Wildflower is published quarterly by the Wildflower Center. Its content is national in scope with articles about the conservation and use of native plants as well as news from the Wildflower Center. A subscription is provided to Wildflower Center members as a benefit of membership.
This year, Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global warming. He was cited specifically for raising public awareness around the world about how rapidly the climate is changing and the threats it presents.
We wish for only a fraction of that success in raising public awareness about the ways landscapes of all sizes - even your own backyard - can make a positive contribution to the environment. Unfortunately, now all that appears green is not necessarily "green" in terms of impact on the environment. Ecologically, some landscapes are downright unhealthy.
Too often, those sweeping lawns and trimmed shrubbery we admire are consuming scarce resources and causing pollution - doing harm rather than benefiting the environment. The wrong plants in the wrong place can require too much water and too much fertilizer. Many sites are designed to divert water away quickly, causing erosion and burdening urban storm-water systems, rather than helping it sink into the soil and filter pollutants. Monocultures of commonly used turf grasses can destroy wildlife habitat and threaten biodiversity.
And the list goes on. Gasoline-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers and weed-eaters pollute the air, especially when used on large commercial sites. Some exotic plants placed by well-meaning designers become invasive, escaping to threaten native plants. The production of materials used in landscaping, such as concrete, may require a high amount of energy.
That is why the Wildflower Center has been working hard on the Sustainable Sites Initiative in partnership with the American Society of Landscape Architects, the United States Botanic Garden and other stakeholders. This initiative will produce best practice guidelines, voluntary standards and a rating system that the landscaping industry and others can use to create sites that enhance, not harm, our natural environment. These standards can apply to residential and commercial sites, public and private.
After the guidelines and standards are refined and tested, they will be incorporated into the United States Green Building Council's LEED® standards for green buildings. Our hope is that planning for environmentally sound landscapes will become just as familiar and successful as the design of "green" buildings - and will be considered a critical piece of any building project.
The Sustainable Sites guidelines also will offer all of us opportunities to address global warming. Plants and soil are powerful weapons against a warming climate. Plants breathe in carbon dioxide - the major greenhouse gas - and capture it in the soil rather than releasing it to the atmosphere. Landscapes can be designed to maximize this carbon sequestration - holding this harmful gas captive for decades and more. The Wildflower Center hopes soon to be measuring this impact in an urban setting.
In the meantime, learn about the Sustainable Sites Initiative at www.sustainablesites.org. The first report contains important information as well as useful recommendations, and we invite you to give us feedback. See how your own backyard or neighborhood park measures up!
- Susan K. Rieff, Executive Director