Monday, March 1, 2010

Fixing "Green" Landscaping

Today to I listened to a landscape architect, Kate Bakewell, describe the state of her profession. It sounds like most of her colleagues tend to hold a checklist mentality that misses the forest for the trees...

My favorite slide showed a picture of the highly-acclaimed L.E.E.D. Platinum Clinton Library (different picture shown). Her picture showed the elegant architecture of this highly-engineered building in the background behind a close-cropped lawn and pathetic mulch islands. In all the fuss, the only part of the project that actually was green was overlooked.

Another photo showed a park in NYC: people sitting on benches, trees and raised beds - but the trees were all London planes and the beds were stuffed with ivy. Here was a huge missed opportunity for native plants.

I guess a lot of developers currently just identify wet and inconvenient places to build and rope them off as "wild" areas and habitat corridors. She advocated a more thoughtful approach - consider how the wild areas of the development could synch up with with the rest of the watershed, and strategically place small and large open areas so that the organisms that actually live there can take advantage of them.

One of her big ideas was to establish a native Green roof that would support Monarch butterflies during their migration through the NYC metro area. Although it didn't quite work out as intended, the public got really excited about it.

I think extending her ideas to integrate human living spaces and wild areas, both physically and by choosing edible semi-native plants that feed wildlife (and people!), could really help to re-forge the lost connection between people and their environment.

btw, I have to give two thumbs up to our Hort department for giving out apples and cider at their seminars in addition to the obligatory coffee, tea and cookies. It's amazing how good apples can be months after harvest when they're stored properly - and we're not even to the controlled atmosphere ones yet!


  1. Ditte Michelle -- good stuff.
    And re apples: Thank goodness for 1-MCP!

  2. You said the green roof didn't work as intended .. do you mean that the monarchs didn't end using it?

    ps - your btw reminded me of the amazing apple vending machine. That was one of my favorite things ever.

  3. Yeah, though she didn't discuss whether she chose plants that are good butterfly attractors. I kinda expected the roof to be orange with butterfly weed, but the (distant) aerial view looked like it just contained grass and maybe goldenrod.

    She emphasized that green roofs usually only give you a few inches of dirt to work with, which really limits your options (especially in warm, dry climates).

    She also said they were pretty strictly restricted to using native plants for the developer to get full Green credit (even if non-natives may have provided better ecosystem services).

  4. Oh, huh, interesting. I vaguely remember reading about green roofs that were successful in attracting monarchs during their migration, though I'm not quite sure. Perhaps it was more of an idea than a reality. I wrote my senior thesis in 2004 on rooftop ag (, and I hardly keep up with green roofs anymore, but it seems like lots is happening. Like you mentioned in a previous post, it will be interesting to see how that rooftop farm in Brooklyn pans out.




Related Posts with Thumbnails