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.
Letter from the Director - Summer 2011
AT THE WILDFLOWER CENTER, WE GROW THINGS – wildflowers, native plants, trees, ideas and knowledge. And growth, at its best, is transformative. Just as we are transforming our own beautiful facilities and gardens, we are focused on a more ambitious goal – to shift conventional thinking about the ways we change landscapes, relying on heavy use of water, chemicals and energy, to alternative approaches that are ecologically and economically sustainable and that contribute measurable environmental benefits to communities.
Over the past five years, we have worked with the American Society of Landscape Architects and the United States Botanic Garden on the Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) to create guidelines and a rating system for planned landscapes that will not only look "green" but also provide essential ecosystem services: improving air and water quality by filtering pollutants, reducing the risk of floods, lowering urban heat effects, providing wildlife habitat and capturing harmful greenhouse gases. The SITES program is modeled after the U.S. Green Building Council's highly successful LEED® rating system for energy-efficient structures; it creates an incentive for adopting sustainable practices by providing guidelines and formal certification for projects that meet various levels of environmental performance. Some of the guidelines and performance credits we've created for landscapes are now being incorporated into the LEED rating system.
At the Wildflower Center, we have adopted the SITES approach in design and development of two major projects, the Texas Arboretum and a new Children's Garden. But our reach goes beyond our own site. The Center's Ecosystem Design Group is putting the SITES philosophy to work through its fee-based consulting for public and private clients, on such projects as national and regional parks, corporate headquarters, urban developments, institutional campuses, river restoration, state highways and botanic gardens.
The group's expertise includes sustainable design, low-impact development, landscape architecture and ecology. These staff work directly with private and public clients on master planning; they are in demand to serve on integrated design teams with architects and civil engineers responsible for major projects. They are key to our role as an organized research unit of the University of Texas at Austin, conducting research at the Wildflower Center that is growing our understanding of how to use native plants and sustainable design to address environmental challenges. Currently, that research involves fire ecology, using native plants in green roofs, assessing carbon sequestration by native grasses and developing a water-conserving lawn grass. This issue of Wildflower describes group director Mark Simmons' research findings on a mix of native grasses that can make a lush but lowmaintenance lawn.
In every project, the Ecosystem Design Group applies knowledge gained from research at the Wildflower Center and from its experience with such high-profile projects as the AMD corporate campus in Austin, the George W. Bush Presidential Centerin Dallas, the San Antonio River Mission Reach, Austin's Mueller redevelopment and many others. Our high-impact partners include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, TBG Partners engineering, Bury + Partners Engineering, Pape-Dawson Engineers, OLIN, Overland Partners and RVI Planning + Landscape Architecture.
We look for projects that offer opportunities to test innovative design ideas. For example, the Mueller development in central Austin turned a former airport parking lot into a tallgrass prairie that is providing an outdoor classroom for residents and visitors alike. The Guadalupe Saldaña affordable housing project in east Austin will use rain gardens and bioswales to capture rainwater to the benefit of the landscape. On the Williamson County (Texas) Ronald Reagan Parkway, native plants are successfully controlling erosion on a highway stretch where conventional sodding and seeding in a steep, rocky terrain had failed. The Wildflower Center is an educational institution, and members of the Ecosystem Design Group teach classes at the University and at the Center and participate in public, professional and academic workshops nationwide. This year, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality commissioned the Group to conduct eight workshops around the state on low-impact development, an innovative approach to site design that captures stormwater for its environmental benefits rather than diverting it off-site as a waste product. The Ecosystem Design Group at the Wildflower Center is truly taking our message of sustainability and conservation to the broader world – and demonstrating that we can create the beautiful landscapes we want as well as the ecologically sustainable landscapes we need.
Susan K. Rieff, Executive Director