The George Washington University's
Sustainable Landscapes & Landscape Design
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GW Sustainable Landscapes Faculty and Alumni Design Maryland's First Municipal Natural Play Park

A team of six GW Sustainable Landscapes faculty and alumni collaborated to design and build Constitution Gardens Park, the first natural play-themed city park in the National Capital region.
Lauren Wheeler, GW Landscape Design program director and principal of Natural Resources Design, Inc. and Chris Sonne, PE, president of Sustainable Sites, Inc. and GW faculty, partnered with Nancy Striniste '09 of EarlySpace, LLC. , Mary Sper '09, and Julie Melear '12 to design the small, under-used urban space. Jeff Potter '13 and his firm J&G Landscape Design Inc., built this innovative one-acre park. 
Log Town Sand Play Area Photo: Amy McGuire

Natural playspaces feature built and interactive elements made from natural materials such as stone, wood, earth, sand, water and plants. Nature play is a relatively new design movement that promotes reengaging children with nature in urban and suburban communities where "playing outdoors" in the woods or in creeks is no longer viable and where children's recreation is dominated by screen time or prefabricated, plastic play equipment. Research shows that natural playscapes increase creativity, cooperative skills, problem-solving, and the development of both gross and fine motor skills.
Girls playing with log flume in Log Town Photo: Lauren Wheeler
The multi-faceted design of Constitution Gardens Park features elements inspired by the natural and cultural history of Gaithersburg and the surrounding Seneca Creek watershed. Log Town, honoring the colonial era name for the city, is a massive sand play area for preschoolers with twig work and log playhouses, hand-carved log farm animals, and locust log flumes for water play. The Lost Library Storytellers Circle is a tribute to the beloved Gaithersburg Library that occupied the
site until it burned in a fire in 1981.Anchoring the 'wild' end of the park is the adventurous Fallen
Customized Little Free Library. Photo: Lauren Wheeler
Tree climbing element,created from an18-foot section of a Red Maple tree harvested on-site.Encircling the Fallen Tree, large "grandmother rocks"celebrate the natural history and indigenous peoples of the Seneca Creek area.

Water is a unifying theme in the park's overall design. Functionally, six linked and lushly planted rain gardens infiltrate huge quantities of stormwater runoff hitting the sloped site. Recreationally, engaging water features and water play elements are featured throughout the park. Aesthetically, water drops and movement inspired a visual repetition of spirals, eddies and concentric circles in large hardscape elements as well as tiny details throughout the space.
Maximization of sustainable design practices was central in the design and build intent. This was accomplished through the reintroduction of functioning ecosystem elements, the reuse of 30+ felled trees (failing and invasive) from the park for play, habitat and stormwater elements, the integration of use of artful stormwater management facilities, and the enhancement of wildlife habitat.

Rain Garden Native Visitors Blue Winged Wasp, Meadow Fritillary and Skipper Photo: Mary Sper

Sweeps of native meadow plants, and the wildlife they attract, bring unifying color, movement and beauty to the park, as well as an authentic sense of place. The woodland and stream edges of nearby Hoyles Mill Conservation Park served as the reference landscape that inspired the plant palette of grasses, perennials and trees. Grounding the design with a bold sense of texture and rhythm among the plantings are clusters of the park's 100 tons of sandstone boulders, which were harvested from a local development site.
Designed as a park for all ages, Constitution
Pollinator plantings for Rain Garden Photo: Mary Sper
Gardens Park provides the local community and visitors from across the region opportunities for gathering, play, and deep engagement with nature we all need and deserve. From The Fallen Tree to Sliding Hill, featuring embankment slides and a "stump scramble," to movable tree parts for building forts and fairy houses and resting spots for reading or just taking in the sights and sounds of a native landscape, the park provides something for everyone.

Contractor's children playing on Red Maple Fallen Log Photo: Nancy Striniste
According to Nancy Striniste, the natural play specialist on the team, the project was tremendously fulfilling.  "Each of us brought unique and complementary strengths and talents to the team.  It was an opportunity to apply all that we learned at GWU in incredibly creative and collaborative ways. There is a depth and richness to the design; layers of meaning combined with environmental sensitivity, support for the community, wildlife habitat, stormwater management, and horticultural teaching space together become a beautiful and highly engaging gathering space for all ages. The park that we designed and built together is something that makes each of us very proud because we were able to contribute to the community by improving the environment and social interactions through a beautifully designed landscape."
Constitution Gardens Park is located at 112 Brooke Avenue, Gaithersburg, MD.  The designers and builders will be hosting a GW Information session and an in depth tour of the park on Sunday, June 5th from 1 - 3 pm. Click here to RSVP.

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Story2Master Instructor Betsy Washington retires from Teaching

B etsy Washington is retiring after teaching our plants classes since 2001. Betsy's boundless enthusiasm, passion, expertise and rigorous teaching style engaged and challenged students, making her one of our most popular and beloved professors.

Betsy was the first recipient of the College of Professional Studies Faculty Excellence Award in 2009 for her extraordinary service to the students and the college.

George Washington University's Landscape Design program is renown for its rigorous field-based plant study to Betsy, who was the architect of both the Landscape Design and Sustainable Landscapes Plants curricula, Her love of native plants and the functioning landscape created the framework for their structure. As a graduate of GW's Landscape Design program with a rich background in art history, botany, ecology and marine biology, Betsy's fusion of knowledge and talents have imparted unique insights into plants that are invaluable to numerous cohorts of aspiring and practicing landscape designers.
When asked about the most rewarding aspects of teaching, Betsy is unequivocally clear - the  non-traditional students with a diverse array of backgrounds and careers. In this regard she says, ".... Not only do they have a real interest in the subject but also bring a wealth of knowledge, life experiences and perspectives to the classes. I love being able to share my passion for plants and the environment in field classes with a truly engaged and dedicated audience! Many students have become dear friends and colleagues. It just doesn't get any better than that!"
While we will miss her teaching, Betsy will still be contributing to our program as a member of the Strategic Planning Committee and its Visioning Subcommittee. Most of all, we are delighted that she is taking time to write her long awaited book on native plants of this region which will draw upon her extensive class notes. In retirement, she will remain an environmental advocate and continue her work on award-winning reforestation projects and conservation landscaping in her own Virginia community of Lake Barcroft . She is also exploring and promoting the coastal Northern Neck native plants near her new second home.
We are deeply grateful to Betsy for her many years of teaching and her dedication to our program. In her words, " Being a part of the innovative Sustainable Landscapes program from its start in 2007 has been one of the most exciting and satisfying jobs I have ever undertaken and brings my career full circle, sharing my passion for the environment with students who will carry the torch and become leaders in this field. The program, the faculty and the students make the total program so much more than just the sum of its parts."
Story3Upcoming Events  

Mar 23, 2016 at 6:30pm-7:30pm
950 N. Glebe Road, 6th Floor
Arlington, Virginia 22203

Apr 28, 2016 at 6:30pm-7:30pm
950 N. Glebe Road, 6th Floor
Arlington, Virginia 22203
Jun 5, 2016 at 1:00pm-3:00pm
Constitution Gardens Park
112 Brookes Ave,
Gaithersburg, MD 20877
Story4From the Desk of the Director

Lauren Wheeler, LEED AP
(703) 248-6060
After reading Noah's Garden by Sara Stein, I recognized for the first time how each suburban residential property can contribute to knitting back together a ripped environmental fabric. The choices we make in our suburban and urban landscapes can either degrade the environment further or begin to restore our landscapes into functioning ecosystems providing flora and faunal habitats, infiltrating rainwater into the ground and connecting to other "restored" landscapes. The notion of using landscape design as an ecological tool, becoming the one who knits, became a mission for me in my professional practice. When I had the opportunity to share those acquired skills with others in GW's Sustainable Landscapes program, I leapt at the chance to teach.
There are a number of inspirational books that capture the essence of knitting together our environment one garden at a time. Douglas Tallamy's seminal work Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (2007) provides a research-based testimony to what native plants enthusiasts know anecdotally. American Plants for American Gardens (1929) by Edith  Roberts and Elsa Rehmann reminds us that the notion of using
native plants and plant ecology as a basis for landscapes is not new, but rather a
Yarn Bombing Source: Living Out of Focus 
re-emerging and critical dialogue. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants (2013) is a beautifully written and spiritually-infused series of essays by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a mother, scientist, member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and Professor of Environmental Biology at SUNY. In a storytelling style that is both engaging and instructive, Kimmerer celebrates plants and animals as our oldest teachers, challenging us to listen to their voices and embrace our reciprocal relationship to the rest of the living world.
As Program Director, I am honored to have a hand in training landscape designers to channel their skills and passions into creating beautiful, functional and healing landscapes in a variety of urban and suburban settings. I am long inspired by the Yarn Bombing movement where craftspeople and graffiti artists meet to bring forth a new expression of creativity. Can we as landscape designers working with planners and allied professionals, like the yarn bombers, weave two strands of knowledge - ecological function and beauty - so that each project becomes a restoration of land and spirit where people find joy as well as renewed respect for the earth that sustains us?