The other day I was driving out New Hampshire Avenue, in Maryland just outside Washington, DC—the direct route to my favorite organic compost supplier, Pogo Organics. I was intent on buying their perfect soil blend for a rain garden I am installing.
The blur of green streaming by my window piqued my attention. I began to check out the real estate and realized that religious edifices dominated this nine-mile stretch of road. I counted thirty-one. On average, that’s one church every 1/3 mile.
The buildings seemed to represent every conceivable religious denomination that exists— Baptist, Lutheran, Muslim, Baptist, Catholic, Indian Orthodox, Evangelic, Buddhist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Jehovah’s Witness, just to name a few. Baptists were especially interested in locating on this highway which could be renamed “Heavenly Way”.
I started to speculate on what could possibly be the magnet that attracted all these institutions to this stretch of road? What non-profit, religious affiliation discount was offered at sale? I am still delving into that mystery.
Although their religious tenets are unique, their landscapes were not. It seemed the collective concept of “God’s Green Earth” translated into lawn, lawn, and lawn. I know there are at least 50 million acres of lawn in the US and after this nine-mile trip I began to wonder how much of that belongs to religious organizations across the country. I tried Google. No luck.
Here’s what I started to think about. What if places frequented by many people, every week, became good examples of sound environmental practices and advocated for conservation landscapes? You know, wildlife gardens. What if they planted wildlife habitat instead of lawn? What if the people who visited observed these landscapes and learned about the benefits of these wild life gardens and acted on changing their own yards to include natural landscapes? Hmmm.
With an environmental mission, Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Naperville, Illinois considered the landscape possibilities for their new building. They wanted a healthy, chemical free, sustainable landscape. The choice they made was to plant a native prairie.
When I visited, it was thriving with birds, bees and butterflies. According to Pat Zacher, landscape chairperson, “It has been an education for the parishioners. It wasn’t instantaneous acceptance. After several years, the concept is gaining approval and people have begun to understand the importance behind natural landscape initiatives.” That translates into more native gardens in parishioner’s home landscapes.
I do not want to single out religious institutions for a lack of leadership in environmental initiatives. Holy Spirit is proof that some churches are leading by example and The National Religious Partnership for the Environment is an association of independent faith groups, across a broad spectrum, working to heal the earth. I do feel their message of caring for God’s creation is a powerful starting point for teaching good stewardship of the land and taking the lead in environmental restoration efforts.
There are many other, well-trafficked landscape opportunities that could serve to provide excellent stewardship examples such as schools, libraries, corporations, and communities. The list goes on.
The city of Yellow Springs, Ohio dedicated a 500 x 25 foot stretch of land, along the community bike path, to the Greene County Women’s History Project. The park began as remembrance of women’s history with sculptures and commemorative tiles and grew into a native habitat. Bikers, walkers and bird and butterfly enthusiasts frequent the park.
I just started consulting with Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts on a meadow installation. Phil Goetkin, landscape manager, says the main goal of the project is to “demonstrate that Wolf Trap National Park is serious about natural resource management and is willing to take bold steps to show that it is prepared to be a leader in the community as well as the National Park Service.”
They have decided to take a high visibility area and turn it into a meadow. The “dimple” is a one-acre site perfect for a meadow adaptation. Along with Wolf Trap, The Wallace Genetic Foundation, The Meadow Project, Earth Sangha, the Center for Urban Ecology and other partners, the meadow will be installed next spring.
It is particularly important that this area be planted in a meadow/rain garden habitat because of the considerable runoff of storm water the “dimple” receives from impervious, paved and grassy areas during storms. Meadow rain gardens help to minimize runoff and filter pollutants with a matrix of plants and deep roots systems, where as lawns tend to allow water to run freely, carrying pollutants into storm water drains.
With the installation of the meadow habitat, a half million, annual visitors to Wolf Trap will have the opportunity to see a natural landscape in action. Wolf Trap staff also plans to develop an educational/interpretive opportunity through signage and literature on making meadows and natural landscapes. Wolf Trap’s environmental leadership can be a good model for all institutions that would like to focus on promoting healthy stewardship of their land.
Wildlife gardens by example. Try it in your hometown!
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