Commentary: Progress on Natural Landscaping

Commentary: Progress on Natural Landscaping

One of my core goals as supervisor is to engage our community in being better stewards of our environment. I have spoken out several times in the past months on what the county can and should be doing to save people, places and property. From letters to the editor, to speaking at a recent Climate Crisis Forum and hosting my first Environment Expo, I believe strongly that the county can and should do more, including adopting a Community Climate Action Plan and a Resiliency Plan. I also believe we need to do more to educate the public about what each individual and business can do to help Mother Earth.

One area of particular interest to our constituents is natural landscaping. Natural landscaping can mean a variety of things from planting native plants in organized plantings, to allowing fields of wildflowers to grow instead of mowing grass. Natural landscaping practices and materials help to protect and enhance existing natural resources, including soil and water; mitigate climate change, improve and preserve air quality; and contribute to resource conservation. The Mount Vernon Governmental Center is one example of the use of natural landscaping to improve county properties. Led by volunteer and Tree Commissioner Cathy Ledec, the office grounds were re-envisioned this past summer to include native plant species that improve both the look and the sustainability of the site.

I recently requested a review and update of the county’s natural landscaping plan. In 2007, the county adopted natural landscaping guidelines and an implementation plan for county-owned properties. While these guidelines and the plan were implemented throughout the county, we heard very little about what was being done. As a result of my April 2018 Board Matter, the Board of Supervisors directed the Park Authority, the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, the Urban Forestry Division and the Facilities Management Department to come to a future Environmental Committee meeting to provide a progress report on the implementation of natural landscaping techniques on county and public school properties. Tuesday, we received that briefing.

To date, the county has achieved some of its goals of the 2007 Implementation Plan:

  • Updated the County Policy Plan to be supportive of natural landscaping.

  • Piloted dozens of projects countywide to demonstrate natural landscaping techniques.

  • Included natural landscaping principles as an integral part of design for new facilities and major renovations.

  • Monitors sites and facilities to ensure proper construction and installation of natural landscaping practices and measures performance over time.

Based on Tuesday’s review, we now know of the many sites that have been improved through natural landscaping efforts. Additional examples in the District include Grist Mill, Bucknell Manor and Laurel Hill Parks, Fort Hunt ES, Sandburg MS, West Potomac HS, and the Mount Vernon Health Center. Natural landscaping practices are also incorporated into new facilities projects and we can watch for them as construction begins on the Lorton Community Center and the South County Police Station and Animal Shelter.

However, the review also revealed that there are many elements of the plan that have only partially been implemented, or have not been implemented at all. Next steps include:

  • A Comprehensive Plan Amendment to the Policy Plan.

  • Budgetary support for cost-effective natural landscaping retrofit projects.

  • Formation of a core team of professional staff to promote and review natural landscaping and related practices.

I see this as a positive step forward for county landscaping projects and encourage county staff to share their experiences and successes with the community as these plans are implemented. To read more about natural landscaping, visit:

Thank you to the many environmental activists in our District who strive to improve our community every day, especially, Glenda Booth, Cathy Ledec and Betsy Martin. Join us on Saturday, Nov. 10 from 8 a.m. – noon for the “Environment Expo: Saving the Earth One Person at a Time” to learn how you can engage and act now to be a good steward of the environment.