Over the summer, in an attempt to increase the margin of all-college environmental sustainability, CC’s grounds crew aimed to implement changes brought about by the college’s Strategic Planning committees. The solution—xeric landscaping.
“Many college campuses are moving toward efforts to decrease negative effects on the environment; it’s becoming a commonplace,” Christine Siddoway, CC Professor of Geology, co-chair of the Strategic Planning Committee on CC as a Distinctive Place of Learning, said.
Students, faculty, and alumni contributed thoughts to the committee and ecological conservation of the campus was a widespread sentiment.
“Xeric landscaping is a practical aspect of planting that incorporates plants that have come from or are equilibrated to the Colorado environment,” Siddoway said, “These plants are drought tolerant and are capable of surviving in our high plains ecosystem that borders on a montane [ecosystem].”
Summer work focused on the planting of such xeric plants. The plants are environmentally sound, a fine choice for Colorado’s semi-arid climate, and attract pollinators such as honeybees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. Siddoway also stresses the aesthetic appeal of such plants.
“Sustainability, by its very definition, is about meeting needs – needs of all groups and classes of people, now and into the future, within the carrying capacity of the systems we exist within,” Ian Johnson, CC’s new sustainability manager, said.
Integrating native plants into the campus greenery is merely one facet of increasing on-campus environmental sustainability. Other movements include using graywater (recycled wastewater) for irrigation as opposed to using purified water, irrigating lawns and trees during nighttime hours to reduce evaporation, and using downspouts that deliver precipitation from roofs and gutters into landscaping.
This past summer, there have been three primary points of progress. The first movement involved the removal of Shove Chapel’s distinct-but-unsustainable river cobble and the installation of sustainable shrubs that are watered via drip irrigation. This provides moisture specifically to the roots of plants even below the mulch, aiding in the support of the native plants.
The second and third points of focus related to the planting of a pocket xeric garden on the corner of Cascade Ave. and Cache La Poudre St. and Johnson’s hiring.
Also, planted outside of Packard Hall are big bluestem grasses that “add inspiration to the scene. [The grasses] add a beautiful aesthetic element that is maintainable because not a lot of water [for irrigation] is necessary,” Siddoway said.
Once established, the plants require less water and, given heavy summer rain conditions, may not require water at all during the academic year.
On Aug. 27, Cecelia Gonzales, the college horticulturalist, led an installation of a garden at the corner of Cascade Ave. and Cache la Poudre St. The garden includes a variety of xeric and native plants, including Texas red yucca, among others.
“Water is a precious thing we have, and it’s often misused,” Gonzales said. “It has been brought to both [President Jill] and the Board of Trustees’ attention that [we as a campus] have to be more responsible with water usage, this new garden being an example.”
Siddoway emphasizes that such native plants help to harmonize Colorado College, an urban setting, with the natural environment. Syncing Colorado Springs and the environment results in a more coherent and coordinated atmosphere around campus.
As for future objectives, Johnson said the college hopes to update greenhouse gas inventory on an annual basis and implement annual Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) reporting on broad sustainability efforts across campus.
Joan Taylor, Senior Accountant in the Business Office and garden volunteer suggests a function for plants that extends beyond the aesthetic. “Landscaping is such a dull word. Why not ‘lifescaping’ instead?”