Secretary of the Interior

A Blog from the Editor of St. Louis At Home

Thursday, September 20, 2012 / 7:36 AM

Permeable Parking Lots and Wildflower Roofs: What Makes Landscaping Sustainable?

Permeable Parking Lots and Wildflower Roofs: What Makes Landscaping Sustainable?

Photo by SWT Design

Earlier this year, the Open/Closed Conference explored the issue of vacant land in St. Louis. Though St. Louis city is profoundly burdened by this problem—the Land Reutilization Authority manages thousands of acres—every city has its share of greyfields (underused parcels, mostly dead malls and parking lots), greenfields (uncontaminated vacant land) and brownfields (empty sites environmentally contaminated by prior use). In the past, reusing vacant land has meant building strip malls over strip malls. But the culture is changing: cities are realizing that if they must transform the site anyway, they might as well make it more water- and energy-efficient, and friendlier to bees and birds.

Enter the Sustainable Sites Initiative, a collaboration between the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden. Since 2010, they have been studying a huge range of sustainable landscape projects around the country, with the goal of creating guidelines for green landscapes, the way green buildings are measured up against LEED standards. Their rating system is called SITES, and it uses the friendliest and most universal rating system known to man: four stars or less.

Missouri already has one SITES-certified project, the  Novus International Headquarters Campus in St. Charles, which received three stars. This week, Missouri got its a second SITES-certified landscape: the grounds of landscaping and architecture firm SWT Design. The project earned two out of four stars for features like a roof garden planted with native plants, rainwater cachment, and permeable hardscapes (which keeps water from flooding into, and contaminating, the stormwater system).

Here's a short tour of the project, photos and captions courtesy of SWT:

Photo taken before any construction began from the approximate location of the bridge that connects the two buildings on the SWT Campus. Looking back over what would later be the rain garden. Photograph by SWT Design

Plantings are designed to provide multi-seasonal interest throughout the year. Here Missouri native tree Cotinus obovatus shows off its fall color. Photograph by SWT Design

The rain garden separates the two buildings on the SWT Design campus and provides a quiet contemplative space and excellent views from within the building. Photograph by SWT Design

SWT Design Rain garden photo taken from the bridge looking back over the rain garden to the permeable parking lot. Photograph by SWT Design

Green roof garden showcasing many native Missouri glade and prairie plants well suited to harsh conditions of an extensive roof top planting. Photograph by SWT Design

If you are interested in planting roof gardens or native prairie gardens, or want to practice rainwater catchment, there are a lot of local resources to get you started, including St. Louis Wild Ones, the Missouri Botanical Garden's Earthways Center, Gateway Greening, the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Native Plant Society, and the Green Center.

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