Washington state’s horticulturist talks Capital’s ecolawn initiative

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Updated May 3, 2017
Photo: Jim Bowen/FlickrPhoto: Jim Bowen/Flickr

Picking up where we left off last week in the discussion of the dandelion appearances around the Washington state Capitol’s campus, members of the state’s horticultural staff and The Department of Enterprise Services have weighed in.

Brent Chapman, Washington state’s horticulturist, has been in this position for three years. Currently his job is twofold, he says. Not only does he oversee the health of a variety of horticultural plants, which includes many historic trees located on the West Capitol Campus, he also oversees the 15 groundskeepers (himself included) for the 486-acre Capitol Campus in Olympia and the Heritage, Sylvester and Marathon parks.

In 2016, efforts were made to enact an ecolawn pilot project, which was first tested around this time last year. According to the agency, ecolawns require less mowing, fertilizer and pesticides and irrigation than traditional lawns.

“The ecolawn trial was a creative approach that the grounds staff came up with after a 26 percent cut in resources to maintain grounds on the 486-acre campus,” Chapman said. “This type of experiment is consistent with our lean culture, where every employee a problem-solver.”

The Department of Enterprise Services says that it conducted the project as part of a broader effect to do the following: reduce water, fertilizer and pesticide use on the campus; reduce the amount of contaminants in campus stormwater runoff; increase the biological and visual diversity of the campus grounds; and put in place parts of the historic 1920s Olmsted landscape plan for the West Campus that called for a meadow-like transition area between nearby streets and the formal landscaping near the Capitol Building. For more information of the Historic Landscape Preservation Plan, click here.

“As a result, DES groundskeepers received a 2016 Innovations in State Government award for their use of environmentally-friendly landscape practices on the Capitol Campus from the National Association of State Chief Administrators,” Chapman said.

Chapman adds that at some of the sites they maintain, existing grass was allowed to grow out, while at others the ecolawn seed mix was replanted.

Many of the staff members also became certified land care practitioners for organic landscaping practices. This gave them the chance to use these practices on weed management, as well as on promoting the health of landscape features.

“We also wanted to increase visual interest in areas, like some of the wildflower meadows put in place, and increase the number and variety of pollinators, like bees and butterflies,” Chapman said. “We learned a lot from the pilot program, which was as much of a ‘social experiment’ as it was a pilot aimed at increased sustainability.”

With this project in effect, Chapman says the group was able to reduce water use and cut down on pesticide and fertilizer use. Chapman also expects the time savings this year to be in “smaller chunks but more consistent.”

Throughout the year the group sought project feedback, and based on this feedback they created an approach for 2017.

With the recent uproar at the Senate budget session in Washington state, Chapman says he is grateful that so many are showing an interest in the well-being of the campus.

“Hearing feedback from all of our stakeholders is extremely important to us – and we actively sought to engage people and solicit feedback on concerns and things they liked throughout 2016,” Chapman said. “People feel strongly about our Capitol Campus and how it is maintained, which we view as a good thing – it shows that people truly care about the campus. We want people to share their thoughts, concerns and opinions with us.”

Chapman says that their stakeholders include 7,000 people who work on the campus including state and elected officials and the Legislature, as well as those who visit the campus for events, school tours, those who participate in executive, judicial and legislative processes and those who simply come to enjoy the campus grounds.

The plans for 2017, Chapman notes, focus on a more aggressive approach to the management of turf and weeds on the West Campus, within available resources. They plan to continue many of their green practices such as mulching, the use of cardboard instead of chemicals to suppress weed growth in the landscape beds and the use of wood chips left over from campus tree trimmings instead of commercial fertilizer as mulch to support shrub and tree health.

“On the East Campus, we will continue planting wildflower areas as well as ecoturf in some areas, like near the east plaza restrooms,” Chapman said. “We hope to continue seeing a greater variety of bees and other pollinators.”

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