The 5,000 square-foot garden by the entrance of Mann Library was honored last month as one of 11 landscapes in the U.S. to be certified by the Sustainable Sites Initiative, a certification system that recognizes landscapes that are environmentally sustainable.
Landscapes examined by the Sustainable Sites Initiative — or SITES — were divided into four categories reflecting the extent of their compliance with sustainability standards, with one star representing minimum compliance and four stars representing almost complete compliance, according to a University press release. The Mann Library garden achieved one star.
The garden was designed and built by students during the 2009-10 academic year, before the SITES guidelines were published. Approximately 40 students worked together to create the garden as part of a year-longcourse in the Department of Horticulture, HORT 4910: Creating the Urban Eden.
Plants of hardy quality fill the garden, according to Ethan Dropkin grad, who worked to maintain the gardens this summer.
“In general, it takes plants about two to three years to become established,” Dropkin said. “These plants were chosen because they got established very quickly and really only require an occasional pruning if they get too big and mulch once a year.”
The Mann Library site posed specific challenges for the students who designed the garden. The high pH levels of the soil required students to choose plants that are not only aesthetically pleasing but can also flourish in the soil, according to the press release.
The design also focused on implementing sustainable maintenance practices, which students achieved by creating permeable sidewalks and sitting areas with stones or dirt that allow groundwater to flow, according to the press release.
Prof. Nina Bassuk, horticulture, who co-taught “Creating the Urban Eden,” said that she hopes the garden and its environmentally sustainable design will have implications that extend beyond the realm of the classroom.
“This garden is a model for the rest of Cornell when developing landscapes,” Bassuk said. “This is not just an academic exercise.”
David Cutter, a senior landscape architect in the University’s Campus Planning Office, echoed Bassuk’s sentiments.
“It is my hope that once the SITES program is fully developed, Cornell will commit to meeting SITES standards for all major projects, just as our major buildings must meet LEED Silver standards,” Cutter said.
Projects that are sustainably also benefit the community, students said.
“This garden proves that it is possible to create a garden that allows people to rest, relax and enjoy nature, while successfully combining aesthetic design with sustainable design,” Dropkin said.
In fact, within 15 minutes of putting the first benches in place, students had begun to utse the garden, according to Dropkin.
“I use the garden … it appeals to me aesthetically,” Jessica Sarkodie ’15 said.