Sustainable By Design: (Don’t) Beware Of The Natives


By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the January 2006 issue of Today’s Facility Manager


When the Century Park Retail Complex in Bend, OR set out to redesign its landscape, the primary aim was to reduce the amount of water needed to irrigate plantings, maintenance time, and costs. The 33,000 square foot landscape was outfitted with plants representing 51 species native to the region, with the end result being a drastically reduced water bill for irrigation of $10.75 per month—the minimum amount imposed on commercial sites in the area.

A native plant is one indigenous to the climate and soils in which it is planted. Indigenous plants are very robust, because they adapt to local soil and weather patterns. As such, the watering schedule is less demanding to keep native species in good condition. In a sustainable landscape, these plants play a significant role, because they require less water, less fertilizer, and less effort for pest control.


Planned and installed by Winter Creek Restoration, located in Bend, OR, the Century Park project is an example of how native plantings can create a sustainable landscape for a facility. The company’s Web site states: “Landscaping with native plants makes sense. Plants native to a specific area have adapted to local soils, climate, and weather patterns, and contribute to the preservation of complete ecological communities. This results in a balanced system requiring less maintenance, less fertilizer, and fewer headaches than a traditional landscape.”


A drainage and irrigation system installed at the Century Park site was also key to water conservation. Rick Martinson, co-owner of Winter Creek Restoration, incorporated rainwater collection and a storm water runoff system and supplemented the irrigation with an in-ground drip system. Runoff from the parking lot is captured in tree wells, and a roof collection system diverts runoff to a stream bed below, which is used to irrigate plants. Storm drains also provide supplemental irrigation, and in some spots, are the only source of irrigation to the landscape.


While Martinson’s company specializes in landscapes indigenous to the high desert of the western U.S., the benefits of this strategy are not confined to this climate. The water conserving nature of this concept is universal, as long as the plants are native to the specific climate in which they are being located. A guideline is that the plants should be able to thrive on the average rainfall of the given climate.


“Native landscapes must be based on site specific conditions,” notes the Winter Creek Restoration Web site. “Here in central Oregon, we have five major eco-regions. Within each of those areas are numerous plant communities, and between many communities are transition zones that include environmental characteristics of both areas. No matter where a project is located, our plans and designs consider the environmental setting of the specific project and the cultural requirements of plants specific to that setting. Irrigation requirements, as well as care and maintenance, are considered.”


In planning the Century Park landscape, Winter Creek Restoration used several concepts espoused by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through its GreenScapes program. Introduced in November 2003, this program aims to preserve natural resources, prevent waste, and reduce pollution resulting from landscape practices. A focus on “land managers of large scale landscapes” has been a prime objective.


“GreenScapes was created because landscaping and groundskeeping operations result in millions of tons of waste materials, such as grass, trees, brush, lumber, asphalt, and concrete, being hauled away, buried, or burned each day,” says Jean Schwab, program manager at EPA. “Additionally, millions of gallons of water, pesticides, fuels, and oils are used every day in those operations.”


Native plantings are just one strategy that GreenScapes promotes. Other approaches include reducing or eliminating plastic silt fencing and substituting it with blankets, berms, and filtersocks made of compost, as well as reducing nonpermeable hardscape wherever possible to minimize rainwater runoff and erosion (as was done in the Century Park project).


“By employing green landscaping, or ‘greenscaping’ methods, managers can achieve significant cost savings while minimizing their impact on the environment,” says Schwab. “The focus of GreenScapes is to expand the use of green land care practices throughout the U.S. and to have land owners and managers realize that many of these practices will not only help protect the environment but will also improve their operational efficiency.”


In addition to resource conservation, cost efficiencies should result from native plantings and other sustainable landscape strategies. Conservation Design Forum, a Chicago, IL-based consulting firm specializing in sustainable land planning, design, and development techniques, estimates that a mature native landscape can result in an annual maintenance cost savings of $4,000 per acre compared with a traditional turf landscape.


The GreenScapes program can be a source for cost comparisons. “Our goal is to provide our members and the general public with as much information as possible in order to make the best decisions possible,” says Schwab. “The EPA is currently in the process of developing additional cost/benefit information for many of the GreenScapes practices we promote, because we know this type of information is essential and not always readily available.”


For the facility manager whose duties include landscape management, native plantings are just one way to maintain a healthy, attractive site. Reducing water usage and maintenance costs are welcome by-products of this strategy.


Information for this article was provided through an interview with Schwab and from the Winter Creek Restoration Web site. To find out more, visit To read a report from Chicago Design Forum on sustainable landscaping costs,