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The corporate world embraces native plants

Most corporate properties have pretty “standard” landscaping, meaning the plants do very little if anything to support the local ecosystem. More and more, though, we are seeing innovative landscape designs on commercial properties that demonstrate the potential for corporations to be leaders in the effort to save the natural world, starting on their own land. While they are at it, they are creating beautiful and welcoming spaces for their clients and employees.

One example of this approach is the work done at the recently-opened Kaiser Permanente medical centers in Springfield and Woodbridge (Caton Hill). Both properties are richly landscaped with trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials that are almost entirely native to Northern Virginia (the few exceptions are non-invasive.)

According to Alton Millwood, director of Planning, Design and Construction at Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic, “The landscape design at Caton Hill Medical Center focused on allowing the natural environment to be a part of the community’s wellness plan. There is an abundance of research showing that exposure to nature can lower our heart rate, alleviate mental distress, speed recovery rates, and even alleviate symptoms of mental disorders. This is why Kaiser Permanente felt it was important to keep natural woodland areas on the project site and invite people into those space with trails and areas to sit and relax. Additionally, the native plants used on the site help to create a healthier environment by providing food and habitat for birds and other wildlife, conserving water, and reducing noise and pollution associated with mowing. It only made sense that if we were going to involve the natural environment for our own health that we would do what we could to improve the health of the environment.”

Another goal of the project was to help our region meet its stormwater goals in order to protect the local streams and the Chesapeake Bay. The planting beds and the rooftop meadow decrease the amount of runoff from impervious surfaces. Design considerations included using a variety of native plant species to provide four-season interest, using low-maintenance plants that will not require long-term watering, and choosing species that will grow to the appropriate size for their locations so that important sight lines remain open and safe.

The reaction of employees and patients alike has been extremely positive. “Many members and staff have taken advantage of the outside seating, walked through the Gardens and Health Park to immerse themselves in nature and its healing benefits, and observed the rooftop meadow flowers in full bloom, with birds and pollinators busy in their tasks.”

Asked what would be his advice to other corporations, Alton replied, “Using sustainable design practices such as planting native plants is good for people and the environment – it is a win-win. For corporations, sustainable design can impact their bottom line, too. Native plants are more likely to live long and thrive in our environment. They require less maintenance, less fertilizer and pesticides, and less water. All this adds up to savings for the owner. Hiring a like-minded design professionals can help you create places like Caton Hill Medical Center that help benefit our community and the local ecosystem.”

More photos of this and other corporate or small business landscaping projects can be found on the Commercial Landscaping page on the Plant NOVA Natives website.

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