Schmidt Design Group, Inc., San Diego USA
Client: San Diego Spring Home/Garden Show "Garden Masters"
What was most fulfilling for the landscape architect was the interest and number of photographs and notes that were taken by visitors. They appeared hungry for this information and appreciated the opportunity to learn. Feedback from the visitors was very positive.
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This project was modeled as a temporary public art installation at the San Diego Spring Home/Garden Show "Garden Masters" exhibit in 2009. "Water Lites" was a lighted display that conveyed, both visually and factually, the water consumption characteristics of various plant materials so that property owners and professionals can make conservation-friendly choices when planning for the drought, or renovating their landscapes to reduce water consumption.
—2010 Professional Awards Jury
According to the California Department of Water Resources, "California is facing the most significant water crisis in its history." Recent rains may ease some of the concern but longterm political and environmental issues will necessitate a paradigm shift in landscape water use expectations to reduce the amount of supplemental water used outdoors. Studies have shown that approximately 50 percent of water used in San Diego goes to outdoor water use in the landscape. Homeowners, the public sector, and commercial property owners are all making significant cutbacks in their outdoor water use, and many are renovating their gardens to more drought-tolerant planting regimes. Assisting the public and fellow professionals to appropriately respond to this issue is what prompted the landscape architect to create "Water Lites" for the "Garden Masters" exhibit in the Spring Home/Garden Show in Del Mar, California. Most of the public, and many professionals, are not aware of the water use characteristics of various plant materials. This leads to mixing of high-and low-water-use plants within specific hydrozones, which is one of the most prominent mistakes made by well-meaning property owners and professionals. "Water Lites" provided important information to the public that will be used to make more responsible choices in their garden designs.
The "Water Lites" exhibit included 24, 10-foot-high illuminated lanterns, which were set into large corrugated steel pipe "planters" and placed on a grid within a 35 by45-foot decomposed granite area. The steel pipe planters represented the pipelines and canals that carry water to the San Diego region. In addition, the grid of 24 planters was chosen because there are 24 retail member water agencies of the San Diego County Water Authority (the wholesale water purveyor for the region). Each planter was filled with a variety of plants and the planters were organized in rows by water consumption characteristics. The lanterns in the highest water use planters glowed blue from top to bottom-visually illustrating their significant water use. The lanterns of the lowest water consumers (native plants and succulents) glowed fully white, illustrating that they can often be maintained without supplemental water once established. Mid-range water use planters had a partial blue glow. The four water use categories illustrated in the exhibit have been documented in the WULCOLS III publication by the California Department of Water Resources. The blue illumination was both dramatic and factual, based on calculations by the landscape architect taking into consideration the crop coefficients of plant categories and evapotranspiration for San Diego County. The lanterns glowed blue for High (72"), Moderate (48"), Low (24") and Very Low (0") representing how much supplemental irrigation is required to typically maintain these plants within San Diego County. Educational flyers produced by the landscape architect were taken home by most visitors, which explained the exhibit and provided helpful outdoor water conservation information. The flyer included tips for waterwise gardens, an explanation of the exhibit, and a list of the plants that were exhibited by water use category. Each plant in the exhibit was identified with a label that included both botanical and common names. In addition, flagstone pavers were set flush with the decomposed granite surface to label the water use category row and to provide a number of water-savings tips in the landscape. Many visitors were observed writing down names and photographing plants within the low and very low water use categories.
Audience, Impact and Effectiveness
The Spring Home Garden Show was attended by more than 23,000 garden enthusiasts as well as design and construction professionals over the three day event. In addition, the landscape architect was interviewed on three morning television news programs and in each case explained the design ideas behind the exhibit and made a point to describe the role and skills of landscape architects at the beginning of each interview. The project was recognized as the "Most Educational" exhibit at the garden show and received an Honor Award from ASLA San Diego Chapter in December 2009.
The garden show organizers provided a small stipend to cover materials and also provided some setup labor. Predominantly, the project was a pro bono effort by the landscape architect to provide education to the public and to allow the staff landscape architects to express themselves artistically. The lanterns were built by staff over several weekends and they were present during the three-day event to answer questions. During the three days before the opening of the exhibit, staff spent long hours of hard labor assembling the exhibit until late at night. Two local nurseries loaned approximately 250 plants for the exhibit. Decomposed granite was donated by a local supplier and etching of flagstone pavers for part of the educational component was donated by a local company. All of the lanterns, stone, wood, and planters are being stored for reuse by the landscape architect. They are discussing future temporary exhibit opportunities with the San Diego County Water Authority (wholesale water purveyor), as well as others, in order to continue the education and outreach of this important message.
Schmidt Design Group, Inc.
Glen Schmidt, FASLA, Principal in Charge,
Las Pilitas Nursery
Miramar Wholesale Nurseries
Decorative Stone Solutions, Inc.,
La Jolla Stone Etching
Tara Tarrant Company
Schmidt Design Group, Inc.
San Diego County Water Authority