Consistency, certification needed in Bay conservation landscaping
By JANE W. GRAHAM
and CAROL KINSLEY
(March 2015) Virginia Rockwell, principal conservation designer and owner of Gentle Gardener Green Design in Gordonsville, Va., outlined the need for a consistent set of conservation landscape best management practices (BMPs) and the rigor of training required for the entire Chesapeake Bay Watershed at the annual meeting of Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association held in Baltimore, Md., during MANTS. “VNLA sees conservation landscape best practices as a growth trend opportunity for Virginia Certified Horticulturalists and our member VNLA firms in Virginia and the other five states and District of Columbia in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” she wrote in an email later, detailing her brief talk at the meeting.
The Chesapeake Conservation Landscape Council is a coalition of individuals and organizations dedicated to researching, promoting and educating professionals and the public about conservation landscaping to protect the Chesapeake Bay.
Rockwell wrote, “The CCLC has spent some years as volunteers developing the concept of a Chesapeake Bay Watershed-wide base curriculum to consistently train, credential and identify to those who need to find them, a cadre of credentialed conservation landscape practitioners or professionals, who are experienced and knowledgeable in how to design, install, inspect and maintain (sustain) conservation landscaping best practices for soil health and water quality.”
She explained, “Many localities and non-governmental organizations, including water keepers, have attempted to create such curriculae and get attendees for classes in their local watersheds or soil and water conservation districts. However, this is a massive duplication of effort and sometimes leads to inconsistency in the best practices.”
The EPA and various localities realize this is no time to run different programs, she said at the meeting.
“At this point in the regulatory environment and the scientific/technical community, there are a set of standard practices that do not vary significantly from place to place; in fact, many of the authors of many stormwater/conservation landscape best practices employed all around the bay and the world live and work right here in our midst.
“Just as Virginia has a 'clearinghouse' of stormwater best management practices online hosted by Virginia Tech and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the goal is to provide a 'bank' of trained practitioners — not just registered professional engineers — in the practical design, proper installation, planting and inspection and maintenance of these critical defenders of water quality on non-agricultural lands.”
Rockwell said the CCLC has obtained sustaining funding for a pilot program to design, beta test/pilot the curriculum and certification examination process, and find a sustaining business model for conservation landscape credentialing organization(s).
She noted that Maryland Nursery and Landscape Association had invested four years in rewriting its conservation practices and has agreed to share that information. “We’re pulling pieces from as far away as Cornell,” she told the VNLA members. “Hopefully we will stop the echo chamber of ‘must install.’”
Rockwell maintains that the non-agricultural segment has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to nutrients— nitrogen, phosphorous and silt — washing into the bay from areas covered with turf and pavement.
“These non-agricultural lands are sometimes called urban, but in fact, they occur everywhere,” Rockwell wrote. “They have not had the focus that agriculture has received in terms of soil and water conservation. The goal is to take what has worked well in agriculture — resource people who are trained in BMPs making that technical assistance available to farmers, and make those same types of BMPS and skilled practitioners identifiable and readily available to landowners of non-agricultural lands, that is, to all of us, in our own back yards and gardens, woods and fields.”
She believes using certified conservation landscape designers and contractors is the way to go to begin to turn things around. As the CCLC website indicates, “When designed, installed, and maintained properly, conservation landscaping techniques such as rain gardens, bio-retention, native plantings, and bioswales are effective and feasible practices for property owners to implement to reduce pollution originating from their property.”
The person driving the certification process forward on behalf of the CCLC is Shereen Hughes, Rockwell said.
In a telephone interview, Hughes said the CCLC and its partners, University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension, Wetlands Watch, and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Habitat Partners (Consortium) are working together to develop a new comprehensive training and certification program: the Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional (CBLP) Certification Program.
“The CBLP will formalize a set of conservation landscaping standards and create a thoroughly trained workforce of landscaping professionals and firms that have the skills and expertise to design, install and maintain small scale conservation landscaping practices for efficient nutrient and sediment removal,” according to the CCLC website.
Creating the certification program is the council’s effort to get everyone on the same playing field so they can get the job done. This will result in consumers being able to find the reliable and qualified landscapers they need, Hughes indicated.