As a trained landscape architect, I have found my industry to be a tad much in the grey area when it comes to ecological restoration. We are often not plants people. We are also not often scientists. We are often chained to desks working on drawings on drafting programs for long hours without a relationship to the landscape we design. But interest in ecological restoration in landscape architecture practices has risen. An interesting accredited MLA program has formed through Temple Univeristy which focuses on Ecological Restoration in the practice of Landscape Architecture. Applied Ecology. This was my education in the UK at the University of Sheffield. Taught by scientists, Dr. Nigel Dunnett and Dr. James Hitchmough, and by designers, Kamni Gill and Catherine Dee, I found my education to be rounded in both science and design. It’s rare to find.
So why am I talking about this on a native plant society blog for the Catskill Mountain region? Why am I being so personal? Well, my brain had been buzzing since returning from the Society of Ecological Restoration’s Mid-Atlantic Annual Conference (http://chapter.ser.org/midatlantic/). This year it was hosted by Temple University’s MLArch program in Ambler. I was delighted to meet a few young graduate students poised and ready to enter the landscape profession not just as designers, but as ecologists too. Also, amongst many great native plant nurseries growing for the Mid-Atlantic and government organisations dedicated to ecology and biodiversity, there was Hudsonia, a great non-profit, you should know about, doing great work in the Woodstock area. Hudsonia’s Chris Graham will be co-leading a hike this late spring to identify plants found over 3500ft. At this elevation height, the flora characteristics of the Catskills does change. Hikers and plant lovers alike will be in for a treat! Great views and vistas when not looking down at the forest floor!
Well, anyway, generally speaking, push for native plantings is seen as a predominately urban exercise in landscape architectural practices. In New York City, a new law has passed banning the use of all non-native, invasive or otherwise, plant species in all of its natural areas (think wild areas and hinterlands – not parks) owned by the governing Parks Department. The Parks Department has created a manual to help identify plants that are good for storm waters and biodiversity. It will be available online, and you can read more about this law here and here. And if interested, it will be broken down by plant communities, a worthy read. Thinking about gardening as a holistic exchange of plant communities could be the right experiment for problem areas in your garden.
Suburban and rural landscape companies are often not as sensitive to local ecologies, providing a range of services which mow your invasive lawn, apply herbicides and fertilizers, and salt your drives. (There are of course exceptions to every rule! And we want more of you!!) Plant selection are predominately ornamental and sadly often invasive. Though a myriad of non-profits and government bodies, locally, regionally, and nationally provide lists of invasive species (http://www.epa.gov/reg3esd1/garden/invasives.htm) and guidelines, the nursery trade is not restricted in anyway and may propagate and sell invasive plants. If you live in the Catskill Park, consider a theortical transformation of your property. Think about the boundaries of your land and its relationship to your surrounding woodlands. What if the vegetative boundaries became a little bit more blurred. Now, I’m not advocating for the removal of your lawn and allowing nature to take over here.. However, native grass species sold in seed form (rather than sod) are good alternative choices for when you begin your spring time yard work this year. Shrub selection can be native, and attractive, and beneficial, and not tatty, nor messy, nor ‘wild’, and might just be the low maintenance option we are always looking for.
So, I guess, I would like to leave you with this. In the city of Toronto, as a private landowner, you must gain permission by the city to remove a tree over a certain diameter and you must replace with three more new trees. In New York City, if you want to contract bid on a construction project in a natural area owned by the Parks Department, starting in May 2014, you may only use native plants – by law. What if it were considered more of a privilege to have home ownership in a park such as the Catskill State Park? What if you were required by law to plant trees if you removed trees? What if you were only allowed to plant native vegetation on your property? And, what if that vegetation needed to be sourced reliably and locally? What if you were told you couldn’t remove vegetation because its carbon sequestration was more valuable to the community good than your own personal enterprise? Now, its never gonna happen in this land of the free to do and act basically whatever and however you want, but it poses an interesting question to those whom have the privilege to call the Catskills home.
The community good. Now that’s something to gnaw on.