The Center for Sustainable Landscapes in Pittsburgh
Creating and looking at landscapes in a sustainable way is coming to the forefront much the same way that organic foods, farmers’ markets and eating locally sourced foods have gained traction with the general public over the last ten years. Albeit, the idea of sustainable landscapes has a long way to go before it is has any degree of acceptance like the previously mentioned buzzwords in the minds of today’s consumers. Chiefly to be accepted, the idea of sustainable landscapes needs to have a common definition and a broad enough scope that it can be applied to many different types of gardens on a wide range of scales from home garden to municipal parks. Sustainable landscapes, if they are thought of in a “do no harm, repair previous harm” way, can be created by most (if not all) gardeners. This expansion of the definition in a broader and more encompassing way makes sustainable landscaping approachable for many more gardeners (who hopefully will become staunch supporters of the idea).
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has stepped up and created a definition of sustainable landscaping that is broad and encompassing, and makes sense. On their website they say, “Sustainable landscapes are responsive to the environment, re-generative, and can actively contribute to the development of healthy communities. Sustainable landscapes sequester carbon, clean the air and water, increase energy efficiency, restore habitats, and create value through significant economic, social and, environmental benefits.” Nothing in this ASLA definition of sustainable landscapes precludes even the smallest garden.
With that definition, many gardeners can now champion the idea that sustainable landscapes are regenerative, restore healthy communities, and create value. But how do we evaluate sustainable landscapes, certify that it is being done, and reward those who are doing it? This is where the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) comes in. This program was developed by the United States Botanic Garden, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the ASLA. The SITES definition of a sustainable site includes the following: “Like green buildings, sustainable sites use less energy, water and natural resources; generate less waste; and minimize the impact on land compared to conventional design, construction and maintenance techniques. Yet unlike buildings, sustainable sites can give back by cleaning air and water, sequestering carbon, reducing pollution, restoring habitat and biodiversity – all while providing significant social and economic benefits to the immediate site and surrounding region.”
Certified Sustainable Landscapes
As of December, 2014, 34 landscape projects have been SITES certified with a rating of one to four stars, based on their sustainable features and practices. A four-star rating was granted to Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL), in Pittsburgh, PA.
The Center for Sustainable Landscapes is the first and so far the only project to receive the program’s highest level – a four-star SITES certification for the building and landscape that surrounds it. The 3-acre site was formerly a paved, city public works maintenance yard with low concentrations of hazardous waste in the soil. Challenges on the site included brownfield damaged soils, a steep bluff with erosion issues, and previous dumping areas for construction waste and urban fill. The site now manages sanitary waste, has a LEED Platinum certified green building, has reintroduced 150 native plant species, and has net-zero energy and water use. A 4,000 square foot storm water lagoon, surrounded by a boardwalk, is the focal point of the landscape design and can accommodate up to 3.3 inches of rain in twenty-four hours. Rain gardens, a green roof, and compost tea use have been incorporated in the landscape.
The achievements at this site, open for public visitation at the Phipps Conservatory, are impressive. They are generating all of their own energy, treating and reusing all water captured on site, just use rainwater for irrigation, have installed permeable paving, have a wetland water treatment system, have Net Zero Energy Building Certification, LEED Platinum Certification, WELL Platinum Pilot Certification (a protocol for measuring human wellness in a building).
Phipps Conservatory and the Center for Sustainable Landscapes are open from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm daily (later hours on Fridays). The Conservatory is surrounded by Schenley Park and near the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Museums and the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Phipps Conservatory, One Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 (412) 622-6914 (phone).
On the gardening side, Polk County in Central Florida has long been a visitor destination. It is the home of Bok Tower Gardens, dedicated in 1929 and Cypress Gardens, Florida’s first theme attraction. More recently Hollis Gardens was developed and opened in Lakeland in 2000, drawing visitors to its tranquil setting on Mirror Lake.
Hollis Garden, Lakeland, Florida
Hollis Garden is a formal 1.2 acre botanical garden donated by the Hollis Family to the City of Lakeland. It is located on the banks of Mirror Lake. Stacy Smith, Park horticulturist was a gracious tour guide and justifiably enthusiastic about the interesting plants and design there. Of note are the silver bismark palms and popcorn cassia or yellow senna that smells like popcorn when in bloom.
Other interesting happenings when I visited the garden was a gardener using chain saws was doing what he called “shucking the palm” by removing the boots. He was using the chain saw to clean up the trunk of the palm and remove the branch stubs.
Besides the plants and thoughtful garden design, Hollis Garden is impressive in that it is open to the public for free (there is a charge to rent the gardens for weddings) and operated by the Parks and Recreation Department of Lakeland, Florida. Good work!
Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales, Florida
A long time favorite destination during azalea blooming season is the Bok Tower Gardens – a national Historic Landmark. Today, the interactive visitor center, new garden additions, Pinewood Estate house and tempting gift shop make Bok Tower an interesting place to visit any time of the year.
Edward Bok was born in the Netherlands in 1863 and immigrated to Brooklyn when he was six years old. He worked for Western Union Telegraph Company and Charles Scribner’s Sons before moving to Philadelphia to become editor of Ladies’ Home Journal for 30 years. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his autobiography, “The Americanization of Edward Bok”. A noted philanthropist, in his 60s he created The American Foundation which would later be known as the Bok Tower Gardens Foundation to create his legacy garden near his winter home. It was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in 1929 less than one year before he passed away – within sight of his beloved tower.
The gardens are designed with meandering paths under canopied trees with hundreds of azalea shrubs at eye level covering many of the 47 landscaped acres. They were designed by famed American garden designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, who works include garden parks in Buffalo, Montreal, Boston, New York City, Chicago, Louisville and Ashville. Splashes of color from the azaleas, magnolias and camellias fill the shady respite under the oaks, pines and palms from October through May. Then the roses and crape myrtle take over the blooming chores. A 700 acre buffer zone of citrus surrounds the gardens.
The impressive entrance building and visitor centre has fountains, sunlight, innovative plant displays and creative artwork.
Edward Bok’s Singing Tower
Bok Tower is a 205 foot art deco tower (as demonstrated by the tile grills at the top of the tower) that is the centerpiece of the gardens. The tile grills depict birds and plants and other Florida wildlife representing the balance in nature and were designed by H. Dulles Allen. The tower was designed by Milton B. Medary and created by Lee Lawrie, stone sculptor extraordinaire. Inside the tower are 60 bells in a 40 foot by 30 foot chamber that form one of the world’s finest Carillons.
Daily live concerts are held at 1 pm and 3 pm. The job of carillonneur is an honored position and if past history is examined, it is a job almost for life. There have only been three carillonneurs at Bok Singing Tower since 1928. The playing room inside the bell chamber housing the clavier or keyboard in a somewhat soundproof room. Good thing because a mid-afternoon hourly chime played when I was standing right underneath the largest of the big bells.
“Make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it.” Edward W. Bok
For more details visit www.boktowergardens.org