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The Claxton Rain Garden, a 3,500-square-foot space filled with more than 2,000 plants behind the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, is a multifunctional garden that will be a dynamic space throughout the year.

Native trees, shrubs, and perennials attract wildlife and provide a display of color and texture throughout the year, while swirling river rock and evergreens anchor the project for year-round color and interest.

The completed Claxton Rain Garden.

The rain garden was one of several campus projects planned and executed last year through the Green Infrastructure Project, a collaborative effort of a number of departments from UT Knoxville and the UT Institute of Agriculture.

The project team included faculty and staff from Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science (BESS), Plant Sciences, Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Tennessee Water Resources Research Center, the Environmental Design Lab, and Facilities Services.

Funded through a Green Development grant from the State of Tennessee, the project was one of three to receive funding out of a pool of approximately forty-five proposals in 2015. The grant was matched by the Student Environmental Initiatives Fee (more commonly known as the Green Fee) to further the scope of the project. UT Extension, BESS, and the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources provided further financial support.


Exploring the performative potential of the campus landscape that is affected by urban stormwater runoff, the Green Infrastructure Project has transformed underutilized landscape fragments into aesthetically appealing multifunctional spaces while providing experiential and service-learning opportunities for students and enhancing water quality in and around campus.

In urban areas, stormwater runoff can be extremely dirty. Rainwater travels over streets, sidewalks, construction sites, and parking lots, picking up all sorts of pollutants along its way—antifreeze and oil from vehicles, pesticides and fertilizers from farms and lawns, bacteria and parasites from pet waste and trash, etc. Conventional gray infrastructure collects this runoff, and any contaminants it carries, in storm drains and discharges it into local streams and rivers. For our campus, these local waterways include Second Creek, Third Creek, and the Tennessee River.

Rain gardens capture and filter polluted stormwater by design. Thoughtfully selected and composed plants that can handle extremes of moisture and concentrations make up the rain gardens to achieve stormwater management.

The area before the rain garden project began.

On the surface, the garden attracts pollinators and other wildlife, while under the surface it is a complex soil ecosystem that filters runoff as it soaks into the ground, thus lowering the volume of stormwater flooding and polluting our waterways.

The Claxton Rain Garden and other rain gardens implemented by this project, such as the BESS Rain Garden located on the UTIA campus, serve as hands-on experiential and service learning opportunities for students from a variety of focus areas. Students were involved throughout the process, from the design to completion.

Facilities Services also played a large role in the development and execution of the project. Bringing expertise in landscape installation and stormwater management as well as resources and employees to the table, they were able to make the project more effective while saving time and money.

For more information on the Green Infrastructure Project, contact the Office of Sustainability at