Maryland Town Welcomes Wildlife with Rain Garden & Pesticide-Free Landscaping

Dedication Joined by Town’s Noted Resident, State Attorney General Brian Frosh

The Town of Somerset is tucked in southern Montgomery County, Maryland near the Washington DC border. Little Falls Creek, a tributary stream of the Potomac River, runs next to the town. It is an incorporated town that engages residents. Some of their environmentally-friendly efforts have included stream clean ups, protecting their tree canopy, going pesticide-free on town land, and most recently, the installation of new gardens that will attract diverse wildlife. This past Sunday, Sierra Club Maryland celebrated with town leaders and residents in the dedication ceremony of the new conservation and rain gardens.


Rain garden dedication at Town of Somerset. Left to right:  Robin Barr (Head of town’s Environmental Committee); Edamarie Mattei (Backyard Bounty); Town Mayor Jeffery Slavin; Town Council President Marnie Shaul; Patty Friedman (Chair of the town’s Parks & Natural Resources); Brian Frosh (town resident & MD Attorney General).


Trading stormwater problems for beautiful biodiversity

The conversion of lawn grass into a conservation and rain garden diverts the town’s problematic stormwater from the asphalt parking lot and off their tennis courts into the attractive gardens. The project was overseen by residents of the town’s Environmental Committee and Parks and Natural Resources Committee.

Ann English, Montgomery County’s Rainscapes Program Manager, assisted with her expertise and in leveraging the county program which provides homeowners and communities financial incentives for these types of projects.


Town of Somerset replaces a sterile landscape of lawn grass along a slope with native plants and a rain garden to help control stormwater. To prevent mosquito breeding, the rain garden is designed for the water to drain into the ground within 24-36 hours.  


The committees worked with local landscaping company, Backyard Bounty, to design and installed the new gardens propagated with beneficial native plants. Edamarie Mattei of Backyard Bounty explained that these new kinds of landscapes “welcome diversity, bring in birds and butterflies, and also control stormwater.” Most lawn grass has shallow roots of only a few inches, thus doing a poor job of absorbing water during and immediately after storms, and provide little benefit to wildlife. Native plants were chosen because their deeper root systems penetrate the soil for many feet, this greatly improves its ability to absorb and filter polluted stormwater, and it welcomes vital insects that a healthy ecosystem depends on.

Brian Frosh, the town’s well-known resident for his role as Maryland’s Attorney General, remarked, "It's beautiful, it is going to conserve water, conserve the landscape, be a habitat for native animals - birds, and just a wonderful thing to do."


Rain garden dedication at Town of Somerset. Resident & MD Attorney General Brian Frosh and Town Mayor Jeffery Slavin.


Going pesticide-free to make suburbia safe for wildlife
Bees and other wildlife are frequently exposed to a multiple pesticides used on lawn and gardens, and on public lands, that can harm and kill them. Landscaping pesticides include not only insecticides but also herbicides (weed killers), fungicides, and rodenticides. Recent studies have found bee pollen to be contaminated by multiple pesticides, including herbicides. This exposure is believed to weaken bee immunity and impair key functions.

The Town of Somerset has been proudly practicing pesticide-free lawn care and landscaping on town-owned property since 2013. At the ceremony, Patty Friedman, chair of the town’s Parks and Natural Resources Committee, announced, "We don't use pesticides on town land and we would really love it if people didn't use pesticides on their properties as well, because the pesticides kill the good insects that the birds need to feed."   

In 2015, concerns of Maryland’s decimated bee population, public health exposure, and water quality led Montgomery County to be the first county in the nation to passed a landmark pesticide ordinance. The ordinance, referred to as the Healthy Lawns Act, restricts the use of harmful cosmetic lawn pesticides on both county-owned and private properties. However, the ordinance, which is popular with residents and health and environmental organizations, was legally challenged in a precedent-setting lawsuit pursued by the pesticide industry trade group.

While the case halted parts of the county’s ordinance and is currently in appeals court, the willingness of the Town of Somerset to continue pesticide-free maintenance on their own property hopes to inspire residents to follow their lead for a safer neighborhood.

In the initial process of going pesticide-free, the town hired an organic landscaper to educate the town's staff on how to manage the lawn and landscaping as pesticide-free, including setting the mowing blade higher, proper mulching and more. In the past, the town also hosted nationally renowned organic lawn guru, Paul Tukey of Glenstone Museum, to help educate residents on how to achieve their own lawn as pesticide-free. Tukey is the author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual - A Natural, Low-Maintenance System for a Beautiful, Safe Lawn. Sierra Club Maryland has assisted in making available “Pesticide-Free” and “Bee Safe” yard signs for town residents that want to raise neighborhood awareness and start a friendly conversation with neighbors.



Pesticide-free lawn on the town hall grounds in the Town of Somerset, MD.


Friedman references the lawn of the town hall, saying, "It's OK to allow some clovers and dandelions."  As we were leaving, kids and their families were busy setting up on the greens for a kids fair. There’s a peace of mind knowing the town’s lawn and landscaping is pesticide-free and safe for both people and wildlife.  

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