When you visit Frick Environmental Center, do you think about how each tree, shrub, flower, and tiny plant surrounding it has grown? Do you wonder how they got there, or how they get enough water? Do you realize that they are related to the building’s functioning, and that each was planted with a purpose? You might not, but Angela Yuele, a horticulturist with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, certainly does!
This summer marked the third summer since the Frick Environmental Center landscape has been installed, and it takes at least three years for woody plants like trees and shrubs to fully establish. Angela explains that during this period, “watering is key” -- but when sticking to Living Building Challenge guidelines, careful thought needs to be put into how that watering is done, and the process can be challenging. Angela uses rain barrels to collect water for these trees and shrubs, but describes the watering process at “laborious,” since the water needs to be put into buckets and then carried to each tree. “We could use a hose for the trees close to the rain barrels, but most of them are out of reach,” she says.
Many of the Living Building Challenge guidelines are related to landscape and habitat functioning. Now that Frick Environmental Center has completed its one-year “challenge” period, there’s no longer any obligation to stick to the requirements -- but as Angela says, “it would defeat the purpose of attaining Living Building Challenge status if we didn’t stick to them,” pointing out that “once you have a maintenance routine, it’s easy to stick to.”
Since the landscape is still very new, “some plants are going to thrive and some are going to die,” so the horticulture team is in the process of evaluating plants, keeping in mind that they will have to “buy some replacement plants or divide and transplant plants that are doing well.” According to Angela, this process can take a few years to complete, but she emphasizes that even then, the landscape will always be evolving. “Trees grow and create shade; animals will munch a plant that they have never eaten before,” she says, “and as the landscape evolves and challenges arise, we’ll have to change our maintenance plan.”
The Living Building guidelines rule out the use of pesticides and herbicides, so Angela describes weeding as the biggest challenge to keep up with. “We started ‘Weeding Wednesday’ the first summer [of the landscape being in place] and it has been a great solution for weeding the beds,” she says.
To learn more about Frick Environmental Center and the Living Building Challenge, please visit: https://living-future.org/lbc/case-studies/frick-environmental-center/
Written by Meg Baltes
Meg interned at Frick Environmental Center in the summer of 2019, following her graduation from the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in sociology and urban studies. During her time with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Meg assisted in the planning and implementation of the Frick Park After Dark event series. In her free time, Meg enjoys writing, photography, being outside, and taking long walks to explore the hidden gems and histories of her two favorite cities, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.