Sustainable landscapes include design, construction, operations, and maintenance practices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Sustainable Sites Initiative, 2009). Practices associated with sustainable landscapes include but are not limited to reduction of lawn space and replacement with site climax vegetation such as meadows or forests; storm water management on site through bioswales and rain gardens; planting a high percentage of native plants to support native wildlife; and recycling materials within the landscape. In the past, ornamental horticulture has focused primarily on control and manipulation of the landscape with little regard for the existing or surrounding ecosystem. Practices such as routine mowing, chemical insect control, and selection of vigorous exotic plant species were employed to create uniform landscapes that placed primary value on aesthetics and standardized maintenance. These controlled landscapes meet the desired aesthetic function desired by most land owners, but do not provide the ecosystem services required to support life in an increasingly suburbanized world. Sustainable landscapes are increasingly recognized for their potential to enhance ecological, social, and educational benefits in urban and suburban landscapes (Ecological Landscaping Association, 2009; Miller and Hobbs, 2002; Rudd et al., 2002; Sustainable Sites Initiative, 2009; Tallamy, 2007). In the context of the rapid urbanization occurring today, urban green spaces, such as parks and public and private gardens will play a significant role in minimizing extinction of species and loss of human interaction with nature (Goddard et al., 2010; Miller, 2005).
Despite the recognized benefits of sustainable landscaping, there are still challenges in gaining widespread adoption of these practices. A sustainable landscape is meant to maximize environmental benefits without compromising the landscape’s beauty and ease of maintenance (Bousselot et al., 2010). However, challenges to promoting sustainable landscape designs include overcoming aesthetic perceptions and increasing awareness of the benefits. Sustainable landscapes are often considered “naturalistic,” “wild,” or “unkempt.” Incorporating sustainable landscaping practices with familiar garden design has been suggested as a way to help change control-oriented landscaping conventions (Beck et al., 2002; Nassauer, 1995; Özgüner and Kendle, 2006). Awareness of the importance of healthy landscaping practices also must be increased to foster widespread adoption of sustainable landscaping. Gardeners often have the knowledge, motivation, and skills to practice environmentally sustainable gardening, but education is needed to increase awareness of the benefits afforded by sustainable landscaping as compared with control-oriented gardening practices (Clayton, 2007).
Greater adoption of sustainable landscapes requires public acceptance of sustainable landscaping paradigms and practices. To cultivate public acceptance of sustainable landscaping, people need to see the benefits of sustainable landscape management. Interpretation is a method of communicating information to voluntary audiences in ways that are fun and interesting (Ham, 1992). The goal of environmental interpretation is to provide opportunities for audiences to intellectually engage with an environment, thereby assisting in their understanding and appreciation of that environment. Allowing visitors to engage in environments and observe evidence facilitates the development of personally meaningful knowledge. Interpretation has been recognized as an important method for conveying the benefits of sustainable landscape development to the public (Sustainable Sites Initiative, 2009).
Universities have the ability to use their personnel and facilities to implement and communicate information about sustainable practices to others. The University of Delaware is committed to engaging the community in issues concerning sustainability, and UD recognizes that communication is an essential component in reaching their sustainability goals (UD, 2010). In addition, sustainable landscaping practices have been implemented over the past 2 years on UD’s Laird Campus, especially surrounding a large residence hall, Independence Hall. Sustainable features on Laird Campus include reduced mowing of lawn areas (once per year), diverse native plantings, rain gardens, and a reforestation site.
However, in contrast to the UD’s expressed interest in sustainability, there have been difficulties in obtaining widespread support within the UD community on the appearance and maintenance of sustainable landscape on Laird Campus. Negative comments from members of the university community resulted in the reduction of areas initially designated for reduced mowing. Little is known about the student response to the sustainable landscaping on Laird Campus. However, the negative opinions of some students and staff toward the sustainable landscaping (P. Glenn, personal communication; M. Loftus, personal communication), suggest there is still work to be done in the effort to communicate the benefits of sustainable landscaping at UD.
In this study, the following research questions were addressed: 1) What is the student perception of the appearance, maintenance, sustainability, and functionality of the sustainable landscape surrounding Independence Hall on Laird Campus? 2) Will the introduction of environmental interpretation on Laird Campus alter student perception of sustainable landscape management on Laird Campus?
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