Thursday, January 8, 2009

Garden Ratings Made Easy

There has been a number of posts from landscape blogs in the past two days regarding the NY Times article related to the Sustainable Sites Initiative, the initiative to broaden the scope of site issues related to green building and design. It's great that the initiative is getting ink, and definitely take the time to offer comments to make the system better. That said, the article threw me off from the beginning with the title 'How Green is Your Garden? A New Rating System May Tell You', skewing the scope and breadth of landscape architecture and distilling it into the concept of gardening.

:: images via NY Times

That is not to say there isn't a bit of info regarding the true breadth of the topic... "The 179-page report, produced after three years of research by a diverse group of architects, landscape architects, ecologists and engineers, includes proposed guidelines for creating sustainable landscapes, as well as diverse examples of successful restoration projects, from Point Fraser, in Perth, Australia, where a toxic wetland full of heavy metals now supports native plants and wildlife, to the Queens Botanical Garden, in Flushing, N.Y., where harvested rainwater feeds into ornamental water gardens, and gray water from sinks, dishwaters and showers is cleansed by plants and used to flush toilets.

The report also includes a point system for rating a landscape, much like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, which rates the sustainability of buildings. The LEED system, created by the United States Green Building Council, a private group of architects, engineers, builders, manufacturers and others, has been around since 1993. But its ratings — even platinum, the highest one, so sought-after by green builders — focus much more on buildings than on the land around them."

It also expands on some of the detail missed in LEED - which I think is the biggest benefit of the new system. Read some interesting dialogue about this on Land8Lounge here. "The initiative, on the other hand, goes into detail, specifying the kinds of plants, for example, that can be used to cleanse a disturbed wetland; how trees can be used to shade a building, protect it from wind, prevent erosion and clean the air; and what kind of plantings enhance mental health, draw people outside the building and even engage them in tending the landscape."

The point that is missing is that it involves more than gardening, which the article dives back into with abandon - taking a tour of the United States Botanical Garden, which is interesting, but missing the greater discussion of sustainability and the landscape. Addressing the vital yet on-sided aspect of native plants, no irrigation, permeable walkways, and no pesticide use - all very appropriate for a garden landscape - but how about an urban plaza or waterfront.

:: image via US Botanic Garden

There's a bit of mashing about with the energy efficiency of greenhouses and such, but the article is really a puff piece about the garden - not a true story of what the SSI can do. Oh well, I'm sure the conversation will continue, and some great photos of plant closeups are included as well.

:: images via NY Times

I'm being coy of course, and there is a good amount of solid information in the article, and the old adage there's no such thing as bad press does work here - but we really need to elevate the conversation beyond these simple fundamentals and picturesque garden archetypes - to establishing credibility as a way of conducting design, implementation, and maintenance of landscape beyond the garden and into the city. Sustainable Sites is not a small and home/garden topic and implementation - it's green infrastructure, urban design, sustainable communities, public space design, parks, water resources, carbon sequestration and energy efficiency... much like landscape architecture, it's complex and expansive, and it can't be simplified to mere gardening.


  1. well thanks for sharing these garden ratings.

  2. I never knew about garden rating. Thanks for sharing it. And your blog look is really cool. 5*

  3. Great post! I like mention of rainwater harvesting. It makes so much sense to capture rainfall to water your garden. Surprised that I couldn't find anything about drip irrigation systems in the rating system. Maybe I just didn't look hard enough.


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