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A Life of Its Own

Landscape eco-education program grows

ABOVE: In the foothills of Santa Barbara, Coyote House has green roofs and other sustainable landscaping approaches that are taught in the Landscape for Life curriculum.
Photos by: Tyson Ellis

Did you know that traditional lawns require more water and chemicals to maintain than any agricultural crop nationally? The good news is homeowners can take many steps to move beyond traditional landscaping approaches. For the past three years the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the United States Botanic Garden have provided online and other options to growing numbers of homeowners interested in developing eco-friendly outdoor spaces that are beautiful and functional.

The organizations are two of the lead partners in the Sustainable SITES Initiative™, which provides sustainable principles and a curriculum for landscape professionals. With funding from the Botanic Garden, the partners unveiled the Landscape for Life website in 2010 that serves as a global resource for learning sustainable landscaping approaches from lay-friendly materials.

The partners have also provided an LFL workshop series since last year where participants create a new landscape plan over five weeks. The Wildflower Center will be teaching its fourth round of this USBG-funded series as part of the center’s Go Native U classes on Wednesday nights beginning October 9.

Central Texans and residents who take the series elsewhere learn to go beyond picking and placing plants in a yard. Classes cover how to improve soils, how to study and improve the flow of rainwater across a yard, and details such as the benefits of installing porous pavement for retaining moisture on site.

Wicking Beds Garden ABOVE: Wicking Beds Garden. Designed by Jennie Curtis Roogulli, Australia.

“We touch on things that may be forgotten – such as hardscapes and materials,” says Alice Jansen, the Wildflower Center’s education manager who oversees the series. “These features are just as important for creating spaces that are in harmony with nature and that have a larger, holistic purpose.”

The response to these offerings has been enthusiastic. Kirsten Moody was among 22 attendees in the Center’s spring LFL workshops. “Every bit of this series was useful and interesting,” Moody wrote in the course appraisal. “Everything about the Center and this program seems well-organized and involves knowledgeable people.”

Heidi Johnson also felt the spring series hit the mark. “I am energized and empowered to redesign my landscape and make it both more functional and beautiful.”
“It’s wonderful to see how much interest we’ve received in Landscape For Life,” says Holly Shimizu, executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden. “The choices people make in their own backyards can make a huge difference, and we’re thrilled to help offer the resources they need.”

Unlike most Go Native U offerings, the LFL classes must be taken together. Participants do homework each week to build a conservation-focused plan. The approach leads to a comprehensive design plan that is reviewed during the final class. Attendees are awarded a certificate at the end and can take a more in-depth studio class afterward for further input on their sustainable design plans.

Spreading the green gospel

To spread knowledge about sustainable design further, the Landscape For Life partners also developed a curriculum for public gardens, master gardeners and others to teach LFL workshops in their communities. In June 2012, five downloadable PowerPoint presentations and an LFL teacher’s manual became available for free on the LFL website.

The curriculum was developed by the Botanic Garden and Environmental Designer Heather Venhaus, former director of SITES. More than a dozen places have used the content to teach LFL workshops, including the Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College in upstate New York, and the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh.

Training the eco-trainers

Besides making the workshop teaching material available online, the Wildflower Center and the U.S. Botanic Garden also created a webinar series to help experts interested in teaching LFL. The webinars provide teaching tips from Jansen and more details from Austin-based Venhaus about explaining landscape topics that can become complex such as soil science

Venhaus and Jansen will team up again to lead a second round of these ‘Train the Trainer’ webinars this fall. The first round drew so much interest it had 60-plus on a waiting list, and another 50 or so have signed up to take the webinars in late October.

“What’s so cool is that we’ve reached people in more than 30 states and in Australia and Canada with these webinars,” Jansen says, noting that a non-governmental agency in Spain is also interested in developing a similar program.

NOTE: To access the Landscape For Life teaching materials and online information, visit: http://www.landscapeforlife.org

To learn about the initial launch of the Landscape for Life website, visit: http://www.wildflower.org/press/?id=172

By Barbra A. Rodriguez

* The terms “partner” and “partnership” as used herein to refer to the Sustainable Sites Initiative shall not refer to a legal partnership, joint venture or other transaction or creation of other legal entity, but rather it shall refer to a collaborative effort between independent autonomous legal entities.