Landscapes Give Back: Planting an Eco-Friendly Garden
Learn how home gardening can be more ecologically friendly and sustainable. Ray Mims, United States Botanic Garden Conservation Horticulturist, discusses the basics of soil, conserving water, planting the appropriate plants in suitable locations, the importance of choosing native species over exotics, and the impact of invasive plants.
Ray Mims: Thanks for having me in this gorgeous auditorium. Just really quick, I'm going to use this later. But on the back table, I brought in a little brochure that we did with the Park Service and the Nature Conservancy a couple of years ago on terrestrial invasive plants of the Potomac Rivershed and some nice little fold out, talks about invasive species and things that are really invasive in this area.
And then we did a blatant copy of the Monterey Bay aquarium and you have a little wallet card that you can put in your wallet or bill folds and tell you plants that you should not buy at nurseries and plants that you should ask for in your nurseries if they don't have them. And that's one of the best ways we can begin educating nurseries and gardeners as one of the best way we can I think start making a difference with invasive species which is so important.
Something kind of little bit about sustainable sites, very informal and interrupt me if I'm going too fast. If you've got a question, I've got about 40 minutes. I'm going to try go through really, really quickly about some things that we've been working on with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas and ASLA. The American Society of Landscape Architect over the last few years.
There's also a brochure in the back that's a little overview of the sustainable sites and issues called Landscapes Give Back and that's what I've named this talk. I'm sure all of you are familiar with the LEAD and the U.S. Green Building Council. And the success in green building over the last decade.
And is tremendous and very, very, very important that when you look at, and this is nothing against the U.S. Green Building Council, they've been extremely involved in the development of the sustainable site initiative and are very aware of the gap they have in the current LEAD building system.
But when you look at the rebuilding that you got up there are all either gold or platinum buildings and the one thing that's common around all of them except on the far right in the foreground, there are no plants around these buildings.
And we really felt like that in order to create a truly green building or a true green site, you need to look outside the building skin so that's what we've been working on for the last four years. One of the largest misconception that goes to invasive species that just because something is green or outdoors, does not mean it's sustainable.
These is nothing, golf courses are turf, but we need to think that everything we do outside as well as inside. One of my favorite quotes and I won't read it is by these extremely respected man that I think is a beautiful quote and really sort of implies very, very clearly what we need to do as a human species to refocus how we look at where we live and how we relate to the environment in which we live.
And unless we do that and teach our children and grandchildren that, and neighbors and friends, and partners, and wives and husbands, we're not going to continue to survive on this planet. We're not going to have a planet for our grandchildren.
We're all very familiar with a lot of the things that we've seen over the last decade. Global warming, climate change, childhood obesity, not understanding our natural systems. So, we look at all of that as we went through and thought about sustainable sites and what makes a site sustainable.
And one of the things that does not make it sustainable is what we're doing currently. Sprawl, polluting our air and water, treating water as a waste product and not as the resource that it is, particularly rain water and storm water runoff.
I think we're on the East Coast, we get 46 inches of rain a year which is a significant amount. We still have some problems here and we sometimes forget that water is a tremendous, tremendous resource and very rare in most of the world.
I won't quote these except for the last one, we kind of get extremely important to understand that lawn irrigation in the East Coast takes up to 30% of municipal fresh water, that's in these part of the country. And that's a huge amount of water that is wasted when you were sending storm water into the storm sewers.
And on top of the fact that municipal water is extremely expensive and we'll start talking about that again a little bit later. Whether you believe in climate change or not, it is a fact that between 1990 and 2006, about half the U.S. has experienced a change in their hardiness zone. That's one of the things that we've been trying to think about as we worked through these tool for the last four years.
We also thought what is sustainability, people talk about that all the time. We decide we would use the exact same definition that was used by the Bruntland Commission from the UN in 1987.
In a report our common future is basically I think what most people think of, but we were very clear that we would define sustainability in that manner and looking at the natural environment. Economics that needs to be economically viable or it's not going to be sustainable. And then also human health and human well being.
I won't read our vision, but we really felt like. And we say these again and again that linking to the natural systems is what is so important that we want to try to replicate nature throughout the work that we've been doing. We had several guiding principles, I won't read those again, but first and foremost was do no harm. If we weren't certain that we're going to correct something, then don't do it. And then again circled is designing with nature and understanding how the natural systems worked.
Now, in like LEAD we're really hoping these will sort of change the marketplace. Not that the conservation is not important, that's the big part of my job as conservation. But really going to look at regeneration and looking at moving from just conservation to regenerating nature and regenerating the systems around us.
As I said ASLA, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the U.S. Botanic Garden are the three partners on these effort we brought in about 70 experts some of the smartest people I've ever met much more than I am in areas of hydrology, soil vegetation materials, and then human health and well being that we have five committees that looked at each of these.
And so, it helped us develop the guidelines and performance benchmarks. And we really want to do these in a way that could be utilized across the board from large municipalities. It's not all bland planning tool, it's not an agricultural too, but anything with a built landscape whether it's a mall, a neighborhood, or a single family house should be relevant to all those landscapes.
We also wanted to make certain that we look at ecosystem services, and I think you probably all know what those are because they're extremely important and we consider them free. They're not taken into account in our current cost accountings today. But back in 1997, they were estimated to really be worth twice the global GNP.
And these are things that we take for granted everyday that they are not showing in the slide, oh there they are. Things like regulating I thought I turned off all my animation because I knew I didn't have a lot of time. But, regulating global climate change if cleaning the air, and water, and soil. Regulating the water supply, controlling erosion, retaining sediments.
These list of things that we get from nature that really we consider free, but are not free and that we need to take those into consideration. So, all that went into the melding of a report that was released in November of 2009. It's about 250 pages of benchmarks and performance guidelines.
And I'm going to go over some of those today. I left a couple of these books in the back and some electronic versions of these as well. And these is the sort of philosophy behind the initiative. The larger book is sort of really a 'how to'. Just so you know we are also in the process of working on a homeowner guide.
We hope that these will be ready in late June, early July. And it'll be a version of our standards and guidelines that basically can be used by homeowners and home gardeners as well. Really quick I'm just going through some things that I thought were important.
We set up these with prerequisites of things you had to do. Very similar to LEAD and then credits and guidelines. So, I'm just going to go through some of the prerequisites and credits that I feel like are important. I thought might be important to you as a Department of Interior and hopefully as home gardeners.
Obviously one of the things we thought that's very very important that you've got to do is preserve threatened and endangered species. Both the species and their habitat. And not just animals that's also plant material. We really want to make sure that the habitat. People need to understand that you can't have a house or bald eagles without the habitat. And the habitat includes the plant material and they've got to go hand in hand.
One of the things that we want to make sure that we encouraged was that brown fields and gray fields were the ones that were used for development. I mean, there's nothing wrong, what we're trying to do is take previously developed landscape. You'll see in those little florets, and a tip to have them mimic and copy the natural system and then the ecosystem services that the natural system can provide.
Our preference is that you don't develop green fields because we don't want to disincentivize growth obviously in rural and suburban areas. But that's going to happen and we want to make sure that people are trying to do that in a really sustainable more ecologically sensitive way.
This is a very, very easy one, I talked to you about water earlier. Well, I say it's easy, with the mind shift it can be easy. But really attempting to change how we use water in the landscape and one our prerequisites is that a landscape needs to reduce its landscape from the baseline of what it would have done and we'll give you the calculations of how to do that.
About 50% doesn't mean you can't use capture water, but you cannot use potable water. I think there's an estimate that about 25-30% of the municipal's electric uses actually the cleaning and pumping of potable water. So, when you think about drinking water the huge embodied energy in that and to basically pour them on the ground does not make a lot of sense.
So, we're trying to really get people to think about that. And you can do these kind of things in a really, really attractive way. We want people to mimic and understand mimicking, the natural system.
And again I'll say these over and over and over so that the water is going into the ground and doing just what have happened in pre-development conditions or as close to that as possible. So, that when the built environment captures the water it allows to get in to the ground, it allows to recharge aquifers, slowing it down, and not getting it offside as quickly as possible which has been sort of our philosophy for the last 50 or 60 years treating it as a waste product.
So, one of the credit is to manage your storm water on side. I think Colorado may be the only state in the U.S. where these would be legal, because every drop that falls in Colorado is owned by someone under water rights. But other than that we really feel like that managing your storm water on site in a way that can help the site whether it's to a rain garden which you see visual picture then a cross section, or a rain guard that's very very simple of the side of your house.
They don't have to be expensive you can basically create a little swale, a berm to slow the water down these connect your gutter from the downspout from the sewer system. The swarm water sewer and allow that water to flow through a planted area of plants that I'll talk about in a minute that would work in your area.
And I'm going to talk about plants in these area because I'm assuming most of you are from these area. And another really, really easy thing you can do at home is just put in rain barrels. These has become a little bit more seen today, but even in these climate where we get a lot of rain, this is very, very important.
Washington DC like a lot of older cities, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, have combined storm sewers. And when we get 1 -1 1/2 inch rain, our storm water because of so much impervious surface ends up in the storm sewer which overflows into the sewer so that we end up having raw sewage going in to the Anacostia River.
You may think you know, like pulling invasive species, my putting a rain barrel in will help, but if we all start doing a little things, and things that we can do it will over time help. These are just example of different kind of rain barrels you can use. We just put in a rain guard at the Botanic Garden a couple of years ago and we just redone it.
And it's a really easy way for people to sort of see what they can do at home. We feel like designing rainwater and storm water features to revive a landscape amenity would be a really important thing to do and it's a great way to utilize the water off your roof.
The director of the gardens brother on the left is a little waterfall that is created and when it rains in his garden by the use of the gutter and the down spout is disconnected from the storm source.
You can do some things that are very very nice on the lower right is a storm water ditch that's very very beautiful. It carries and slows down the storm water into a creek at shanty clear outside of Philadelphia. So, things can be done on a homeowner level and are very very attractive. Keeping the water on your land where it can be utilized by plants and hopefully animals that we want around.
We spoke a little bit about invasive plants so we'll talk about that one more time as we really feel like it's important to use. Non invasive plants and these is a prerequisite where you cannot use invasive plants on your landscape.
And we talked about these earlier that people need to understand that invasive plants -the plants is not bad, it's how man moves plants around. And understanding what's invasive in your neighborhood. And that's the little wallet card that I showed you a few minutes ago, that I hope you will all take and utilize.
And kudzu, I'm from South Georgia and that's how I learned about invasive species. People love Wisteria in these part of the country. This is Chinese Wisteria, it is beautiful, it has a great fragrance, but when you plant your garden and what happens is what's on the right. It is rampant, and these is a picture taken in Rock Creek Park and it is a horrible invasive in these area.
And I'll talk in a little bit about native plants and I'll show you a couple of the pictures of the native wisteria which is a much better alternative. People no longer plant multi floral rose, but it had been used a lot in farming, and head rows, and bush honey suckle was used in home sites although they're not planted anymore really in the landscapes, in homes. If you went to Rock Creek Park or any natural area, you'll see it all over the East Coast it is horrible invasives.
Bittersweet was another molave we do not plant much off, but on the right side you'll see a very gated version. It's not that old and I've started seeing people start planting that again. I think we need to educate ourselves and our neighbors when we see these things. We all know English Ivy, I was speaking to Laurie earlier about Ivy and we all grew up with that in nice little containers, or edge and gardens.
But again these is what happens when you live close to a natural area and you all know these. And I think that we just need to continue to reinforce these. So, we feel like not planting invasive species is a prerequisite, it has to be done.
One of the other things that we feel that needs to be done is preserving vegetation of special status whether it's a champion tree, or certainly a tree of a size like these. Those things need to be taken care of. We want to transfer them on the way to market typically works and one of those changes will be taking away the thought that we can go into a side and basically graded empty.
Take off every piece of plant material and top soil and then start constructing, That is not a sustainable way to build and we're hoping that we can change that mindset with contractors, engineers, landscape architects, and homeowners.
We think that restoring or preserving the biomass on the side, the plant biomass is really important, not only for the ability to clean air and water but also so that when you're composting you got a nice amount -you're working with compost it can go back on to your side.
So, we feel like that's very important. And obviously using layered ways or baseous layer, shrub layer, tree layer you can develop planted area. This is at Mount Cuba, outside of Delaware which is a beautiful area and a built landscape, but done absolutely beautifully that we could propagate easily at home.
Another we will do now, talked about a minute ago is in changing how we build is minimizing the disturbance to soil. Soil is more than just the anchor for plant material and the substrate which we paved. And piling construction debris using soil for staging areas, driving on soil, not protecting the existing plant material is a mindset that we didn't change whether we're building a home, whether having addition or building a garden in our area.
So, we thought that's extremely important. And again this is the way we typically go in as we go with a piece of equipment just start scraping in off and that mindset needs to be changed. You'll think about these, non of these are rocket science in a lot of ways, but what we feel what we've done is put things together some of which are old and well known. Put these together in kind of a holistic view and that's what you have to think about is doing these things in a holistic manner is what can really make a difference in a landscape site.
But preserving plant communities that are native to the eco region can you imagine the East Coast without sugar maples, or without the fall color. You know, the Eastern United States and Eastern Asia are really the only places that have the spectacular fall color display. And so we just feel like that as Lady Bird Johnson said, "Texas should look like Texas,and Massachusetts should look like Massachusetts, and Georgia should look like Georgia."
So, we just want to make sure that people are thinking about the plant material that's native to that area. We don't say you have to use native plants. I'm going to talk about native plants in a minute. I'll give you some example of my favorites, but they need to be appropriate plants to the ecosystem.
When they're talking about plants and the ecosystem is looking at trees that are so important. We feel like linking the landscape and the regenerative nature of landscapes and the plant material back to the dollars and cents is very important.
And so we've got a couple of studies here that shows some return on value on dollars spent planting trees. A significant amount of research has been done on that in the last five or 10 years. For example New York feel like they gained back $5.60 for every dollar they've spent in planting trees.
And that some things like home values, energy savings in the summer, storm water runoff the cost of managing storm water that would have gone into the sewer has not been slowed down by vegetation. Another, again we talk about not planting invasive plants, but using appropriate non invasive plants. So, they've got to be native. We'll talk about those in a minute, and here it is. Where we talk about native plants.
Using plants that are applicable to the eco region, you know they are not invasive. My preference is that you ain't use native because native plants can be extremely beautiful, our are extremely beautiful and are acclimated to where we live. I'm just going to run through real quick some of my favorite native Rhododendron or native Azaleas, I just think are the best plant.
I think it was Adrian Higgins a couple of weeks ago had an article in the paper about azaleas they are so overused and these is Asian Azaleas. We've got much more beautiful Azaleas in these area we can use. These is actually a rare Rhododendron chapmanii that's fairly rare from the East Coast Georgia, through the Carolina's that we have growing in one of our gardens.
These really just beautiful. One of my favorite plants, huge huge bloomer. These is an endangered plant relative of the purple cone flower, but a gorgeous, gorgeous. I think these very, very delicate comes in white and in purple. I think it's beautiful and can be used in any garden in full sun.
I do like Virginia red cedar, I think it's spectacular. Juniperus Virginiana these are two that we use in the National Garden that I think it great form and great color. The native witch hazel and the deciduous holly both are in the garden at the U.S. Botanic Garden and are just spectacular native plants.
Huge pollinators around them, the birds feed on the berries. Everybody knows the dogwood beautyberry Callicarpa americana and then photinia used to be aronia they've just changed the name of it. But brilliantism as a cultivart is spectacular. And again they've got use and beauty for four seasons. The spring with the flowers, the fall color, the berries in the winter, and the the foliage in the summer.
Here are a couple of grasses that we used that I think are very, very beautiful. My favorite one is these next one Muhlenbergia capillaries look at these great beautiful sort of pinky glow when the sun comes up through it. It almost looks like you're looking to a smoke or a cloud. It's a great native grass.
Rudbeckia hirta, is a great Black-eyed Susan that we use in these plant here with Tradescantia, spiderwort I think is the common name. The blue and the yellow together are really, really beautiful and you see the butterflies and pollinators throughout the summer and then in the fall the gold fedges on the heads of the rubeckia are really, really beautiful.
This is the Native Wisteria there's a white end, the white and several lavender version of them. And really, really quite beautiful. Amethyst Falls is my favorite, purple one, and then Carol Mack is the white version.
These are all three growing at the U.S. Botanic Garden. One in Bartholdi Park. But it's a great alternative, but didn't quite have the smell that the Asian wisteria does. But it then grows fast, you don't have to prune it. It's not invasive and it blooms a little bit later, so you don't have the issue of it possibly getting killed by it by the frost.
And it blooms on new wood so you can really go back and cut it really, really hard. Pretty much anytime you want to. This is a penstemon and a coreopsis blooming together which I think again the blue, the lavender, and the yellow together. A lot of sizes and the color wheel are just spectacular together. That's a pink dogwood, and then the Cercis canadensis, a red bud, but the cultivar pollen lily which is really, really beautiful. Pale, pale, pale pink, I think is so attractive.
One of my favorite trees is pond cypress which is relative of the bald cypress. We have it in L.A., on either side of the lawn terrace at the Botanic Garden. Not unlike the Bald Cypress except it's extremely upright, very very columnar. I think it's quite nice. Rosa Virginiana is a great Native Rose that takes almost no care.
Kentucky coffee tree, cultivar espresso is a nice mid size tree that gives filtered shade. These is a very odd dogwood that I think is great fun. The blooming sort of fold in on themselves, almost like a dove tree, even if you know what those are become a fall color, you know again native plants in these part of the country they've got an amazing fall color.
So, we've got ...vaccinium, rhododendron, all that are beautiful purples, reds that I think are spectacular in the fall. This is another fall shot of blueberry, hiliantis. and then that Muhlenbergia that I said I love so much that are just beautiful together. So, we really thought native plants are really important. They're really important for not only beauty and their ability to be degenerative in these area.
And adapt through really well, not need supplemental irrigation, but they are also very important. The pollinators, and critters that we all think are so important. These are two butterfly weeds that we have. Whether it's humming birds or finches, or bees, wasp, the pollinators are critically important to agriculture, and ornamental horticulture. And we need to think about that. Even the city, how important it is to plant for pollinators.
The man that has his finger in a box that's actually on the roof of the Chicago City Hall, on the green roof from Chicago City Hall. So, you can in fact set up great habitat in unexpected areas. So, you think it's vegetation native or appropriate vegetation. One of the things we thought is very very important is to take vegetation and use it to minimize building heating and cooling requirements.
These is just a very, very simple graphic you know. Our grandparents did this, this is not rocket science. You plant evergreens on the north side to block the wind when you're in the windy area. You plant the Deciduous trees on the south or the west, so that in the summer it shades your home and in the winter it allows the light in to hit your home.
Doing that same thing with large trees can really help reduce the urban heat down effect which is tremendously important in cities like Washington with so much impervious surface, so much black top, so much roof surface area.
It really is important to put in as many trees as we can to sort of help mitigate the heat in the summer. Summer here is miserable anyway. Anything we can do to help cool it off in some respect or make it shady is important. We felt like using salvaged or reused materials hopefully on site.
These is a great wall and a vegetable garden and the wall is made out of recycled concrete. It was a driveway that was busted up and then used like stone and dry stack to build a retaining wall. On the far right is another reuse of a concrete driveway, instead of a jackhammer it was sawed so that you have a very clean sawn cut on one side, and uses a retaining wall.
The stones on the ground the brick make nice pass it allows you to reuse materials and then also you've got a path that's pervious. And allows the water to get into the ground instead of being carried off by sidewalk into the storm sewer. You may help their well being I'll mention really quickly before we think is very important.
We need to have in landscapes opportunities for outdoor activity, a place for people to relax, and come in with nature, and also to get out and be active. This is in High Point right outside of Seattle which is a planned community that was built just a few years ago by a large engineering landscaping firm in the pacific northwest that have been using techniques like I've been talking about for a number of years. I talk about it providing vegetation so you've got a place to relax and get some mental restoration.
There has been a lot of studies that talk about people that can get outside at lunch or see the outdoors from their office window, how much more productive they are. And hospitals the same, it's how much faster people heal when they've got views of the outdoors or able to get outside. There was a tremendous outpouring of people going t gardens after September 11th.
People find a lot of solace in nature. So, we want to make sure that we're encouraging that. Get out whether just taking a walk, being active in a vegetable garden, sharing things in a community garden, or sitting with a friend and enjoying the view. We think it's very, very important. Another way we're hoping to change the marketplace is understanding the maintenance is going to have to come afterwards.
What were told a little bit earlier, but planning for sustainable maintenance so that when you do the plan of the site, you don't just specify your landscape architect or landscape designer a bed or annuals, but you think what kind of annuals need to go there and what's going to be the most sustainable way to use that space.
A tremendous amount of lawn that used to be cut or do you want to use native areas, you want a manor, but thinking about the maintenance aspect of what's going to happen after construction. One of the things we think about in maintenance is landfills. About 23% of municipal landfills is landscape waste. I'm not sure about kitchen waste, but landscape waste is a significant amount of material that goes into the landfills.
Not only about you, but that is much more attractive than a landfill. And it's extremely easy to do these is one of the ways we're trying to do is to get people to compost at home. It's very very easy on the left you see a purchased compost bin or graphical purchase compost bin. But they do not have to be expensive, you can basically do piles in your garden, if you've got room or just a small pits area.
These one on the bottom left exactly just a fenced area of chicken wire on a palate. So, they don't have to be expensive, but taking your clippings and kitchen scraps. So, maintaining your landscapes that we're looking at things like these down the road, so that you're thinking about the chemicals that is running off your lawn or running off your garden, and not polluting odors like these so that we got landscapes and habitats that can last for our children and grandchildren.
Whether birds and herons, or frog eggs. We just feel like these very very critical that we look at landscape and look outside the building skin, and think about the regenerative powers of nature, and trying to capture that and mimic it in any built landscapes. And we thought just very very doable.
We've just started a pilot project phase. We just invited about I think it's 207 pilot projects around the country. A number of residences, but mostly larger buildings. A number in Washington that are going to help test these guidelines make sure that we are as accurate as we think we are in understanding what makes a landscape sustainable.
U. S. Green Building Council is incorporating a significant portion of the materials and vegetation and site selection aspect of our guidelines into the next version of LEAD. We are talking with them about taking as a government document because we helped pay for it luckily. And basically taking it in becoming a third party certifier for landscapes that don't have buildings or don't have green buildings.
Or landscapes that are existing and going to be retrofitted. And there are also as I mentioned earlier working on a homeowner version that should be a fairly simple way for homeowners and apartment dwellers and people with gardens to sort of mimic the system and do the same thing at home. And that should be done the end of these summer, some time I think July.
And as picture of our National Garden at the foot of the capitol which is just an invitation that come visit us at some point these summer, we've got some great things going on. So, thanks. Thanks for being here. You have a great space. Wonderful opportunity to see these and visit the Department of Interiors. So, come and visit us at the Botanic Garden.