This is a reprint of an article that appeared in the December edition of the newsletter for the Washington Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (WASLA).

Most landscape architects know that maintenance is an important element of landscapes, but landscape architects are rarely involved in the maintenance of the landscapes they design. This is beginning to change. This past October at the Green Gardening Workshop an entire session was dedicated to a presentation of the maintenance plan for Seola Gardens prepared by Johnson and Southerland. Intrigued, I took some time to talk with Margaret Johnson ASLA, LEED AP about the emerging field of maintenance planning and what it could mean for landscape architects.

Seola Gardens is a affordable housing development in the Roxbury Neighborhood of Seattle built by the King County Housing Authority. Several years after completion, the King County Housing Authority began to notice that the landscape did not match with their landscape vision. They worked with the maintenance crew but miscommunications resulted in frustration and a landscape that still did not match the management team’s vision. Finally, the King County Housing Authority asked Johnson Southerland to develop a landscape maintenance plan for them. Working with a team of horticulturalists and arborists, Johnson Southerland condensed the King County Housing Authority’s landscape vision into a series of maintenance goals and standards and developed  a yearly maintenance schedule. They also provided illustrations showing when and how plants should be planted and how to prune shrubs.

Johnson Southerland had past experience with the King County Housing Authority. Several years previously, Johnson Southerland developed a series of maintenance plans for several King County Housing Authority apartment building landscapes. These guides aimed to provide the property managers with a simple system to maintain the value of their landscapes. However, these plans ended up on shelves and were forgotten by the time new property managers too over the property.

Margaret Johnson feels that Seola Gardens has been successful because the maintenance plan provides a few simple steps that the property management team can take to insure that everyone involved with the landscape is included in decisions about the landscape and understands the landscape vision. At Seola Gardens the maintenance plan calls for a biannual meeting in the fall and spring of the landscape architect, arborist, maintenance team and managers. The group reviews the past six months, tours the property and sets priorities for the next six months. This allows everyone involved with the landscape to help in creating a consistent landscape vision and setting goals to achieve this vision.

Despite the success of Seola Gardens, gaps still exist in our knowledge of maintenance planning. Margaret Johnson pointed to mulch as one example. Over the last decade, she has seen an oscillation between bark mulch and compost as the mulch of choice. However, there is little scientific evidence to support favoring one type of mulch over another. Currently, there is research underway to answer some of the questions surrounding maintenance, such as the work of Linda Chalker-Scott at Washington State University.

It seems assured that landscape maintenance plans will become increasingly important in the future. The Sustainable Sites Initiative features an entire section for maintenance and operations. In addition, maintenance plans preserve the value of landscapes, improve communication amongst landscape professionals and property management staff and reduce the use of resources in the landscape. These benefits and continuing work in the field of maintenance planning is sure to bring new energy and excitement to the profession of landscape architecture.

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