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Native plants in post gardens conserve water.

Story and photos by the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Office of Ecology and Conservation and the Architectural Division of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations

To save water and labor and be environmentally friendly, U.S. posts worldwide are using treated wastewater or collected rainwater for irrigation, featuring native plants in their landscaping and limiting the use of plants that require extensive irrigation, especially grassy lawns.

An example is the U.S. Consulate General in Cape Town, South Africa, which is located on six hectares in a leafy suburb. The Westlake River, which flows through the compound, is home to endangered leopard frogs and numerous birds, and is in an area rich in plant species, a large percentage of which are found only in this region. The landscape architects specified the use of indigenous plants on the consulate compound since they perform well under local conditions.

"The use of native plants was the right decision for this site," said Facility Manager James Emery, though finding plants that help stop soil erosion on steep graded slopes was a minor challenge. By using native and locally adapted plant species, he explained, the post reduces the amount of maintenance and irrigation required.

"Since the plants are growing in their natural habitat, they are not subject to the stresses which affect non-native" plants, he said. "The consulate community benefits every day when they look out their windows and see the beautiful landscape."

The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi also dedicates a portion of its campus to native and locally adapted plants.

"Our gardening staff, led by Chancery Supervisor Vinod Chandran and Horticulturalist Dhruv Sharma, maintains grassy areas for play alongside 'native-scapes,'" said Facility Manager James Horner. He said the embassy's designers chose plant varieties specifically for their tolerance of the monsoon climate's heat and seasonal droughts.


"Hardy native species require little maintenance and are naturally pest- and diseaseresistant," he said. "Many of the plants produce showy flowers and abundant fruits and seeds that provide perfect havens for local birds and pollinators."

Another instance of thoughtful landscaping is at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, where the compound incorporates part of the citywide storm water management system of canals and ponds.

"This system creates a beautiful and functional foreground to the chancery building and a unifying element through the lush landscape of native plants," said Tetsuya Yamamoto, a landscape architect with the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations. "The water features and plants, combined with the grounds' shade trees, naturally and cost effectively cool the air around the embassy buildings."

The U.S. Embassy in Valletta has no natural source of irrigation and few native plants. "All water used for irrigation is harvested from rain and stored in underground tanks," said Alain deVergie, a senior OBO landscape architect. The post uses Mediterranean plants, which are adapted to dry climates, and features a cactus garden that borders ruins dating from about 1500 B.C. through the Punic, Early Byzantine and Roman eras.


Using native, non-invasive plants not only decreases water consumption, but also promotes biodiversity and reduces greenhouse gas emissions and the U.S. government's carbon footprint. It also supports Executive Order 13514, which calls for U.S. agencies to develop an integrated sustainability strategy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the goals of the League of Green Embassies to conserve water and use energy efficiently. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, implemented by several Department facilities, has similar goals.

Making informed choices about land use demonstrates the Department's effort to be a good neighbor to the host country and world environment through respect for native flora and fauna, and a model of efficient use of water and energy. OBO requires the use of native and non-invasive, well-adapted plant species in all new landscape designs and stands ready to help posts interested in sustainable landscaping.


Beyond those quoted, contributors to this article include OES Program Officer Antoinette Condo; Nick Slabbert, from the maintenance unit at Consulate General Cape Town; Embassy New Delhi Information Office Clerk Rakesh Malhotrain; and OBO Sustainable Design Coordinator Michelle Hurley.
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Publication:State Magazine
Date:Apr 1, 2012
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