Rethinking Landscapes in Climate Change | Emily Manderson |Central Texas Gardener


– My name’s John Hart Asher, I’m with the
Wildflower Center and I’m standing in for Tom Spencer. Well today we’ve got Emily Manderson from
the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center and really excited to talk about this project. Welcome, Emily. – Thank you. – And so you’re the Conservation Director
at the Arboretum? – Yes, yes. – And how long have you been there? – I’ve been there for about five years now
but actually I started out as a consultant when I was at the Wildflower Center. – [John] Yes. – And so now it’s a total of seven years I’ve
been involved on this project. – That’s great, so tell us a little bit more
about the Arboretum and sort of the background for people who might not know. – Sure, the Arboretum is a really special
place, we’re 155 acres within central Houston, we’re right next, we’re about six miles from
downtown, right next to the Galleria. And many people didn’t even know we existed. We’re 10% of Memorial Park so we’re park land
but we’re a private nonprofit and we have a dual mission of education and conservation. We educate primarily younger people, now we’re
building our adult programming as well. And we educate people about native ecosystems
of Houston, it’s one of the few places in Houston where you can really see all the different
ecosystems intact. – You just sort of wrapped up, a couple of
years back, with the master plan process. And can you tell us a little bit about why
y’all decided to sort of get in an endeavor like that? – We’re in mid-implementation of our master
plan and we have about a year more left. Really what happened, in 2008, we had hurricane
Ike which had really strong winds, versus Harvey which was more water. And then we had the drought which was here
more extensively, in Houston it culminated in 2010 and 11 and we ended up losing, along
with Memorial Park, 50% of our tree canopy. And that was a big eye opener for the Arboretum. And so they decided to go through this master
plan process because our Executive Director, Debbie Markey said that we couldn’t meet our
mission because half of the mission of conservation, the landscape, was in such bad state. And so through that process they saw this
as, even though it was a huge devastation and loss, it was an opportunity to look at
the landscape and how to build in diversity and make it more resilient for climate events
that will happen again in the future. Since we’ve started the project we’ve already
had, we’ve had Harvey, we’ve had other big events happen and we know we’re gonna have
more of those. – So tell us a little bit more about what
all of that is involved, ’cause I know y’all have stepped past the design process and moved
into some actual implementation. – The design, which was led by Design Workshop,
they were the lead designers and it was a big team. And so within that was to build in diversity,
at the time it was all one pretty much overgrown woodland because we took out the natural disturbances
that would’ve happened historically such as fire or grazing buffalo and so it became very
unhealthy and really vulnerable. And so when we lost all those trees, we saw,
it was really an a-ha moment during the site analysis. We looked at the soils map and the canopy
and then the micro topography and we saw in these historic soil areas that used to be
savanna and prairie, that’s where most of the trees died. The idea was to build back different ecosystems. So Houston is a convergence of three major
ecosystems, the Gulf Coast prairie which really extended all the way from the Gulf Coast up
to Canada. – [John] Right. – And then the piney woods and then the Post
Oak Savannah. So it really wasn’t as wooded as it is now,
it didn’t have, historically, as many trees. – For viewers who might not know, could you
define, really, what a savanna is versus, I think everybody has iconic image of a prairie
or a grassland, but what exactly is a savanna? – Yeah, that’s a great question and we actually
have built different learning nodes where we define those different things. So we have a savanna area, a prairie, a woodland,
a wetland and a riparian ’cause we’re right on the bayou, we’re also in Buffalo Bayou. So a savanna is really in that transect, so
you have prairie and prairie is about 10% trees, you have very few trees. And then you get into savanna and the density
of the trees becomes a little bit more but you still have enough light to have that grassland
ecosystem so it’s about 20% trees. And then you get into the woodlands. During our initial master plan, the vision,
it was gonna be much more prairie but what we’ve discovered is that there are motts which
are these clusters of trees. There are more of those than we anticipated
so it’s, primarily we’ve restored about 20 acres of savanna. – Okay, well that’s great. I know that you’d mentioned a lot of trees
had either died because of the drought or from the effects of the hurricane but perhaps
there are a few people a little worried about you being anti-tree and removing some of that
growth? – Well, Houston, I think most places there’s
an attachment to trees. – Right. – And not as much love for the grassland systems. Even though we are grass lovers. Really we were nervous about the impression
and the reaction and what we did is we started out a small success versus a large failure
and we did a five acre pilot. And we really had very few negative feedback
and I think that was a lot because of the visioning sessions that we did and working
with the stakeholders. And then also ’cause we’re an educational
institution, we were really educating the value of what we were doing. And it also gave us an opportunity to work
with the city because the city also had an ordinance at the time that if we took down
trees we were gonna have to replant them, even if it was for restoration purposes. But then that changed during our process and
now we have such a credit that if we need to remove more trees beyond the master plan,
the master plan is really just the upper one third portion of the site, that we can do
that. And then also I think because of the flooding
in Houston, people are changing their perspective on the value of grasses and what they do for
infiltration. And Harris County Flight Control just did
a research where they found that one acre of grassland absorbs 3.5 more inches than
undeveloped land, which would be woodland. So now because we’ve converted about 20 acres,
we’re now absorbing 68 more inches in a 100-year floodplain, or a 100-year rain event. – The week of October the 13th through the
19th is Native Plant Week and I know at the Wildflower Center on the 18th and 19th we’ll
be holding our native plant sale and then the Arboretum also has a native plant sale
as well on the 24th and the 25th, right? – Yes, yes. And we’re really excited, we have dreams of
building our plant sales to the degree of the Wildflower Center. In Houston there’s a lot of smaller pockets
and so what we did for the spring plant sale, we did a collaborative one, so we did one
with the Houston Audubon and Houston Parks and Rec, actually, they have a lot of park
land that they’re doing restoration on and so that was our big outreach we did on Earth
Day. So we’ll be doing that probably every spring,
a really big one, and in the fall we’re hoping more and more, and this was the first time
that actually people were buying grasses. And to me that’s a big indication of the shift
that people, the awareness that people are understanding how important they are. – That’s great, I mean, not only do these
sales support the missions and actually financially help out the Wildflower Center and then the
Arboretum, but also they make available a lot of plant species that, you know, most
people can’t find if they’re just going to the nurseries. – Yes, that was a big challenge for our master
plan, actually, for the implementation. We ended up growing a lot of the material
ourselves, we collected seed from on site and other remnant prairies. And then we partnered with Memorial Park Conservancy
and we ended up growing 40,000 containers and planting that within our savanna. And that added to the restoration process
and made it, gave it the genetic diversity that it needed. – Well I know, you know, we’ve known each
other for a while and I know that human health and wellbeing has been also something very
important to you, particularly when it’s tied to the landscape and I’d just like to hear
a little bit more about, really, your thoughts about what that passion is that you have for
health and wellbeing. – Well, I think we’re just wired to be in
nature and I think especially, you know, Lady Bird would talk about sense of place. And to see a healthy ecosystem, there’s just
something that happens to our bodies that, you know, there’s a lot of science behind
that and the benefits of that. It brings me great joy and it brings me great
joy to see Houstonians learning what their ecosystem really looks like and how they could
use that at all different types of scales. And we’ve partnered with Rothko Chapel for
World Environmental Day. We did meditation there and I’m seeing more
mindfulness practices and people leading people on mindfulness walks at the Arboretum. And we’re also about to do, one of the last
phases is a nature playground. And so, also as we are parents of young children,
there’s not as many opportunities as there used to be for children to just run around
and use their hands and so that’s something that we’re really excited for as well. – So it’s sort of gardens of yes instead of
don’t touch? – Yeah, exactly. – All right. And then there’s something else, I know we
have landscape architecture backgrounds here from UT and I know I get a lot of questions
and I’ve wanted to ask you specifically about, some of the students wonder about what can
you do with that degree? Do you always have to go in the role of landscape
architecture? And here you’ve found yourself in a different
position. Any thoughts about, or comments about that? – I think that the profession’s very versatile
and I feel really grateful that I’ve been able to work with a lot of landscape architects
and help bring up the ecology and raise that level of awareness. Our project is also a part of the Sustainable
SITES Initiative and I think that’s a great avenue for landscape architects as well. And I think the whole thing, you know, for
landscape architects, gardeners, you know, big picture, is really ecological landscaping
and looking at, looking at the ecosystem and what does that tell you? And then that should inform your plant palette
and your success. – Well, I’d like to thank you for coming and
talking with us, it was very exciting. If any of our viewers haven’t gone to the
Arboretum, I strongly encourage them to do so. And you can still see, because you’re just
implementing this, you can see where you’ve actually done some of this restoration and
then actually some of the part that really hasn’t had any work yet where they can sort
of see the juxtaposition of– – Oh, definitely. And I’d like to add, just real quick, the
reaction that we saw from wildlife, of the changes that we did to the landscape, was
pretty immediate. And we’ve already had nine species that were
never seen on site before, one of which is a woodpecker, which is Texas Park and Wildlife,
it’s one of the species of greatest conservation need. We’ve had so many indications that we’re moving
things in the right direction. – Well that’s wonderful, thank you so much
for visiting with us, Emily. And now we’ll check in with Daphne.

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