It was just a Dutch-treat dinner during the horticulture industry’s annual AmericanHort trade show in Columbus, but the conversation was dynamic. The scene, Hubbard Grill featuring “modern American cuisine” and some fine local beers. The diners, a group of fascinating individuals across a range of primarily herbaceous green infrastructure expertise. Ann English, Montgomery County Maryland Dept. of Environmental Protection Watershed Management and Claudia West, North Creek Nursery and best-selling co-author of Planting in a Post Wild World were both speakers on the program. Also present: Shannon Currey, Hoffman Nursery; Leslie Herndon, Greenscape Inc.; Jeff Gibson, Ball Horticultural and myself.
There’s nothing as invigorating as engaging in great conversation with excellent people. We talked about a range of mainly plant-centric topics. Some of the takeaways:
- If green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) plantings do not look good, people don’t want to live next to them.
- Thanks to some fixes last year, the City of Lancaster PA’s green stormwater infrastructure is “stunning this year.”
- Public and private property landscape management are two worlds. The owners of commercial real estate may not own a building/property long enough to see an eco/green infrastructure landscape fully grown. The asset manager and that person’s attitudes and aesthetic sensibility toward landscapes dictate on-the-ground management activities.
- Simplicity of GSI is critical. Employees in field maintenance jobs turn over quickly. Plantings must be straightforward. It has to be easy to distinguish the weed from the desired plant.
- Costs of GSI vary greatly depending on who is providing the numbers and where the facility will be located (complexity of dealing with existing infrastructure for instance).
- Native plants are becoming an important nursery/greenhouse plant category and are only expected to continue to rise.
- Water management is a large business opportunity for landscape companies. The industry is stuck using old thinking in how to manage water. A parallel set of companies that specialize in stormwater management has emerged to install and maintain GSI. But they don’t know plants.
- GSI is an interdisciplinary opportunity, yet individual contributors to a project may or may not be cognizant of viewpoints of other stakeholders. For instance, engineers have a specific set of goals for a GSI facility that may or may not be completely shared and/or understood by other players. BMP and technical manuals often have plant lists that are inappropriate, yet that’s the source of plant specifications for landscape architects or engineers. Even if the landscape contractor is brought in early, they may or may not understand the how’s and why’s of the project or construction sequencing to ensure success.
- Early results from a private survey of landscape architects show challenges in using native plants in the landscape. Some L.A.s have less favorable attitudes about the landscape aesthetics of natives and their long-term maintenance needs.
- Pollinators sell, but butterflies are much more popular than bumblebees. And commercial landscape customers love the idea of pollinator gardens and plants until they see that it may cost more.
- Even with all of this, natives are an increasing business opportunity. The appearance of natives today (including some of the varietal selections) have helped to increase demand of natives in gardening and landscape markets.
We didn’t solve any problems. But we did kick around some of the most important issues facing how to position the herbaceous plant side of green infrastructure. I for one was energized by the discussion and left more committed than ever to the idea that plants benefit people and that cities need plants, billions of functional plants.
Later we migrated down the street to Jini’s Splendid Ice Creams for a couple of scoops of delicious.
NewTerrain August 1, 2016.