By Michael Lindquist
Landscape Design Student, University of Pennsylvania
From Green Landscape Journal: A Blog by the Team of Landscape Architects Working to Redesign the U.S. Mission Grounds
On Tuesday our group visited the site of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or the IUCN. I was excited to hear that we’d be visiting the IUCN because it is an immense coalition of nonprofit organizations that has been the major player in the conservation of biodiversity, especially in Europe. I remember researching the organization’s work when designing an exhibition about biodiversity as an undergraduate.
The grounds of the IUCN certainly stand in contrast with the organization’s sleek modern LEED-certified building and the adjacent tidy agricultural and suburban landscapes. The staff have boldly let the weeds grow in the front in an effort to exhaust the seed banks of the topsoil (by letting the weed seeds germinate and then harvesting the weeds before they can set seed). They also bring in native meadow hay as mulch to introduce native seed and microorganisms back into the soil.
So despite looking like the neglected yard of a crazy neighbor, the front yard was being closely monitored. This was explained to us in a wonderfully thick French accent by botanist Florian Meier, who in his shorts and loafers, then took us toward the back of the grounds on an exploration of the various microclimates of the site (dry and rocky, water-table wetlands, forest edges, etc.) and explained what the staff were doing to guide the evolution of these microclimates. The grounds in at the back building had been guided for 18 years and showed the results of such careful tending: a myriad of mosses, herbs, insects, shrubs, trees, and birds. It was truly a rich and beautiful environment to experience.
The patience and thoughtful care of the landscape was inspiring and the richness of species on the site made me feel hopeful about restoration efforts I may be involved with in the future. I also appreciated how the landscape so strongly reflected the goals and ideals of the organization inside the building.