Briar Bush Nature Center Rain Gardens


Briar Bush Nature Center is located in Abington, Pennsylvania, a northern suburb of Philadelphia. The center is a private non-profit organization and an environmental education resource for the local community. Briar Bush Nature Center is situated on 12 acres of woodland that has experienced an influx of stormwater in recent decades due to increased urbanization in surrounding areas.

In 2007, Briar Bush implemented improvements to the main entrance and aging parking lot which comprises roughly 36,000 square feet of the center’s property. Working with a limited budget, the organization was able to meet several goals it had developed for this project, including: increase the number of parking spaces without allowing asphalt to dominate the landscape; manage the increased stormwater runoff due to local development and the parking lot expansion; and create an attractive landscape habitat of native plants to absorb storm water and absorb pollutants. An important design goal was to link the existing living systems to the proposed improvements and the existing surroundings. A comprehensive plan was prepared which conserved and minimized impact on the adjacent critical habitat while restoring and enhancing ecological processes.

Throughout the site, a series of five rain gardens are located along the downward slope of the site to gather storm water runoff from impervious surfaces. Water is allowed to percolate into the ground and improve water quality. The large basin near the entrance of the center collects water from the asphalt parking stalls near the road as well as some of the runoff from the actual roadway. Further into the center are two more rain gardens that are connected via underground piping to another basin that will receive overflow runoff in the event of severe weather and flooding. A final water quality basin receives water from a large portion of the expanded parking lot. Overall, peak flow has been controlled and captured over the portion of the site that received improvements. Overflow and flooding that previously occurred in low lying areas of the center have been eliminated, as well as erosion issues that had existed prior to the construction of the aforementioned stormwater improvements.

The new parking lot and entrance have become an interactive experience, as paths allow visitors to meander through areas planted with a colorful array of native plants, rock slab bridges that cross over shallow wetland areas. Reclaimed Pennsylvania field stone boulders create intriguing borders along paths and parking lot edges and are also natural playscape features for children to climb and sit on. In keeping with the mission of the Nature Center, the small ecosystem created by this new design is used as a teaching site and serves as a model for conservation landscaping in a developed setting. As visitors and employees walk from their cars to the nature center they are able to interpret the landscape and develop an understanding of the site’s hydrology.

Some of the native herbaceous species planted in the rain gardens include: Ostrich Fern, Sensitive Fern, Cardinal Flower, Monarda, Iris, Joe Pye Weed, Echinacea, Turtlehead, and Wild Bergamot. Trees and shrubs planted on the site include River Birch, Sweetbay Magnolia, Swamp White Oak and Buttonbush. These native plants are able to absorb a considerable amount of storm water as well as filter pollutants from runoff before it finds its way to local waterways or recharges the groundwater supply.


County: Montgomery
Watershed: Wissahickon Creek


Abington Township
Briar Bush Nature Center
Friends of Briar Bush
ThinkGreen LLC




ThinkGreen LLC
PO Box 528
Glenside, PA 19038

Briar Bush Site Plan

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