreline includes no-mow fescue near the dock walkway, which is great to not mow and only weed a little here and there.
We look forward to hosting friends and family, sharing insight and seeing others get inspired. Our neighbors are starting to plan a similar restoration now, too.
How have they changed your interaction with your yard? With the lake?
Before moving here, we didn’t know much about shoreline living other than scenic enjoyment. We had a big erosion problem from the house all the way down the yard to the lake. The water still runs through the same route, but goes much slower. It also doesn’t pool or wash out the gully because now there’s a rock staircase there.
As we settled in, we saw and fell in love with all the wildlife here, from loons and wood duck babies to a perching eagle in our tree. We really wanted to nurture them. We now have 5 wood duck houses, and each spring get to see the life cycle from laying eggs to mama duck using the shore for shelter.
At one point muskrats would tear up the shoreline, but part of the restoration included rocks on their active spot on the bank. More rocks were buried under the planting to add stabilization and prevent the muskrat burrows.
What’s the most challenging part of the shoreline? With the native planting?
Patience. It takes time for the plants to mature, and you have to let go of the expectation for instant gratification. We also started with a desire to control it, but with wildlife and weather influencing the seed dispersal it’s just too hard to do. We installed the rock path and staircase to serve as structure and erosion control, and it gives us the access we hoped for, too.
While we hired a contractor for the first cost-share, we learned from the example and did it ourselves for the rest of them. Removing the buckthorn, reed canary grass, gout weed, and Japanese knotweed was challenging but worthwhile. When we were planting there was a bee’s nest on the ground that we tried to work around. Just about everyone got a sting including our dog Moka… but we persevered and it’s pretty in the end! From all of the experience we now feel really comfortable getting suited up and doing a work session in the yard.
What has surprised you as you’ve maintained the shoreline and watched it grow?
Plants have a mind of their own. It wasn’t very attractive for a couple of years, and some of the plants shifted around until they found their happy place. We’ve learned to allow it to do what it wants to do, and it seems to work out better that way. It’s kind of cute to see the character of it all. It even becomes addicting once you get going… even if some of the things you plant don’t take, there’s still a feeling of satisfaction for what does. When natives fill in it increases the joy. We look forward to when we can share plants with others who are excited about native plants and wildlife.
What advice do you have for someone curious about shoreline restoration or just starting out?
In your plans, draw up three separate drawings. One for spring, summer, and fall. When we first started we picked plants just by the look of them, without considering the bloom time or their height. After three years of plant selection, we now have it pretty much figured out. We found that selecting larger potted plants limits die off and is more effective in the end. With small plugs the geese and bunnies would do more damage, and even the dog liked eating the long grasses. The geese and bunnies really enjoyed the blazing star and Joe-pye weed.
There was lots of sweat and work upfront, but we’re now reaching our low-maintenance reward. Use the resources available for research as well. We learned a lot from the contractor we hired for the first project, and the restoration on the north shore of Birch Lake, which was on city property. We got connected with folks at the U of M to understand the materials that we needed and obtained helpful links, got plant lists from VLAMWO, and asked around at places like Prairie Restorations Inc. and Gertens.
We moved to White Bear Lake about 5 years ago and soon after we stopped by a VLAWMO booth at a public event. It was there we got our first rain barrel and info on the watershed and native plants. Our plants are thriving today and have been shared with others for their gardens. We really want to thank VLAWMO for educating us that day and starting a passion within us!
Visit the Landscape Grants page for more information about VLAWMO's cost-share funding and to get started on your own project! Request a free on-site consultation at (651) 204-6071.