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verdant views ISSUE 4 Fall 2012

The magazine of Cornell Plantations

verdant views Fall 2012 Plantations News New Gardens Will Tell Water’s Story


Public Garden Leadership Program Flourishes 4 Staff Favorites: Kienzle Overlook


Kids Discover the Trail Celebrates Full Circle


Restoring the Cascadilla Gorge Trail


Features Roots of Plantations: Cascadilla Glen and Fall Creek Gorge by Liz Bauman


Climate Change Series: by Liz Bauman

A Primer


Advice to Gardeners


Our Wacky Winter Weather


by Mary Hirshfeld

Sustainable Practices Protect Our Landscapes 15 by Liz Bauman

The Grass Is Always Greener


by Mary Hirshfeld

Students Create Gorge Art


Publication of Verdant Views is made possible with support from the James L. Sears ’24 Plantations Director’s Discretionary Fund, a gift of Mary Helen Sears ’50. Verdant Views is published by Cornell Plantations: the botanical gardens, arboretum, and natural areas of Cornell University. Send inquiries about Cornell Plantations or Verdant Views to:

Cornell Plantations One Plantations Road Ithaca, NY 14850-2799


Telephone: 607-255-2400 Web:

Cornell University is an equal opportunity, affirmative action educator and employer. Cover: Class of 1953 Container Garden Collection; this garden is renewed each year thanks to an endowment given by the Class of 1953 on their 50th Reunion. Photo by Jay Potter This document is printed with soy based ink. This paper meets all sourcing requirements for SFI and FSC certifications. 100% of the recovered fiber used in the manufacture of this paper is from postconsumer waste. All liquid solvent waste generated in the printing of this document is recycled at the site of the printer. 10/12 2750 CP

Director’s Message

Plantations Addresses Climate Change I’m old enough to remember participating in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Organizers rallied 20 million environmental enthusiasts around such issues as reducing industrial pollution, recycling to reduce waste in our landfills, and controlling the use of chemical pesticides. Spurred by that first nationwide awareness-raising effort, the Environmental Protection Agency was created, the Clean Air and Clean Water acts were passed, and much more stringent pesticide restrictions were put into place.

Photos left page: Summer interns in the Arboretum, University Photo; right page: Yarb Woman, University Photo

No longer is it considered unusual to see organic produce in groceries or to be asked to sort our waste into compostables, recyclables, and landfill trash. Fuel-efficient cars— once seen as foreign oddities—are now among the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. We have made tremendous progress in environmental protection since the first Earth Day, but the challenges we face today, particularly those related to global climate change, are much greater than those we were aware of 42 years ago. Based on virtually all objective scientific indicators, global climate change is real, it is already affecting weather patterns, and it is likely to become much more severe in the decades ahead. Public gardens, including Cornell Plantations, need to examine how we can best inform our audiences about climate-related issues, how we can serve as models of sustainable practices, and how we can motivate individuals and families to adopt such practices themselves. We recognize that such efforts face considerable head winds: climate change deniers, well-funded lobbyists, overly cautious politicians, and a public that vacillates between disinterest and despair. These present great challenges for public gardens and institutions to successfully communicate the issues, but to remain relevant, we must continue to present positive, forward-looking ideas for mitigating the severity of climate change. Plantations supports Cornell University’s commitment, formalized in its 2010–2015 Strategic Plan, for sustainability to be a guiding principle in all campus operations. In fact, one of the key goals of our recently completed five-year Envisioning Plan is “serving as a model in sustaining natural resources in our horticultural, conservation, and administrative practices.” While Plantations’ staff will always strive to keep our gardens stunning, our

Watering our gardens was the norm this past summer as high temperatures persisted and little rain fell.

programs lively, and our preserves pristine, we will conduct these activities in the context of environmentally progressive practices. This issue of Verdant Views explains how researchers are examining the implications of climate change and describes the Sustainable Sites Initiative, which promotes the development of greener business and residential landscapes. Our next issue will present ideas on how gardeners and non-gardeners alike can lighten their own carbon footprints. We hope you will find this information thought-provoking and perhaps eye-opening. As always, we welcome your reactions and comments. Environmental protection is no one person’s job; it is everyone’s responsibility.

Donald A. Rakow, The Elizabeth Newman Wilds Director, Cornell Plantations





When horticulture director Mary Hirshfeld and landscape designer Irene Lekstutis set out to develop the design concept for Cornell Plantations’ new Peony and Perennial Gardens, water was on their minds. Water defines the Ithaca area: glaciers carved Cayuga Lake, which is fed by streams pouring over steep cliffs and gouging out gorges. In fact, the landform of the botanical garden and the arboretum was created by flowing water. “The water aspect played a large role in our design. We wanted to show how water acts on the land,” Hirshfeld says. Lekstutis adds that, “the design itself possesses interpretive value. The walkways will represent the path of water flowing across the landform.” When the new gardens are in place, the pavement of the primary paths will be pervious concrete to allow rainwater to drain downward into the soil. But the secondary and tertiary paths will be impervious, allowing visitors to see the stormwater flowing toward two small rain gardens that will hold up to 6 inches in depth, before the excess then flows into the Bioswale Garden. After all, education and interpretation of nature is a critical mission of Plantations. “The new design will offer more in the way of discovery for our visitors, as they meander along the curved paths and come upon intimate garden rooms,” Lekstutis says. Most of the garden rooms will be designed around small plazas, each with a unique design motif in its paving stones. Some will have stone seating walls or benches, while others will feature a water or sculptural element. Hirshfeld adds, “You won’t see everything in one glance; you’ll be surprised by something around the corner as you wander through the garden.”


But there will be strong sight lines to the Nevin Welcome Center (a magnificent design experience in itself). “We have a huge number of repeat visitors, so we want to give them different ways to explore the garden as plants change through the season,” she says. Fans of the former Peony and Perennial Garden will find many of their favorite peonies replanted in the new gardens. These herbaceous, tree, and intersectional peonies (a cross between herbaceous and tree)—many of which were given by Marjorie Cornell, Class of 1939—will be joined by a selection of additional peonies, which Hirshfeld has been judiciously acquiring over the past three years. Ancestors of today’s hybrids, these new plants are mostly from Europe, but include a few from China. The gardens also will include lots of other sun-loving perennials and unusual small trees and shrubs that will provide color, texture, and interest throughout the growing season. And when the eagerly anticipated gardens do come into being, visitors will be charmed by how well they will be integrated with and flow into the existing Bioswale Garden. The bioswale fulfills an important need for stormwater management, but Plantations wanted it to be much more than that. “We struggled with the bioswale,” Hirshfeld says, “because it is front and center when visitors get out of their cars. We wanted people to see it as a true garden, not just a bunch of pretty plants in a ditch.” For most of the growing season, the top of the bioswale is very dry and the bottom very moist, often with short periods of standing water, so choosing plants had to be done carefully. The garden features

Photos left page: Bioswale Garden, Chris Kitchen; right page: Peonies, Leigh McGonigle

New Gardens Will Tell Water’s Story

The architectural drawing of the new gardens shows intimate garden rooms and paths representing how water flows across the landform.

many native plants—grasses, perennials, and shrubs—as well as small trees to give it some stature in winter. The Bioswale Garden is especially beautiful in summer, brimming not only with blooms but with dragonflies, butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and a variety of other birds. Liz Bauman freelance writer and editor in Ithaca, NY

For more information about how your gift can help support our new gardens, please contact Beth Anderson at 607-254-4727 or




Photo: Peter Stifel, provided; Architectural drawings: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects

Peter Stifel ’58 Makes Lead Gift for New Peony and Perennial Gardens

Peter Stifel’s lead gift provides funds to build and endow the garden’s entrance from the Mullestein Winter Garden, creating a lovely, shaded place for visitors to relax in quiet contemplation.

Nevin Welcome Center

We are pleased to announce that Peter B. Stifel ’58 has made the lead gift commitment for Plantations’ new Peony and Perennial Gardens. An emeritus professor of geology at University of Maryland (UMD), Peter Stifel has long been passionate about conservation, gardening, and helping people appreciate and connect with nature. “I’ve spent my life studying and teaching 4 billion years of Earth’s history and how life has evolved,” he said. As a student in the Geology Department at Cornell, he worked closely with Leonard Fernow, MS ’57, PhD ’61, who was then a teaching assistant and later founded the geology program at UMD. After Peter earned his PhD at the University of Utah, Fernow recommended him for a teaching position at UMD, and he joined the faculty there in 1966. Over the next 30 years, Peter was instrumental in building the UMD geology program, which was established as an academic department and undergraduate major in 1973. He created a year-long senior research thesis course, now required of all geology majors. “Whether or not they go on to work in research, they learn how to pose a theory, collect and analyze data, make presentations, and defend their conclusions,” he said. Seeing this become the capstone

course was among the most rewarding aspects of his teaching career. Since retiring in 1996, Peter has remained active in professional geological and paleontological circles, but now focuses primarily on his philanthropic interests and managing his family’s 300-acre working farm on Maryland’s eastern shore. He grows fruit and vegetables and raises sheep and geese, which provide almost all of his food. Currently, he is establishing a conservation easement for 85 acres of old-growth forest on the property. His commitment to conservation includes serving as a board member or volunteer at several public gardens and environmental organizations. Peter has maintained close ties to Cornell. He’s a life member of the Cornell University Council and has served on the class council and 45th and 50th reunion committees for the Class of ’58. Both his children are alumni: Katherine ’87 and Andrew ’91. In addition to his annual gifts as a Plantations Sponsor, Peter has established a faculty fellowship at Shoals Marine Lab and supports the Stifel Family Scholarship Fund, the Johnson Museum of Art, Lab of Ornithology, and women’s fencing program. (The Stifel Fencing Salle in Bartels Hall is named in honor of his son.) Peter Stifel’s lead gift for the Peony and Perennial Gardens will provide the funds to build and endow the garden at the entrance from the Mullestein Winter Garden. Designed as an intimate garden room with a seating area beneath a large specimen tree, it will be a lovely, shaded place for visitors to relax in quiet contemplation. “I was especially attracted to this garden because it will offer views of both the peony and perennial collections and the Winter Garden,” he said. “I had great respect for the contributions that Whitey [William ’32] Mullestein made to Plantations, as a donor and a volunteer leader.” Peter hopes other donors will soon join him in supporting the new botanical gardens. “I firmly believe in Cornell Plantations’ mission, from protecting the gorges to creating gardens and landscapes that connect nature and the human spirit,” he said.


Plantations news



Public Garden Leadership: Graduates and Program Are Flourishing

Longwood Gardens. In 2010 Erin began working as a garden and administrative intern at Chanticleer, one of the leading public gardens in Philadelphia. Erin is studying the role of collaborative marketing groups in helping public gardens build a greater audience.

By Sonja Skelly

“Cornell Plantations is to be commended for having envisioned and nurtured a graduate program that is so perfectly aligned with the mission of Cornell University, which is peerless in North America in the breadth and depth of resources it offers aspiring public garden leaders.” -Review Committee

CURRENT FELLOWS As the number of public gardens in the U.S. and around the world increases, the need for trained professionals to lead these organizations is paramount. This was the rationale for developing the Cornell Graduate Program in Public Garden Leadership—a collaborative effort launched in 2000 by Cornell Plantations and the Department of Horticulture. Our goals were to provide a graduate program that balances academic training and practical experience, to prepare students to be leaders in the public garden field, and to be at the forefront of understanding and addressing emerging trends and issues. Over the past 12 years, 20 graduate fellows have earned an MPS (Master of Professional Studies) degree in Public Garden Leadership, and the majority of these alumni now hold prominent positions at public gardens across the U.S. and abroad.


Allison Skaer ’12 Allison believes that public gardens can change lives, so she is researching how they address issues of social justice in their outreach programs. Skaer received the Department of Horticulture’s 2011–2012 Dreer Award, which provides funds for graduate students to travel abroad to pursue their research interests. To learn firsthand what gardens are doing, Skaer conducted in-depth interviews at public gardens in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. A major portion of her time was spent working with Botanic Gardens Conservation International, based in London, on social justice projects. Skaer will graduate in December 2012 and plans to share what she has learned to help public gardens enhance program effectiveness, increase social relevancy, and offer guidance and inspiration to those wishing to start similar programs.

Katie King ’13 Originally hailing from northeast Tennessee, Katie moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where she earned a B.S. degree in Biology at Samford University. A study abroad trip to Belize and coursework in botany awakened a passion for plants. Katie has interned at the Birmingham Botanical Garden, where she nurtured her love for people and public gardens, at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens in Wyoming, and at Bowman’s Hill Preserve. She is studying how gardens address environmental issues through the use of native plant displays and one day hopes to increase the public’s awareness of, understanding of, and connection to native plants.

Erin McKeon ’13 Erin grew up in the public garden capital of the U.S., southeastern Pennsylvania. Visits to botanic gardens during her formative years instilled in her a strong interest in horticulture and plant/animal relationships. Erin earned a B.S. in environmental studies at the University of Vermont in 2007, with a focus on Ecological Design. Following her undergraduate experience, she worked at North Creek Nurseries, Inc., a commercial nursery specializing in herbaceous plants, grasses, and ferns native to the eastern U.S. Through her work she became active in the program planning committee for Millersville Native Plants in the Landscape Conference as well as volunteering at

Miles Schwartz Sax ’14 Miles came to Cornell this fall from the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, where he was the horticultural and curatorial apprentice. Prior to that, he was an intern with the grounds crew at the Arnold Arboretum and a botany intern with the Bureau of Land Management. He holds a B.S. in environmental conservation studies from the University of New Hampshire and is interested in studying curatorial protocol and collections management.

Emma Van de Water ’14 Emma is a recent graduate of Rutgers University, where she earned a B.S. in plant science and worked as an intern at the Rutgers Display Gardens, helping to catalog their collections. Prior to her work at Rutgers, she completed a year-long research internship at Longwood Gardens and an internship with the American Horticultural Society. She is interested in studying design and interpretation at public gardens.

Plantations news

FORMER FELLOWS Stephanie Stuber ’12 Curatorial Apprentice, Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, Boston, MA Jeremy Jungels ’11 Owner of Terrasana Gardens, Ithaca, NY Justine H. Tay ’11 Manager of Horticulture Standards, National Parks Board of Singapore Barbara Conolly ’10 Owner of Gardens by Barbara Conolly, West Dennis, MA Erin Marteal ’10 Executive Director of the Ithaca Children’s Garden, Ithaca, NY Jonathan Landsman ’09 Gardener for the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, NYC Dept. of Parks & Recreation, New York, NY Melanie Amber Sifton ’09 Vice President for Horticulture, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn, NY

“The program allowed me to engage in experiences that better connected me to the global community of public garden leaders and innovative nonprofit business managers. I was able to move right into a directorship at a sustainability-minded arboretum and now to be the vice president for horticulture for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Thanks to my Cornell Plantations fellowship, I am now poised to fulfill my dream of helping to connect people with plants.” Jessica (Blohm) Pederson ’08 Project Manager, The Esplanade Association, Boston, MA

Miriam (Pinsker) Von Essen ’08 Education and Penn Outreach Coordinator, Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA Michael Clay Barnes ’06 Greenhouse Manager, Department of Biology, Duke University, Durham, NC

John T. Manion ’04 Kaul Wildflower Garden Curator, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Birmingham, AL Julie A. Warsowe ’04 Manager of Visitor Education, Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, Boston, MA

“The graduate program in Public Garden Leadership opened doors for me to more advanced positions in the field. The fully Rachel Kennedy ’06 funded fellowship allowed me to pursue higher education, something I could not have afforded Jennifer Evans ’05 Native Plant Nursery Manager, Sanibel-Captiva otherwise. People are often surprised that it is possible to major in such a discrete field of Conservation Foundation, Sanibel, FL “Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the interest, and it was both a luxury and a delight to program, I was able to choose from any program focus my studies on my true passion.” offered at Cornell, including wide-ranging topics such as education and business, in addition Jennifer (Drozd) Davit ’03 to horticulture. The leadership and management Director of Lurie Garden at Millenium Park, skills I gained from classes, daily experiences, and Chicago, IL my internship are aspects of the program that I “The program provides fellows the opportunity use every day.” to gain both crucial experience by working with Cornell Plantations staff and unparalleled Anna Ford Halverson ’05 academic opportunities. I also formed close relationships with fellow students who are now Duncan Goodwin ’04 colleagues in the public garden field, and these Senior Lecturer, University of Greenwich; and networks continue to be a source of support Associate, Capita Symonds, London, England and guidance. I am now working in my dream position and am so thankful that I have the skills and knowledge to fulfill this role.” Joanne Giggey ’03 Carla Hetzel ’02

“The Public Garden Leadership program at Cornell Plantations may be considered the ‘Ivy League’ of public garden management programs.” -Review Committee



External Review Recognizes Program’s Strengths, Recommends Expansion To assess how effectively we are preparing students to be public garden leaders, in fall 2011 we embarked on a formal external review that engaged alumni of the program, other public garden leaders, Cornell faculty members and administrators, and our own staff. The formal review team included: Patsy Benveniste, Vice President for Education and Community Programs, Chicago Botanic Garden Susan Lacerte, Executive Director, Queens Botanical Garden Mary Pat Matheson, Executive Director, Atlanta Botanical Garden Scot Medbury, President, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Melanie Sifton, Director, Humber Arboretum of Humber College Chris Wien , Cornell Professor of Horticulture

We asked this group to analyze and make recommendations on the program’s structure, flexibility, dimensions, and its value for students and the field of public horticulture. The review team gave us high marks for the breadth and depth of our program. Their recommendations focused on strengthening relationships among the graduate fellows, Plantations staff, and faculty in the Department of Horticulture; marketing the program more widely; encouraging students to publish and present their research results to the broader public garden and scientific communities; developing an industry advisory council; and ultimately, increasing the number of students in each incoming class and securing endowment gifts to support such expansion. We are beginning to address the review team’s recommendations and are excited about taking our Graduate Program in Public Garden Leadership to the next level of excellence.


Plantations news


staff favorites

A favorite of Phil Syphrit KIENZLE OVERLOOK The subtle beauty of the dwarf conifers at Kienzle Overlook is one of Phil Syphrit’s favorite things about the garden—though perhaps not fully appreciated by people who expect gardens to be bursting with flowers and fragrance. “Get up close to these plants, touch them, turn over their needles, look at the cones,” advises Syphrit, the Plantations gardener who planted most of the specimens there. “It’s okay to go into these beds,” he says, pointing out two-tone violet cones on a spruce, Picea polita ‘Howell’s Tigertail’. He explains that many dwarf conifers don’t have cones, but those that do often sport lovely ones of purple, red, plum, and even silver edged with red. An obvious beauty in the garden is the golden spruce, Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ with its bright yellow needles. A centerpiece of Kienzle, it stands directly in line with the path. Another stunner is the tall, slender weeping cypress, Xanthocyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula Green Arrow’, which can reach tall heights, but is a relatively slow-grower. The overlook garden also contains some fullsized trees that grow slowly and some that are just normally small. When major renovations to Kienzle Overlook took place in 2002, the logical choice was to plant dwarf conifers to preserve the view and to blend with the full-sized coniferous trees planted on the hillside below. Garden designer Irene Lekstutis wanted to represent as many different species as possible, so the Overlook contains pines, firs, spruce, larch, white cedar, with a few deciduous specimens, ornamental grasses, and sedum to add variety. Syphrit appreciates how the plantings change with the seasons. “They are gorgeous in winter when they are dark and lustrous, many turning purple or plum, contrasting with the white, snowy path,” he says. They also change from year to year, some growing so close together they create a tapestry of textures. And because conifers can live for 50 years, the beds will change radically over time.


Syphrit says the location of Kienzle Overlook is key to its popularity, offering a quiet oasis off Tower Road for people to walk, sit, study, or eat as they admire the intimate gardens as well as the view below of the Plantations botanical garden. “When you are going to class or your office, it is the only place on campus where you can look down and see botanical gardens,” he says, “It feels incredibly private, yet is very accessible.” For many people who are new to campus, having stopped at the nearby information booth or parking lot, “Kienzle can be the first impression of Plantations,” Syphrit says. And a good impression it is! Liz Bauman


Winding pathways, quiet spaces, and beautiful views lead through the exquisite dwarf conifer collection at the Kienzle Overlook.

The Kienzles Like many of the gardens at Plantations, Kienzle Overlook is named for the generous benefactors who made it possible. Marjorie Van Order Kienzle grew up in Ithaca’s Forest Home and graduated from Cornell in 1926. She married Lester Kienzle, and the couple moved to the Syracuse area where Lester established DeWitt Cleaners, a dry cleaning company. Marjorie was an avid gardener, a member of the Home Garden Club and the 6th District Federated Garden Club, as well as a master judge for flower shows of the National Council of State Garden Clubs. In the mid-1980s Lester contacted Bob Cook, then director of Plantations, about establishing a garden to be named for Marjorie. Lester hoped for a site with a view and a place where visitors could stroll or sit and relax, and so the Kienzle Overlook was created. Lester died in 1987 and Marjorie passed away in 1996.

Picea polita ‘Howell’s Tigertail’ female cone.

Gardening: using water wisely Plantations news | KIDS DISCOVER THE TRAIL

‘Kids Discover the Trail!’ Celebrates Full Circle

Photos: left page: Phil Syphrit; right page clockwise: Carol Grove; Paul Schmitt; Carol Grove

Raylene Ludgate leads third-grade students through the Wildflower Garden.

A group of fifth graders is now the first to have completed the full circle of all eight Kids Discover the Trail! (KDT) learning experiences during their elementary school years. This year also marks the seventh anniversary of the Ithaca Discovery Trail’s KDT program. Through KDT, Plantations offers our Wildflower Explorations program to all third-grade students in the Ithaca and Trumansburg school districts. Youth education coordinator Raylene Ludgate and a cadre of dedicated volunteers visit each school to introduce students to native plants found in our Mundy Wildflower Garden. The classes then take a field trip to the garden to see and learn more first-hand about wildflowers and their unique habitats. Since participating in KDT, Plantations has delivered the Wildflower Explorations program to close to 2,500 third-graders. KDT is a collaboration of the Ithaca Public Education Initiative, Ithaca City School District, Trumansburg School District, and the Discovery Trail that connects elementary students and teachers with the trail organizations for programs complementing their curriculum. Discovery Trail sites include the Johnson Museum of Art, Plantations, and Lab of Ornithology at Cornell, and Tompkins County Public Library, Museum of

the Earth, Sciencenter, Cayuga Nature Center, and the History Center’s Eight Square Schoolhouse. Program themes include animals in art, dinosaur science, clean energy, 19th-century life, and local bird habitats. To celebrate the full circle anniversary, all Discovery Trail sites hosted a special program on May 12 for students, their families, and visitors wishing to learn about KDT. At Plantations, we invited students to taste, smell, and compare the ginger plant used to make gingersnaps to our native plant, wild ginger, before exploring the beautiful spring-blooming Wildflower Garden. Sonja Skelly, Director of Education 7





Restoring the Cascadilla Gorge Trail By Liz Bauman

In September, 2011, when Tropical Storm Lee swept through Ithaca, Cascadilla Creek’s waters poured over parts of the restored trail and submerged stone stairways.

Todd Bittner, walking up the Cascadilla Glen trail, kicks the new railing where the paint has partially chipped off. “That’s pretty good,” he says, “because the true test came in September 2011 with Tropical Storm Lee when we had significant flooding, and parts of the trail were totally under water. The only damage we saw was paint chipping on railings. The trail really held up well.” Bittner, Plantations’ director of natural areas who is overseeing the restoration project, speaks matter-of-factly, but the animation in his voice reveals his pride in the trail renovation made since the gorge was closed to visitors in 2009. Starting his walk up the glen from Treman Triangle, the park-like entrance to the trail on Linn Street, Bittner says, “We looked at the view from


the road and from all the approaches to help us decide how best to frame it.” The area now features a gently curving stone path, railings harking back to the ones built on campus early last century, and the piece de résistance: an iron gate forged by internationally recognized Ithaca blacksmith Durand Van Doren evoking the falls, the rocks, and mimicking oak leaves and acorns on a bronze plaque nearby. The gate not only awes visitors with its artistry, but keeps them out of the icy gorge when the trail is closed for safety. There’s a story behind the “Cascadilla Glen Trail” bronze plaque next to the gate: when a mountain of debris was cleared near the gateway, workers found a crumbling wall with a place where there had clearly once been a plaque. Bittner and

trail project manager Dan McClure realized the dimensions of that missing piece were the same as two historic plaques at the trail entrance by College Avenue, so they relocated one to fit in the new wall supporting the gate. Farther along the trail, Bittner explains, “Our goal for the renovation was to make it look like everything has always been here,” as he points out rebuilt stone staircases and paths, which reused as many of the original stones as possible. All the staircases were in terrible shape from a combination of damage from stormwater runoff, flooding, and natural freeze-thaw events. “We used 21st-century technology to replicate a 20th-century look,” he says, referring to the massive cranes perched on Cascadilla Parkway lowering stones into the gorge. Bittner and the construction team thought that the lower section of the trail would be the easier of the two sections, so work was done there first, sometimes testing techniques for larger-scale application on the upper section. New railings replaced the old ones along the trail, and were added in other places to improve safety. “Our two biggest enemies to keeping the trail in good shape are flood damage and the freeze-thaw cycle,” Bittner says. In a normal winter, portions


of the trail are buried in two feet of ice; and just below the Stewart Avenue bridge, a wall of ice 28-feet thick often forms. Below that wall of ice, created by water trickling down the gorge from the street, are unstable rocks. To bypass that hazard, the restoration project included building a new trail and staircase farther from the gorge wall and closer to the creek. Farther upstream, the crews shored up a 150-year-old retaining wall below Cascadilla Hall, which marked the edge of a stone quarry used to construct the building. The day when Bittner was assessing progress on the restoration, the upper section was still closed. But plans are to have work completed and the whole trail from Linn Street to College Avenue open by summer 2013.



Funding the Restoration Cornell has committed more than $1.56 million to date to make Cornell’s gorges safer, with another $800,000 pending approval. In addition, the university has committed to spend $150,000 annually on trail maintenance, and support is forthcoming for educational programs and recreational alternatives. To read more, go to:

Photo left page: Chis Kitchen; right page: Todd Bittner

Safe and Responsible Use Cornell’s iconic gorges are captivating but pose potential danger. Rocks fall from cliff sides, and stream currents are surprisingly strong. Most incidents of injury or death in the gorges could have been avoided by following safety guidelines. In August 2011, President David Skorton appointed the Gorge Safety Steering Group, which developed recommendations to promote safer use of campus gorges. Skorton approved the recommendations, including the formation of a Gorge Safety Committee to implement and oversee the proposed safety initiatives. That committee is chaired by Todd Bittner and made up of faculty, staff, and students. “Our beautiful campus is unique, being bounded by deep gorges. We want everyone to enjoy the gorges, but they may not be aware of the dangers,”

says committee member Peggy Beach, director of campus information and visitor relations. “The committee took on a shared responsibility to look at all aspects of gorge safety—from maintenance to enforcement to communication— to help people understand where there are risks. We have members from Plantations, Cornell Police, Cornell Outdoor Education, Campus Information and Visitor Relations, and the City of Ithaca—a broad representation of people who care about gorge safety,” Beach says. This past spring, the committee began to implement the recommendations for infrastructure, education, alternatives, and enforcement. Examples include: •  Development of four safe destinations, including scenic overlooks, in the campus gorges

•  A gorge stewards program to train student monitors who patrol the gorges and share information with their peers about regulations, the hazards of swimming in the gorges, and alternative places to swim or relax •  A gorge safety video produced by a student group shown during August New Student Orientation •  A new interactive map that includes Cornell Plantations’ gardens and natural areas as well as the region’s waterfalls and hiking, biking, and running routes •  A late-summer shuttle to take students to such alternative, legal swimming spots as Robert H. Treman State Park •  New signs (right), which say that violators who trespass into restricted areas will be subject to ticketing and arrest




A Look Back at Cascadilla Glen and Fall Creek Gorge

In 2009, exactly 100 years after Robert H. Treman purchased and donated Cascadilla Glen to Cornell for use as parkland, the university funded a major restoration of Cascadilla’s trail. Todd Bittner characterizes that as a fortunate and poignant coincidence. Bittner sees added serendipity in the surfacing of the landscape architect Charles Lowrie’s 1915 Preliminary Report for the Development of Fall Creek Gorge and Cascadilla Glen—previously buried in a basement in the Humphreys Service Building, home of Cornell’s Office of Planning, Design, and Construction—right in the midst of the renovations. Finding the document brought new revelations about the glen’s past, including details about a 40-foot dam with a footpath at the top that went just below the Stewart Avenue Bridge and on up to the street. (Bittner searched for remnants of the dam and found metal supports protruding from the rock wall, exactly where the map placed the dam.) But first, let’s step back in time to look at Cascadilla Glen and Fall Creek Gorge, two of Plantations’ most cherished and spectacular natural areas. Both have played diverse roles in local history—from powering mills and factories in the 1800s to promoting a better understanding and appreciation of our natural world today. Fall Creek Powers Factories Fall Creek Gorge was once crossed by an ancient footpath used by the Iroquois Indians, known as the Warriors’ Trail. Around 1814, white settlers built homes and mills near Ithaca Falls, taking


rushing water beneath, the stifled roar of the Falls beyond, and in Winter the long icicles that hang like stalactites from the ceiling, impart a novel and exciting sensation.”

Fall Creek, depicted in Head Waters of Cayuga Lake—Scenery of Ithaca, 1866.

advantage of the power produced by water power falling over the 150-foot drop. The mills were followed by more than a dozen factories, including the Ithaca Gun Company, as well as paper, agricultural equipment, flour, plaster, vegetable oil, woolen cloth, and pottery businesses. Nineteenth-century manufacturers did not use the unpredictable force of water downstream from the deep pool at the base of Ithaca Falls. Instead, their industries were powered by water trapped behind a dam slightly upstream from the top of the falls, which fed through a flume to the factories below. The first wooden flume clung

precariously to the cliff at the head of the falls. In 1830, a young and enterprising Ezra Cornell devised a plan to tunnel through the cliffs to establish a more reliable source of water power— by blasting a 213-foot shaft through solid rock. A plank walk allowed tourists to traverse the tunnel, which was as spectacular an attraction as the falls and gorge. Here is a description of the visitor’s experience, from Head Waters of Cayuga Lake—Scenery of Ithaca, 1866, edited by Spence Spencer: “Over this subterranean stream you walk on a platform of planks, and the cavernous gloom, the

City Starts at Cascadilla Glen In the early 1800s, the city of Ithaca took shape at the mouth of Cascadilla Glen, harnessing its hydraulic power for four mills. In 1866, Cascadilla Glen’s ravine was quite a different scene than it is today, according to the Head Waters of Cayuga Lake: “The Ravine begins . . . in the very centre of the village. In fact, at this same point, it was that the first settlers built their cabins, and thence the village grew out in a face-like shape. Passing into the Ravine . . . which, before the establishment of hog-pens and cow-yards upon its border, must have been an attractive place . . . so wild and secluded a spot . . . .” In 1909, Robert H. Treman, Cornell Class of 1878, bought and gave the gorge to the university to be used as parkland. In 1914, another alumnus, Colonel Henry W. Sackett, Class of 1875, gave $10,000 to begin work to restore and preserve the gorge. Visitor Access Improves in 1915 In 1915, landscape architect Charles N. Lowrie presented a report to the Cornell Committee on Buildings and Grounds to make Cascadilla Glen and Fall Creek Gorge more accessible to visitors. Lowrie wrote: “Owing to the inadequate approaches, this unsurpassed scenery, which can


be viewed to best advantage from the lower levels, has only been a sealed book.” For Cascadilla Glen, Lowrie proposed wellgraded macadam paths, three footbridges, 500 stone steps, 1,200 feet of iron railings, drainage pipes, inlets, a retaining embankment, steppingstone stream crossings, and extensive forestry plantings to protect steep slopes from erosion and to add landscape interest. The cost: $21,438 ($357,000 to $8.37 million in today’s dollars, depending on calculation methods and whether increases in wage rates are considered). For Fall Creek Gorge, Lowrie proposed macadam paths, one footbridge, stone steps, 2,800 feet of iron railings, overlooks at Ithaca Falls and at the Power House, drainage pipes, 300 inlet catch basins, a retaining embankment, steppingstone stream crossings, plantings, and grading. The cost: $33,252 ($554,000 to $13 million in today’s dollars). The development proceeded and, thus, easy access to the gorges became a reality. In 1924, Treman and Col. Sackett established the Sackett Trust to provide funding to protect the gorges. Then in 1929, Col. Sackett died, designating more funds specifically for the gorges. According to the Cornell Alumni News of April 23, 1931: “For the beautification of the gorges, on which considerable progress has already been made, the will establishes the Sackett Landscape Fund and provides for the completion of the work already begun. . . . Of the $150,000 provided in the fund, half is to be used only as a permanent maintenance fund.” The Cornell Trustees then

renamed the waterfalls in Cascadilla Creek “Sackett Cascade.” In the late 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), established during the Great Depression, performed considerable feats of masonry when they built Cascadilla’s stone steps and bridge. Much of the CCC masonry remains, including the small stone pedestrian bridge that today’s hikers cross on the path.


designation mandates the preservation and restoration of its natural, scenic, and recreational qualities. For Cascadilla, in 1995, Pauline Treman, the widow of Robert Treman’s son, Allan, provided for new pathways and landscaping for Treman Triangle at the Linn Street entrance, creating an inviting gateway from the Ithaca community to the Cornell campus to the gorge trail. The lower half of Cascadilla Glen trail, from College Avenue to Linn Street, was officially closed in September 2009 for the major trail restoration project. The lower section of the trail, from Treman Triangle to below the Stewart Avenue bridge, is now open from late spring to early winter, as weather permits. Cascadilla and Fall Creek gorges, including their plants and habitats, are protected and managed by Plantations, inspiring visitors, educating students, and serving as extraordinary ecological resources for research. You can see the original 1915 Lowrie report on Plantations’ website at:

Liz Bauman

Recent Projects In 1990, New York State designated a 1.8-mile stretch of Fall Creek, from Cayuga Lake to the Triphammer Falls footbridge, as a Recreational River, at the request of the City of Ithaca. The


climate change series


a primer on climate change

A Primer on Climate Change advantage as an early starter in its native habitat as other plants are able to grow sooner in spring. •  Large portions of the Northeast may become unsuitable for growing popular varieties of apples, blueberries, and cranberries. The climate suitable for native maple-beech-birch forests is expected to shift dramatically northward, leaving only a small part of the region with a maple sugar industry and iconic fall foliage.


The Earth’s climate has fluctuated historically, but natural factors alone cannot explain today’s rapid pace of change.


•  An increase in carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, and nitrous oxides in the atmosphere is making the Earth warmer than it has been in the past several thousand years. These gases are called “greenhouse gases” because the sun’s energy passes through them, but then they trap the heat that develops at the Earth’s surface like a blanket laid end-to-end across the planet. •  Since the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, the amount of atmospheric CO2 has risen by almost 40 percent, attributed primarily to the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gasoline, and natural gas). Methane and nitrous oxides also are increasing


rapidly, due in part to agriculture and use of nitrogen fertilizers. Although methane and nitrous oxides are present in only trace amounts, they are more potent greenhouse gases than CO2.


•  Average temperatures across the northeastern United States have risen by over 2 degrees F since 1970; winter temperatures are 4 degrees F warmer. The change is increasingly evident at the extremes: more summer days above 90 degrees F and fewer winter days below 32 degrees F. •  Droughts and deluges are becoming more common. Total precipitation has increased in the Northeast by 3.3 inches over the last 100 years; even more dramatically, there has been a 67 percent increase in 2-inch downpours over a 48-hour period since the 1950s. The Northeast

can expect increased precipitation in winter and decreased precipitation in late summer or fall, with more droughts and less snow cover. •  Climate change affects ecosystems and biodiversity, shifting species ranges and reducing populations of certain species. Some invasives will expand their range northward, threatening more native species and ecosystems. Plants and their pollinators and animals that depend on them, all moving at their own pace, will find implausible companions. By the century’s end, New York likely will lose its spruce-fir forests from the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains as they are unable to adapt. •  Global warming has forced plants and animals throughout the Northern Hemisphere to move an average of 3.7 miles per decade toward the poles and 20 feet per decade up mountainsides. The English bluebell, for example, may lose its

• provides downloadable fact sheets on the evidence of global and regional climate change, ways that gardeners and farmers can cope with the changes, and ways we can become part of the solution by reducing our carbon footprint and storing more carbon in trees and soils. • includes essays and research supporting and challenging the idea that global warming poses a clear threat to humanity, that it is largely caused by human activity, and that solutions to the problems of climate change lie within human reach. • explains how Cornell University is committed to measuring and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and gives details on the Cornell Climate Action Plan, a roadmap to completely eliminate net carbon emissions from the Ithaca campus by 2050—and achieve climate neutrality. • shows the updated USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, with most areas now warmer by one-half zone. Zones are divided into two subsets: “a” (colder) and “b” (warmer), separated by 5 degrees F. For example, Plantations previously was in zone 5a with winter minimums of -15 to -20; now Plantations is in zone 5b with winter minimums of -10 to -15.

climate change series


advice to gardeners

Advice to Gardeners from a Climate Change Expert

Photos left page: Jay Potter; right page: University Photography

Your garden may be feeling the dramatic effects of a global change in climate. “The fundamental meteorological characteristics defining where we live and garden have become unpredictable, a moving target,” says David W. Wolfe, Cornell professor of horticulture. “We are in the unfortunate situation of being the first generation of gardeners, ever, who cannot rely on historical weather records to tell us what our climate is, or what to expect in the future.” Wolfe is an expert on climate change whose research focuses on adaptation and mitigation for managed and natural ecosystems. Wolfe says that, over the course of history, seldom has the pace of climate change been as rapid as is projected for the next several decades. “As climate zones continue to shift, with longer growing seasons and milder winters in temperate regions, it will undoubtedly open the door to cautious exploration of new food

crops, ornamentals, and flowers,” he says. Some traditional garden and native plants will suffer from changes in the local climate, while new and exotic species, including aggressive invasives, could thrive. Wolfe explains that plants will respond to climate change in several ways. Gardeners already are noticing an earlier spring, with advancing bloom dates and arrival of migratory birds and insects. Ecologists worry that these events could disrupt important species interactions. For example, if a plant is blooming earlier, will its pollinators be active earlier too? Will insect pests and the natural enemies that currently keep their populations under control remain in sync? “One thing we know for certain is that entire complex communities of plants and other species are not going to respond en masse in exactly the same way,” he says. Although warmer weather and longer growing

seasons will allow gardeners in cold areas to experiment with a wider variety of perennial plants, they shouldn’t expect the risk of freeze or frost damage to disappear any time soon. An extended warm period in winter can cause premature leafout or bloom, greatly increasing risk of frost damage if temperatures fall below 32 degrees F in late winter or early spring. Another problem for perennials is that most temperate species require a period of “winter chilling”—temperatures below about 45 degrees F—to be capable of normal hormone production and spring leafout and bloom. In some areas, winters may eventually become so warm that this requirement will no longer be met. During the summer, as our planet continues to warm, the frequency of heat stress severe enough to negatively affect garden plants is likely to increase. Plant demand for water will also increase, and if this is not matched by an increase in summer rainfall, irrigation will become more essential.

“We are in the unfortunate situation of being the first generation of gardeners, ever, who cannot rely on historical weather records to tell us what our climate is, or what to expect in the future.” —David W. Wolfe

“In regions experiencing water shortages, gardeners may be required to shift to slowergrowing, drought-tolerant varieties,” Wolfe says. Too much water at the wrong time is also an increasing problem. Climate scientists have documented that more rain across the Northern Hemisphere is coming down in intense events (e.g., more than 2 inches in 48 hours). This can lead to problems such as “wet feet,” root disease, and direct crop damage. Heavy rains can be particularly damaging to plants growing with constrained root zones in urban areas, and can create flooding problems in areas covered with asphalt or other impermeable surfaces. Climate change will bring increased weed, insect, and disease pressure as the northward spread of plants, insects, birds, and mammals continues. Wolfe cites two examples in the northeastern United States: a rapid spread north of the hemlock woolly adelgid insect pest and the notoriously aggressive weed kudzu. He points out that sometimes even native pests cause devastating pressure on ecosystems because longer, warmer summers allow more time for weeds to establish and produce more seed, and for some insects and pathogens to spawn more generations per growing season. Here are Wolfe’s suggestions for gardeners to take advantage of opportunities and to minimize negative effects from a changing climate: •  Experiment with new species and varieties as plant hardiness zones shift. You may have to give up some of your old favorites if they become less suitable and need more irrigation, for instance, which works against a sustainable approach. • Move up planting and harvesting dates for annuals to take advantage of an earlier spring and a longer growing season or to avoid crop exposure to high temperatures or low rainfall. “Predicting the optimum planting date will be very challenging with increased uncertainty regarding climate, so


climate change series


advice to gardeners

gradual and cautious experimentation should be the approach rather than radical changes in a single year,” Wolfe cautions. • Work closely with your local integrated pest management (IPM) or Extension experts to keep track of potential new pest threats. You can play an important “citizen scientist” role in monitoring and informing regional specialists of new pests. You also can participate in Project BudBurst (, a national field campaign to engage the public in the collection of important ecological data based on the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting of plants. • Choose frost-resistant perennials and plant them on the best site available. North-facing slopes and low-lying or shaded areas are more subject to frost or freeze damage. For some woody perennials, change the timing and severity of winter pruning

to minimize losses from a premature bloom followed by a spring frost. For shrubs, small trees, or groundcovers, use freeze-protection mulch or reusable fabrics as an emergency option. •  Identify the garden areas that are more prone to damage from prolonged wet or dry periods and from intense short-term rainfall. Reconfigure chronic wet sites to keep water from pooling in low spots or use raised beds to minimize “wet feet” during flooded periods. Use soil amendments to improve drainage during wet periods or to improve water-holding capacity during dry periods. Wolfe sums up: “There are many adaptation and mitigation options for growing healthy gardens, lawns, and urban landscapes in the face of climate change. Gardeners represent a large fraction of the population, and collectively we can be part of the solution and serve as important role models for creative citizen action to confront the challenges of climate change.” Cornell Plantations is committed to educating our audiences about climate change facts. This article is the first in a series dedicated to climate change—what it is; what it means for our gardens, our lives, and our world; and what we can do to address this serious issue. Compiled by Liz Bauman from “Gardening Sustainably in a Changing Climate,” a chapter written by David W. Wolfe for the book The New American Landscape; and “The Earth’s Changing Climate,” “New York’s Changing Climate,” and “Farming Success in a Changing Climate” fact sheets from Cornell Cooperative Extension. David Wolfe, professor of plant ecology in the Department of Horticulture, is a leading authority on the effects of climate change and rising atmospheric carbon dioxide on plants, soils, and ecosystems. He is currently working with the Union of Concerned Scientists and a team of experts in the Northeast on a regional climate change impacts assessment.


Winter’s Wacky Weather Impacts Plantations Listening to weather forecasts and scanning radar maps has become a daily activity for the horticulturists at Plantations—because none of us has any idea what the weather will do next. The old days of expecting snowy cold winters, gradually warming springs, warm but only periodically blazing hot summers, and cooling autumns interrupted by a few days of Indian summer seem to be gone. We are told that a changing change will be characterized by rapid and severe fluctuations in temperatures and more frequent severe storms. Gardening certainly will become more challenging as gardeners and plants try to cope with the unexpected, as the horticulturists at Plantations had to do this past winter. Winter essentially never arrived last year, with temperatures remaining well above normal. We had only a few days of extreme cold and no serious snow storms, so the ground remained open. There were good and bad consequences to this unusual weather pattern. The lack of snow cover facilitated clearing a lot of brush and pruning trees and shrubs in the arboretum. In an average winter, 8 to 12 inches of snow stays on the ground, making it a slow business to slog through it carrying a pruning ladder and then getting the prunings to the road where they are stacked for chipping. Shrubs cannot easily be cut to ground level without digging the snow away from their bases. This year we could easily carry pruning ladders and even drive our mini trucks across bare ground to get close to the trees. Likewise, for shrubs that needed thinning, we were able to cut extra stems flush to the ground. When clearing brush, the

arduous process of tying bundles of stems to a hitch on a mini truck and hauling the load uphill to the road was much easier. In January and February, on days when the ground was not frozen, gardeners alternated pruning with weeding. We had several weeks of freakishly warm weather in March, even one day in the mid-80s that set a record. Plants began breaking dormancy very early, and we started dividing and transplanting a month ahead of the norm. Then winter arrived in April, with night temperatures in the mid-20s. Early magnolia flowers turned to brown mush, and partially emerged foliage on trees, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials was burned. The ground was very dry due to the lack of snow cover during the winter, so when the weather warmed again, and the danger of freezing temperatures breaking water lines had passed, gardeners started irrigating their parched gardens. When precipitation finally came in the form of 5 inches of wet snow, it broke branches off trees in full leaf or flower, and flattened herbaceous perennials that were in full flower. Nighttime temperatures once again fell into the upper 20s, damaging emerging foliage for a second time. Thankfully, as Russ Morton, Plantations plant health care scout noted, “Nothing got killed.” Let’s hope that we will be as lucky the next time our changing climate delivers such fluctuating temperatures and a severe, unexpected storm late in the season. Mary Hirshfeld, Director of Horticulture

Photos left page clockwise: Irene Lekstutis; Snow damage, Sonja Skelly; right page: Nina Bassuk

Sustainable Practices Protect Our Landscapes

“We can’t take our landscapes for granted; if we don’t value them, we will lose them and all the benefits they provide us. Sustainable landscapes can mitigate problems like urban heat islands, pollution, and reduced biodiversity,” says Nina Bassuk, Cornell professor of horticulture. “We need to use natural systems to create sustainable landscapes.” Bassuk’s words summarize the purpose behind the Sustainable Sites Initiative, which aims to promote sustainable land development and management practices for botanical gardens, parks, urban landscapes, commercial developments, university campuses, airports, and military complexes. Professor Bassuk is one of 19 professionals on the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) Technical Core Committee, who provide their expertise to the initiative. Since 2006, she also has been serving on the Vegetation Subcommittee, which developed credits for the SITES Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009. During countless conference calls and occasional meetings in Austin, Texas, the subcommittee mapped out sustainable standards for using vegetation to provide what Bassuk calls “ecosystem services,” or benefits.

The other four subcommittees—Soils, Hydrology, Materials Selection, and Human Health and WellBeing—developed sustainable standards for those categories. The guidelines include a rating system, which assesses performance covering such factors as site selection, use of materials, restoration of soils and vegetation, and sustainable practices in construction and maintenance. Just as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System formulated voluntary guidelines and performance benchmarks for buildings, SITES has created a rating system for sustainable land design, construction, and maintenance for use by professional landscape architects—predominantly in the United States and Canada. The guidelines address urgent global concerns such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and resource depletion. SITES is an interdisciplinary effort led by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the U.S. Botanic Garden. Fred Cowett, who holds a Master of Landscape Architecture and a PhD in horticulture from Cornell,

is a technical advisor for the initiative, charged with reviewing project submissions, conducting preliminary reviews, and reporting back to the projects. He also serves on the Soils Subcommittee. Cowett says that the success of LEED and the green building movement led many to think about creating a similar rating system for landscapes— thus, the new initiative came into being. “There are efforts to align the two systems as much as possible,” he points out. In fact, the U.S. Green Building Council anticipates incorporating the SITES guidelines and performance benchmarks into future iterations of LEED. SITES is based on the idea that landscapes have great potential to promote environmental good and prevent/mitigate severe environmental damage. For example: •  Vegetation and soil help reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by capturing and storing it for use in roots, leaves, and bark. •  Trees, plants, shade structures, and other techniques to cool the air can reduce costs associated with urban heat islands. •  Management of invasive species reduces competition with and harm to native plant and animal communities.

Gardening: using water wisely sustainable landscapes | SITES

•  Sustainable landscapes require less irrigation and waste less water. •  Controlling contaminated storm water runoff protects water quality and aquatic habitats. •  Retaining and reusing land-clearing materials on site avoids the cost of waste disposal and reduces the need to purchase materials and soil amendments such as compost and mulch. •  Interacting with nature helps restore children’s and adults’ ability to concentrate, calm feelings of anxiety, and reduce aggression. •  Tree canopy cover reduces exposure of buildings to direct sunlight and wind, decreasing demand for air conditioning and heating. In 2010, pilot projects began testing the SITES rating system. Feedback from the pilot projects will be incorporated into an updated version of the Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks to be published in 2013; then the rating system will be open to public enrollment. Cornell is part of that alpha testing. After the Mann Library renovation project was completed, Bassuk and students in her Creating the Urban Eden course designed and installed the new plantings that now flank the library’s entrance as a SITES pilot project. In all her courses, she teaches the

Students in Professor Bassuk’s HORT4910: Creating the Urban Eden course designed and installed the plantings at Mann Library’s entrance as a SITES alpha testing project. 15




sustainable principles on which SITES is based. “It’s not just about the physical—plants, water, etc.— but also about engaging people in the landscape,” she says. Thus, sitting areas were included to facilitate contact with nature and encourage social interaction. Bassuk notes that the Mann pilot project received SITES certification this year. She stresses that the initiative does not apply a design aesthetic; it is performance based. “Sustainability is defined by SITES as elements of a landscape that perform ecosystem services, and we can measure those. That allowed us to create a rating system,” Bassuk explains. “Writing the guidelines was challenging,” she adds, “because they need to accommodate projects from as small as 2,000 sq. ft. to very large landscapes. But the principles of developing gardens and landscapes sustainably can be done on any scale—and you don’t need to be going for accreditation.” The initiative also requires landscape architects to plan upfront for the management of landscapes, not just to contain ongoing maintenance costs but also to reduce use of pesticides, irrigation, and use of fossil fuels for mowing, for example. “You can’t just make a pretty landscape, walk away, and say you’re done,” Bassuk says. “SITES takes a long-term perspective, looking at how the landscape continues to perform over time,” Cowett adds. Bassuk points out that projects aiming for SITES certification should choose “appropriate” plants, which are not necessarily “native” plants. Appropriate plants are adapted to the landscape, are not invasive, meet the design intent and function of the landscape (e.g., shade, drought resistance), and meet management limitations. If a plant is native, it also must meet those criteria. SITES and LEED encourage renovating previously developed land and discourage the development of “pristine” land and prime farmland. Projects will receive points for renovating “disturbed” areas such as a greyfield (previously developed or graded) and even more points for a brownfield (abandoned,


idled, or underused industrial and commercial facility/site with real or perceived environmental contamination). Cowett notes that the cost of attaining SITES accreditation can be burdensome for many projects, and the process requires much more documentation than normally done for typical landscape installations. Still, he would like SITES to be applicable to as many projects as possible and to have the largest possible impact. In updating the rating system for 2013, “there’s a desire to make requirements less onerous but still meaningful in terms of performance,” he says. Both Bassuk and Cowett agree that it is much easier to get SITES certification if designers follow the principles right from the planning stage rather than trying to retrofit a project later in the process. But Bassuk reminds everyone, “I’m hoping people will use these practices and principles whether they are going for certification or not.” Now there are guidelines for people who would like to follow the SITES principles in their own home landscapes. Called Landscape for Life (, this new initiative guides you to work with nature whether you garden on a city or suburban lot, the common area of your condominium, or a 20-acre farm. Cornell Plantations will be offering a class in March for people interested in learning to follow these sustainable principles at home. Liz Bauman

New Peony and Perennial Gardens Will Strive for SITES Accreditation Although some of the planning for the new Peony and Perennial Gardens was done before the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) issued its current guidelines for accreditation, Plantations follows sustainable principles for all its gardens, and will seek SITES accreditation for this garden project. We are documenting the sustainable principles used in designing the garden, and many decisions are still being made, such as choice of materials and requirements for contractors. Some examples of sustainable practices used at Plantations are mulching and hand cultivating plantings instead of using herbicides, making our own mulch and compost, using local materials (such as Llenroc stone and stone dust for paths), and using integrated pest management techniques instead of chemical insecticides. SITES gives extra credits for bringing disturbed soils back to life—and this is what will be done when establishing the new gardens. The location for the Peony and Perennial Gardens was the staging area for construction of the Brian C. Nevin Welcome Center. Before construction began, we anticipated damage to the soil, so 2 to 3 inches of topsoil was removed and stockpiled nearby. During construction, the remaining soil became terribly compacted by trailers, cranes, backhoes, cars, and other heavy machines. To help mitigate the compaction, the entire site was mechanically loosened to a depth of 8 inches. The original topsoil was then reapplied and seeded with grass. Once the new gardens move ahead, the horticultural staff will need to prepare the soil bed by bed, each with particular specifications depending on the plantings. A new filter strip and the Bioswale Garden work together to treat storm water runoff from the parking lot: the water percolates down through a sandy filter strip that retains particulate matter before it goes into the bioswale, where it drains within 48 hours into Beebe Lake. The new gardens also will fulfill the SITES’ Health and Well-Being guidelines. “The very nature of public gardens, and especially ones of this scale, promotes health and well-being by providing opportunities to stroll, contemplate, and educate,” says Plantations landscape designer Irene Lekstutis. Now Lekstutis and Kimberly Michaels of Trowbridge Wolf Michaels
 Landscape Architects LLP are conducting the pre-design assessment and developing a narrative to document all the sustainable principles Plantations is using for the design of the new gardens—with the goal of receiving SITES accreditation. “SITES is an excellent framework by which the client and designer can examine several different layers of sustainability,” says Michaels. And that framework will guide decisions still to be made for the gardens.

Sitting areas were placed in Mann Library’s entranceway garden to encourage contact with nature and social interaction.

Photo: Fred Cowett

sustainable landscapes



ornamental grasses

The Grass Is Always Greener—When It’s an Ornamental By Mary Hirshfeld

No garden should be without a selection of fall-blooming ornamental grasses. These large, late-flowering ornamentals are categorized as warm-season grasses—they are slow to get started in spring and wait until the warm days of summer to push new growth. They reach their full potential in the late days of summer and throughout the fall. The most familiar and widely grown warm-season grass is the Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis), a variable species from which many distinctive cultivars have been developed for home gardens. Plantations displays 28 of these cultivars throughout several gardens, although the heaviest concentration is in the Zucker Flowering Shrub Collection in the F. R. Newman Arboretum. The one


drawback that Miscanthus holds for most gardeners is its tremendous size. Most cultivars reach 4 to 7 feet in height, making it difficult to site them well in a small garden. They are also a challenge to move and divide. A well-established plant can take considerable effort with a digging bar, spade, and the assistance of several friends, to get it out of the ground. Despite these drawbacks, if your garden has sufficient room for one or more Miscanthus selections, they are well worth growing. One of the oldest and most reliable Miscanthus cultivars is ‘Gracillimus’, a slender-leaved, portly selection that tops out at 4 to 5 feet. One of the few Miscanthus strains grown from seed, ‘Gracillimus’ plants are not always identical, but are remarkably consistent in form and can stay put for years without requiring division. ‘Dixieland’ is an introduction from Kurt Bluemel, a Maryland nurseryman who has been the driving force behind introducing and popularizing grasses in this country. Shorter and less husky than

Pennisetum alopecuroides f. viridescens

A growing interest in using native plants is beginning to encourage garden centers to carry a wider variety of grasses, many of them native. Switch grass (Panicum virgatum) and its many lovely selections are must-haves for any garden. This native grass offers a number of variants—some with steel-blue foliage, such as ‘Dallas Blues’ and ‘Northwind’, others with vibrant tints of scarlet, such as ‘Ruby Ribbons’ and ‘Shenandoah’. Cultivars also differ in size, ranging from 3 to 6 feet in height. All produce clouds of delicate flowers that float above the foliage throughout late summer and well into fall. Panicum can be afflicted with a foliar rust that starts out as small black spots, gradually coalescing into black streaks resulting in tan foliage that makes the plant look as if it had suffered from extreme drought. Select a planting site that has good air circulation to reduce the possibility of your Panicum being affected or select rust-resistant cultivars such as ‘Northwind’. Provided it is not flattened by unusually heavy, wet snows, Panicum provides a graceful presence in the winter landscape, while its brown foliage rustles in the wind.

Photos: Paul Schmitt

Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus

the older ‘Variegatus’, ‘Dixieland’ also sports bright green leaves boldly striped with white. To date, it has remained relatively compact and manageable in height. Other cultivars that share the white variegation but can reach heights of 6 to 7 feet are ‘Rigoletto’, ‘Cabaret’, and ‘Cosmopolitan’. Several cultivars offer yellow variegations of differing patterns. The oldest of these is zebra grass or ‘Zebrinus’, a very vigorous grower with striking horizontal yellow stripes marching across the tall green foliage. Two slightly more compact models are porcupine grass or ‘Strictus’, named for its very erect habit and bristly, quill-like leaves; and little dot grass or ‘Puenktchen’, also bearing slender, stiffly erect leaves. ‘Little Kitten’ and ‘Little Zebra’ have been selected for their smaller, more compact habit, making them better suited to the dimensions of the average garden. Until very recently, Miscanthus was one of those rare groups of plants considered “pest and disease free.” Now, two major pest problems are emerging, and unfortunately, effective and least-toxic solutions have not yet been worked out. Miscanthus mealybug is a soft-bodied, white, wooly insect that can be found between the clasping leaf sheath and stem, particularly on the lower portions of the grass. Heavy infestations can stunt plant growth, resulting in bunched foliage and twisted flowers that open within the foliage rather than well above, where their graceful delicacy can be admired. The mealybugs have been transferred from contaminated nursery stock to gardens and have become quite widespread. A second problem is Miscanthus blight, caused by a rust fungus that appears as reddish-brown spots on the foliage. These gradually coalesce into large brown areas, resulting in the death of most or all of the foliage. Although Miscanthus still reigns supreme as the most widely planted and most readily available ornamental grass, there are rising concerns about its potential to become invasive if we continue to experience milder winters.



ornamental grasses

See Them at Plantations Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is growing in popularity, with many new selections appearing on the market. Most have been selected for bluer foliage and denser, more upright habit that does not splay open as the flowers appear in fall. Two very nice selections are ‘Carousel’, more upright with blue foliage that takes on multiple shades of pink and mahogany in fall, and ‘Jazz’ with silvery blue foliage and shorter stature that remains erect throughout the fall. Little bluestem cultivars can vary in height from 18 inches to 3.5 feet, making them useful for the small garden and easy to divide when needed. Although it can be slow to attain its mature size, prairie dropseed (Sporbolus heterobolus) is an adaptable, easily grown grass that is durable and rarely needs division. Unassuming clumps of glossy green foliage are topped in late summer by tall, delicate plumes of silvery green flowers that sparkle as they move in the breeze and catch the light. It is a grass of manageable size, reaching 3 feet when in flower, with the added bonus of Panicum virgatum ‘Cheyenne Sky’

developing coppery orange fall color. The fountain grass family (Pennisetum alopecuroides) offers a variety of smaller-statured grasses, ranging from 18 inches to 3 feet. Their form and texture are notably different from any of the grasses already discussed. ‘Moundry’ and ‘National Arboretum’ are both fountain grass selections with wider leaves and dark purpleblack flower spikes held close to the foliage. While not always reliably winter-hardy in our area, they are worth trying and overwinter most successfully in a sunny, well-drained spot. Selections with the more typical slender leaves and dark brown bottlebrushes waving gaily above a fountain of dense foliage include ‘Hameln’, slightly smaller than the type, and ‘Herbstfeuer’, with longer flower stems and very slender foliage. The most dramatic grass at Plantations is hardy pampas grass (Saccharum ravennae), often still sold as Erianthus ravennae. This giant reaches a solid 12 feet in height, its stems topped by flamboyant triangular plumes similar to those of the more common

Botanical Garden Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis)

‘Dixieland’—North Walk of Robison Herb Garden ‘Cosmopolitan’—Young Garden ‘Strictus’—Ground Cover Collection ‘Little Kitten’—Kienzle Overlook

Switch grass (Panicum virgatum)

‘Dallas Blues’—Ground Cover Collection ‘Northwind’—Bioswale ‘Ruby Ribbons’—Ground Cover Collection, Bioswale

Prairie dropseed (Sporbolus heterobolus) Parking lot garden

Fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)

Zucker Shrub Collection ‘Moundry’—Kienzle Overlook ‘Hameln’—Ground Cover Collection, Mullestein hillside garden ‘Viridescens’—North Walk of Robison Herb Garden garden

Oriental Fountain grass (Pennisetum orientale) Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’

Zucker Shrub Collection ‘Karley Rose’—Mullestein hillside garden

F. R. Newman Arboretum pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana), which is reliably hardy only to zone 7. Saccharum is one of the few grasses I would recommend as a reliable ornamental for a winter garden, as the strength of its stems can usually withstand the heavy, wet snowfalls and ice coatings that would turn Miscanthus, Panicum, and Schizachyrium into a tangled mess of shattered flower stems and flattened foliage. Ornamental grasses are at their peak at Plantations now, so come visit, and be sure to bring along a notebook to record the names of those that catch your eye! At Plantations, all the native grasses mentioned, and many more selections can be found in the Bioswale Garden; the best places to see concentrations of grasses grown in masses are the Zucker Shrub Collection in the F. R. Newman Arboretum and the Bioswale Garden.

Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis)

Mary Hirshfeld is Director of Horticulture at Cornell Plantations.

Harris Lilac Collection

‘Variegatus’—Zucker Shrub Collection ‘Rigoletto’—Zucker Shrub Collection ‘Puenktchen’(Pünktchen)—Zucker Shrub Collection ‘Condensatus’— Zucker Shrub Collection

Switch grass (Panicum virgatum) ‘Shenandoah’—Tang parking lot ‘Cheyenne Sky’—Tang parking lot

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) Baird, Tang parking lot

Prairie dropseed (Sporbolus heterobolus)

Zucker Shrub Collection, little ponds upslope from Munschauer bench

Fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)

Zucker Shrub Collection ‘National Arboretum’—Zucker Shrub Collection

Pampas grass (Saccharum ravennae)


Artwork left page: Rosbelle Tanaglia; Untitled. Right page: Joy Jihyun Jeong; ‘Beebe Lake Trail’; Erin Ferro-Murray; ‘Falls’; Jon Atkinson; ‘Ithaca Falls’; Daniel Lee; ‘View’

IMAGES OF Plantations



Students Step Back and Forth in Time to Create Gorge Artwork

IMAGES OF Plantations

For the past three years, Plantations’ director of natural areas Todd Bittner and Cornell art professor Gregory Page have collaborated to help students explore the intersection of art and nature.

A 1915 landscape architect’s proposal for development of Fall Creek Gorge and Cascadilla Glen lured students in Page’s Introduction to Print Media class into those gorges almost 100 years later with cameras and sketchbooks in hand. Before the class ventured onto the trails, Bittner presented Charles N. Lowrie’s 1915 Preliminary

Report for the Development of Fall Creek Gorge and Cascadilla Glen to show the students what the gorges looked like back then and the early20th-century renovations that would make them more accessible and safer for visitors. Bittner had the class imagine themselves as students in 1915 hiking up Cascadilla to class, even getting to Ithaca by train. “I tried to put them in that time and place— integrating art, science, and history,” Bittner says. Over a two-month period, Page’s students traveled in four groups to document different sections of the trails and gorges. Each student then produced three images: a photograph, a photopositive lithographic plate, and a combination image from a traditional lithographic stone and a woodcut relief print.

“The students were thinking about what their section looked like in Lowrie’s photographs, and then over time, how things had changed,” Page says. “They tried to locate where Lowrie took some of his images and stand in those very places and portray what they look like today.” The students depicted a great variety of gorge components in their images, and their images were wide ranging. “They used color and black and white, creating a range of realistic to more subjective approaches,” Page says. He calls the project rigorous, taking a lot of technical skill and time for each student to produce three different images. The class gave consideration to safe access to the gorges. “The spirit of the project—learning about the Lowrie document, the names of the trails and waterfalls, his perspective on the trails’ and



falls’ sublime beauty as a tourist attraction, and his interest in visitors’ safe access—have special relevance today,” Page points out. The students’ artwork exhibit, “Exploring the Fall Creek and Cascadilla Glen Trails and Gorges,” will be displayed in the Nevin Welcome Center lobby this November and December. (See the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Verdant Views for a story about Page’s 2010 course, Turf: Invasive Species as Art and student works inspired by visits to Plantations’ Edwards Lake Cliffs Natural Area.)

EXHIBIT OPENING RECEPTION Friday, November 9, 6P.M.–9P.M. Nevin Welcome Center 124 Comstock Knoll Road


Nonprofit Org. U.S. Postage PAID Cornell University

One Plantations Road Ithaca, NY 14850-2799 Address service requested

Upcoming Events

at Cornell Plantations

gift shop special Celebrate “Cyber Monday” in real time at Plantations’ Garden Gift Shop

EXHIBITIONS Upcoming art exhibitions in the Nevin Welcome Center.

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 1:00 P.M.TO 6:00 P.M.


This holiday season come check out our unique gift offerings, like handcrafted ornaments, an array of locally sourced gift items, high-quality gardening books, and more!

November 7.

The Garden of Six Friends: Designing CLASSES: a Contemporary East Asian Garden Landscape Your Yard with Native Plants 7:30 p.m. Statler Hall Auditorium, Cornell University

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 1, 10:00 A.M.TO 12:00 P.M.

Landscape For Life 5 SATURDAYS, MARCH 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30, 2013 10:00 A.M.TO 12:00 P.M.

Brian C. Nevin Welcome Center 124 Comstock Knoll Road, Ithaca, NY, 14850 Tuesday–Saturday 11:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday 607-255-2400


Exploring the Fall Creek and Cascadilla Glen Trails and Gorges by Cornell University students Exhibit Opening Reception Friday, November 9 6:00–9:00 p.m.

Visit or call 607-255-2400 for more information about all of our classes, exhibits, tours and events!

Verdant Views Issue 4  

Magazine of Cornell Plantations

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