Sustainability was a major theme at the 22nd Annual Rhode Island Statewide Historic Preservation Conference, held in Pawtucket on Saturday, April 14, 2007. The session on Sustainable Historic Landscapes especially interested the Providential Gardener. What a privilege it must be to work on Boston's Emerald Necklace, Westerly's Wilcox Park, and a village walkway in Guilford, CT. Landscape architects with such assignments described recent plans and developments for these public spaces, which present many challenges that taxpayers and visitors don't usually consider.
Everyone stressed Maintenance. After all, that is the old-fashioned word that determines Sustainability. If a landscape has plants that will both thrive without much human intervention and also behave themselves, it is much easier and significantly less expensive and time consuming to keep things looking nice and neat. By working with the maintenance staff before and during a project, landscape designers learn what can realistically be expected, given the actual maintenance budget, from the people who have the ongoing care of their garden visions.
- The essential question of how to maintain public spaces. When
money is invested in new plant material (which can run into the
hundreds of thousands ~ even millions ~ of dollars), money must also be
earmarked for the long-term care of these plants. Neglected plants die,
and untended spaces are overrun by aggressive, invasive non-native
plants that obscure views and can even take over the water systems and
- How to maintain historical landscapes when the original plans
called for plants we now consider invasive or do not thrive in the
- Whether to plants monocultures, for instance, line paths with one kind of tree, which can create lovely, French style boulevards, but can also lead to barren parks if some pest comes along that can destroy a particular species of tree ~ such as the Asian Longhorned Beetle or the Emerald Ash Borer.
- How to design, build, and rebuild our communities and be true to their places.
- How to select, use, reuse, and dispose of construction materials.
- What impact the public space has on our neighborhoods, landscapes, and underlying systems.
- How to balance historical accuracy with environmental and ecological considerations.
- How to intervene minimally in an historical landscape.