Growing green, getting personal 

Healthy Community grants fund local environmental programs

LOCAL GARDENERS have long wanted a genuinely user-friendly book about growing native plants. Dream no more -- it’s about to become reality. The Savannah chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects has been awarded a Healthy Community Grant from Ward Edwards to create a native plant book specific to coastal Georgia and South Carolina.

“It will be something everyone can get and use,” says Ward Edwards Program Development Administrator Kimberly Seipel-Parks. “They’ll be able to access the book and find ways to utilize native plants. It’s something they can get hold of and start using immediately.”

Healthy Community grants are awarded on a competitive basis. Twenty-one applications were received for the first round of grants, and five non-profit organizations were chosen to receive $2,500 each.

“We’re a civil engineering and natural resources and surveying company,” Seipel-Parks says. “We wanted to encourage others in the community to benefit the environment and benefit the community, but with something a little out of the box.”

“One of our core beliefs is that people are accountable for stewardship of the earth,” says Allen Ward, president of Ward Edwards. “Adding value to real estate while practicing good stewardship requires the creativity and leadership of talented people.”

In addition to the ASLA grant, four other grants were awarded, one to the United Way of the Coastal Empire in Liberty County, for a plastics recycling program. “Last year, students collected six tons of plastic bottles,” Seipel-Parks says. “That’s a lot of bottles!

“The reason we liked this one was because it is a partnership project. Through a partnership with Keep America Beautiful, they send in all the bottles they recycle. It comes back to Liberty County in the form of fleece pullovers and backpacks,” Seipel-Parks says. “Those are given to students in need. Not only is it good for the environment, it’s turned into something the students can use.”

The Marshview Organic Community Farm in St. Helena, S.C. was given a grant to train local students. “It teaches the students about organic farming practices, develops character and entrepreneurial skills,” Seipel-Parks says. “It also gives them a stipend. It’s a good job for kids to have.”

The Town of Bluffton, S.C., was awarded a grant to create a rain garden at the town hall. “It has an educational component,” Seipel-Parks says. “They’re using native plants and collecting rain water and filtering it. It’s a way to minimize the negative effects of runoff.”

The final grant was awarded to St. Peter’s Catholic School in Beaufort, S.C. Teacher Heather Rimbaud is doing a hands-on science program with middle school students.

“She believes hands-on is the best way to teach science,” Seipel-Parks says. “They’re going to be studying the effects of high salinity in the estuary near the school.”

This year’s grants were the first to be awarded, but they won’t be the last. Information about the 2008-2009 program will be available at www.wardedwards.com.

Non-profits in Chatham, Effingham, Bryan, McIntosh, Liberty and Glynn counties in Georgia, and Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton and Colleton counties in South Carolina are eligible to apply for the grants. A panel of judges makes the final selection.

Jamie Csizmadia, president-elect of the Georgia Association of the American Society of Landscape Architects, applied for the native plant book grant. She is a LEED-accredited landscape architect for Kern-Coleman & Co. in Savannah.

What is the native plant book project?

Jamie Csizmadia: This project is a geographically-specific native plant book that will seek to make environmental stewardship achievable on the personal level. It will promote the creation and restoration of ecologically functioning landscapes in the coastal area by providing users with a comprehensive set of tools -- rainfall data, soils information, USDA plant zones, coastal ecosystems map, plant community data, individual plant sheets, native wildlife lists, and native plant sources -- that will assist in the appropriate selection and utilization of native plants for urban development, restoration projects, and private gardens.

Appropriately, this book will be geared towards coastal residents, city and county officials, developers, landscape architects and other design professionals, landscape contractors, plant nurseries, restoration ecologists, environmental scientists, and other individuals who are responsible for the future fabric of our landscapes.

How will the book be used?

Jamie Csizmadia: A great need exists to address the issues of development and the resulting damage, degradation and destruction to coastal ecosystems and their components, most importantly native vegetation and associated wildlife. It is imperative that the people making decisions that affect the course of development have access to this information and that it becomes common knowledge and an ingrained vernacular that cannot be ignored.

Ideally, the book will empower residents and newcomers to not only hold their community accountable for its decisions, but also aid in making environmental stewardship and sustainable choices in the landscape at home achievable on the personal level.

It will open people’s eyes to the ground they stand on, and engender regional pride in the array of bountiful, diverse native plant communities. It will increase common knowledge about native plant communities -- food sources, flowers, dyes -- and associated wildlife.

It will increase the conservation, restoration and creation of ecologically functioning landscapes. It will force regional plant nurseries to increasingly grow and sell more native plants and inspire revisions to city/county ordinances regarding sustainable development practices.

Will it be readily available to the general public?

Jamie Csizmadia: Absolutely. Upon publication, the book will be marketed by GAASLA and made available to the public, specifically coastal residents.

How will the grant funds be used for the project?

Jamie Csizmadia: Travel – a diversity of regional expertise will be documented and utilized for this book, which requires meetings, interviews, and site visits with professionals. Also it will be used for reference books and equipment.

When will the book be published?

Jamie Csizmadia: Spring 2010.

What gave you the idea to create the book?

Jamie Csizmadia: The answer is twofold. As a landscape architect who has lived in four states -- Texas, Oregon, Oklahoma and Georgia -- over the course of 10 years, upon arrival in each new locale I’ve found it difficult and time-consuming to access and collate a wide array of geographically-specific information that is not only necessary to the practice of landscape architecture, but also vital to a community’s understanding of its own distinct physiographic and ecological context.

On a more personal note, I feel that as humans, we forget -- or maybe ignore -- our connections to the living world around us, and we tend to dismiss or bypass the ground we stand on. We need help remembering just how fabulous, creative, and sustaining our native plant communities truly are!

And the no-brainer is that humans need to face the facts that native plants can outperform the aesthetic and establishment attributes of exotics, require fewer inputs of water, fertilizer and maintenance than their exotic counterparts, and provide necessary food and shelter for native wildlife creatures, some of whose numbers are dwindling.

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Linda Sickler

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