Monday, November 21, 2011

Extreme Makeover Creates Extreme Burden

Editors Note:
 It is not uncommon to find plants in the garden section of big box stores that are inappropriate to plant because of invasive characteristics or their inability to survive in our climate.  Local garden stores and professional landscaper designers consider the local zone and soil in making planting decisions.  Matt Boehner, one of our Master Naturalists, volunteered in Joplin on the Extreme Makeover project and shares his experience below.

Extreme Makeover creates Extreme Burden

Sago Palm- Wikimedia
First, I will state that fully comprehending the physical and emotional loss that the families in Joplin and Duquesne have been dealt is beyond imaginable and I send my sincerest prayers and best wishes of good fortune on to each and every person and all others adversely affected by the May 22nd tornado.

As a landscape architect, we take an oath of integrity to protect the health, safety and welfare of our built and natural environments. I maintain this oath through a dedicated practice with clients through responsible planning and design, details, specifications, and a strong passion for education within the community through various volunteer activities. As a volunteer on site with the recent “7 Homes in 7 Days” with Extreme Makeover Home Edition in Joplin, I was personally enriched to witness the miraculous efforts of thousands of people from all over the world joining together to help complete strangers take a few steps farther in that healing process. I was also, slighted, at least professionally, for a complete lack of erosion control or sediment fence, sod being placed on slopes greater than 3:1, and inappropriate plant material being installed to complete the “themes” of each home. During a break, I wandered through the makeshift staging area for the landscape material; Desert Marigold, Red Fox Sedge, Mexican Petunia were just a few of the identification tags that caused my stomach to churn, but none more than that of Cycus revoluta, or Sago Palm.*

I am not sure where to begin with how much this plant does not belong in Southwest Missouri. I spent several years in Arizona and Southern California and am very familiar with the Sago Palm, in fact, I used it quite often in commercial and industrial applications. Although common in some residential applications, its use is limited due to the well publicized information on the toxicity and the dangers it poses to pets and children. Luckily in this case, the sago palms will brown out and die shortly after the first frost, which should be in a few weeks, so that threat may never be an issue. But, the majority of other inappropriate plant material and misuse of landscape materials not surviving to be around for the airing of the 2-hour special in January may even create a larger public relations issue between the families and the community.

Over the next few months, as redevelopment really begins on a larger scale, the rest of Joplin will look at these “Hollywood” homes as icons of recovery. However, if the majority of this new landscape is dead or dying within the next few months due to inappropriate selection and application, these seven families may be scrutinized as ungrateful and irresponsible. Are they expected to cover these costs or are they given an annual/monthly allowance for replacement and maintenance? Turf grass and irrigation repairs alone could easily surpass four-figures for each property. Will neighboring homeowners and businesses take more or less responsible steps in redevelopment? Will the city governments be able to step in and provide the necessary oversight to ensure quality, or simply approve the minimum that code allows to just get rebuilt? Will another reality television show come in to “Make it Right”?

Ignoring the landscape as an integral component of development and redevelopment is fairly common in our region, but that attitude is changing as communities are becoming more conscious of their neighbors, both man-made and natural. The practice of sustainable site development has vastly grown throughout SW Missouri over the past few years as information and availability of sustainable site planning, design, and construction techniques become more available. There may not be, nor should there be an easy solution, but as anyone that has experienced any loss knows that the healing process cannot come overnight by simply waving a wand or moving a bus. Physically, it will take Joplin and Duquesne years to recover; emotionally, it may never truly heal. Hopefully, with the help from the surrounding area, both will become better communities defined by a heartened resiliency and a sense of place that forever remembers what happened on May 22nd, 2011 at 5:34pm.

Matt Boehner, RLA, ASLA, CSI
Landscape Architect

* Sago Palm can occasionally grow in an area as cool as Hardiness Zone 7b.  Joplin is in Zone 6a, further north and too cold for its survival.

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