US Mission Geneva “Goes Native” With Planting of Geneva Prairie Grasses

Sustantainable Landscaping Plan for the U.S. Mission in GenevaUS Mission Geneva “Goes Native” With Planting of Geneva Prairie Grasses
Joins Geneva biodiversity collaboration by planting grounds with special indigenous seed mix

On April 20, 2011, the United States Mission to the United Nations in Geneva will celebrate its signature of Geneva’s Garden Charter (Charte des Jardins) with a seed sowing ceremony beginning the conversion of the lawns surrounding our building to meadows of flowering prairie grasses indigenous to the Geneva region.

The conversion from lawn to prairie meadow marks the first major step in implementation of an ambitious multi-year sustainable landscape project to transform the Mission’s grounds into a series of local ecosystems that will support local flora and fauna and connect us with the larger Geneva environment.

In signing the Garden Charter, a collaborative project among Swiss Cantons, the U.S. Mission assumes a commitment to organize our land in a way that enables the survival of wildlife. This includes not using biocides, planting grasses instead of lawns, and leaving havens for small animals such as heaps of stones, or piles of branches. The Garden Charter plaque with its symbolic hedgehog will stand at our main entrance next to the Certified Wildlife Habitat sign awarded in 2009 when the Mission became the first State Department facility certified by the U.S. National Wildlife Federation.

Based on the “Melange-Geneve” blend of Geneva wildflower and grass species developed by the Canton of Geneva’s Conservation office, the Mission’s new meadow will increase local biodiversity, while also curbing water use and carbon emissions and reducing maintenance costs.

“We expect that over time the expanse of prairie grasses will become home to a host of regional flora and fauna,” said Ambassador Betty E. King, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva.  “By virtue of our close proximity to other green spaces, we will be able to contribute our meadow to a chain – including gardens at international organizations and other diplomatic Missions nearby –forming a green corridor of hospitable terrain for the likes of birds, hedgehogs, butterflies, and rodents. Being a good neighbor in Geneva also means being a good neighbor to the diverse species, large and small, in our shared environment.”

The Melange-Geneve features flowering wild grasses including Salvia pratensis (Meadow Sage) with its vertical stalks of purple and blue flowers, and the white flowered umbrels of the Caraway (Carum carvi) or Medidian Fennel. The meadow will expand the habitat for Geneva animal and insect species including butterflies such as the Old World Swallowtail (Papilio machaon), many species of birds, and of course the Garden Charter mascot, the hedgehogs, which feeds on the seeds of the plants.

“Choosing to plant prairie grasses rather than a cultivated lawn helps to rebuild biodiversity literally from the ground up,” said Bertrand von Arx, Nature Conservationist for the Canton of Geneva. “I’m pleased to see that Geneva’s biodiversity corridors are taking root in international Geneva as well. Projects like this one help to rebuild food chains. That in turn has an expanded impact beyond each individual garden’s walls. Adding native grasses to your garden favors the diversity of plants and animals and can even contribute to preserving our rarest and most endangered species.”

Sharing a Larger Green Commitment

As a member of the League of Green Embassies, the U.S. Mission is part of a global network of diplomatic posts which aspire to introduce innovative solutions, influence individuals and institutions in host countries and to play an important role in mobilizing public action.

The prominence of the Mission building in Geneva and the fact that the Mission is regularly visited by diplomats and political figures from around the world were factors when State Department selected Geneva as its“Flagship Post for Energy and Sustainability. The building is the site of the installation of the largest solar energy project ever undertaken by the Department of State overseas and home to an innovative magnetic levitation (MaglevTM) chiller air conditioning system that runs a virtually friction-free compressor.

Seeking ways to further improve the sustainability of the building and grounds, diplomats and staff at the U.S. Mission formed a “Green Team” which worked with the American Association of Landscape Architects (ASLA) to invite a team of young landscape architecture students to draft a sustainable landscape design for our grounds.

Nine American students spent two weeks in Geneva in August 2009 working alongside three landscape architecture students from a leading Swiss landscape design institute.  They delivered a comprehensive, sustainable landscape design which we hope to implement in phases over the coming five years. The conversion of half of our main lawn to natural grasses is the first step in the plan.  The next step, which will begin in the coming months, will be to remodel the Mission’s main entrance into a plaza and green roof that will be more attractive and offer additional biodiversity niches.

For more information about Green Efforts at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, please visit our Green Mission blog: http://www.green-mission.info.