Backyard Rainscape


Patricia Newkirk served William Penn House as Associate Director for 6 years. Among her many gifts was the ability to see what this place could be. Her last major project was the rain garden. Working with other staff members she made the backyard rain garden a reality.

So how is this.... 

Anacostia River

...connected to this?

The more we can build spaces like you see above, the more we can prevent the pollution of rivers such as the Anacostia.

According to environmental and water quality experts, urban and suburban water runoff are major culprits in polluting and destroying our waterways and watersheds - things we all rely on. The strong recommendation is for all people to convert their home and work property into spaces that absorb water cleanly into the ground rather than run it through streets and sewers.

"Rainscape" is the general term for any designed landscape that does this. Rainscapes help minimize torrents of water full of toxins, lower the temperature of the water entering the water table to safer levels, and help prevent torrential flows of water that cause rampant erosion. This helps reduce the stress placed on the river and its codependent environments.

Here at the William Penn House, we have turned our backyard into a rainscape. A summer of volunteers from DC and around the mid-Atlantic invested their time and energy while learning about the environment and developing the sskills to take back to their own communities.

Georgetown Day School lays the foundation

June, 2008: Students from Georgetown Day School lay the foundation (right) and start to build the wall (below) in the garden. First Unitarian Universalist (Wilmington, DE) youth group remove 18 inches of topsoil. The pit is filled with a mixture of sand and stones to serve as the filtration pool.


 rainbarrel system



Rainbarrels also capture water which is later used to water the native plants.

Since the completion of the Rainscape, The William Penn House has started to work with private middle school in the DC-area to build a rainscape on their grounds. We are also planning to build other rainscapes in the Capitol Hill area as we continue to educate people about the environmental challenges we all face and, most importantly, give them the intellectual tools and physical skills to take action wherever they are.

We welcome visitors to see our backyard, and we will be glad to talk more about the project. Here is a video of the backyard:


Much thanks goes to our collaborators in creating the rainscape:
District Department of the Environment who provided lots of advice and a small grant.

Anacostia Watershed Society who have taken our volunteers on tours of the Anacostia river and encouraged us to create our demonstration rainscape.

First Unitarian Church Wilmington Delaware 

Georgetown Day School

Norwood School

Thornton Friends School

Ithaca Unitarian Universalist Society

And many others who volunteered their time, energy, and spirit.