This program is being funded, in part, by grants from the John Newman Family Charitable Trust and Bamberger Charitable Fund, both of the San Antonio Area Foundation; the Shield-Ayres Foundation; and the Alice Kleberg Reynolds Foundation; as well as generous gifts from NPSOT chapters and members.
Richard Louv in Last Child in the Woods, points out that the baby boomers are the last generation of Americans to share an intimate, familial attachment to the land and water, while the importance of nature to our well-being has been demonstrated by numerous studies correlating improved learning, an increased sense of well-being, and reduced crime in neighborhoods with trees and parks. In addition, folks don’t save something they don’t love, so we want to help them do so.
The Native Plant Society of Texas created the Landscape Certification Program in order to contribute to a migration of Texans back to nature that will reap priceless benefits for our families, environment, and economy.
The program is a series of courses that teaches Best Management Practices (BMPs) for native plant landscape and habitat preservation and introduction. Presentations are PowerPoint documents, with BMPs separated from locally-specific knowledge to allow for adoption by Native Plant Society of Texas chapters across the state. Targeted audiences are native plant enthusiasts, landscape architects, architects, landscape designers and nurserymen, Master Naturalists, teachers, citizens, Master Gardeners, engineers, and more.
Certification is currently offered only in San Antonio and in Dallas/Ft Worth. Future plans are to offer it in all the major cities of Texas.
Level 1 is a one-day introductory discussion of the value of native plants in landscapes as well as the need for the protection and use of natives in construction and established landscapes. This is a great entry-level introduction for even the most casual of learners and can be the basis for ongoing public education. It describes the ecoregions of the area. It talks about the cultural needs of plants, water and light needs, and design qualities. The class is taught adjacent to a natural area so we can provide instruction in native plant identification, including trees, shrubs, forbs and grasses, their use in the landscape, as well as common exotics found in the landscape. At each level students are introduced to forty plants, the most recognizable being featured in Level 1, known to be native to and historically found in the area.
Level 2 separates the dilettantes from the potentially informed citizen, volunteer enthusiast and leader—and thus has fewer enrollees. It shows what it possible during development instead of “moon-scaping.” It addresses the BMPs associated with development, including the decisions on what plants to keep, how to protect them during construction, what to choose to plant in new beds, and how to manage them afterwards. It describes local ordinances and the political process for creating and revising them, such as the tree ordinance. It covers irrigation and maintenance, landscape design, the cultural and environmental value native plants can bring to common landscaping practices, the negative impact of invasive species introduced into the landscape, and the substitution of particular natives for particular exotics. After this class, no one will be able to confuse our students into believing the developers have no choice but to denature their property.
Each level has been defined by an original vision that is modified as we proceed. Future topics may include: deeper details on the geology, soils, climate, and ecological processes of our region; land use issues; drought, flood, and desertification; plant community characteristics; choosing the right plant for the right landscape or ecological use; maintaining landscapes; succession in the landscape; irrigation; rainwater use; basic environmental restoration principles and practices; riparian plants; supporting state and local conservation plans and programs; urban development using environmental principles such as Low Impact Development and Sustainable Sites Initiative; potential advocacy approaches; working with the public; field surveys, or preserving habitats.
Level 4 will define the dedicated volunteer or expert and will be available only to Native Plan Society of Texas members. Designed to be self-perpetuating, Level 4 students (and possibly Level 3) will teach the lower levels and/or provide other services to Native Plant Society of Texas programs or community projects in exchange for credits that will maintain their yearly certification. Further education will also be given credit. Students receive certificates for each level and a website is being planned where graduates who wish can be listed along with their certification levels and status and links to their websites or emails. This will attract professionals who want to add the certification to their credentials, with some built-in publicity for them.
The project was conceived by former Native Plant Society of Texas President Melissa Miller and former San Antonio city arborist Debbie Reid, who helped found the Texas Master Naturalist program. Melissa continues to guide the program as Project Coordinator.
Collaborative Partners have included RVK Architects, City of San Antonio, Alamo Area Master Naturalists, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Boerne Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and Northeast Independent School District.
Project Personnel have included Mark Bird, City Arborist, City of San Antonio; Michael Nentwich, San Antonio City Forester; Larry Hicks, Landscape Architect-Principle, RVK Architects; Judit Green, Urban Biologist, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; and Thea Platz, Outdoor Education Specialist, Northeast Independent School District.
Native Plant Society members who have helped include Betty Dunn, Director Cytogenetics Program, Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, UT Health Science Center; Kathy Ward, PhD, retired geologist from the Center for Science and Mathematics Education at Our Lady of the Lake University; Liz Branch, Coordinator of Alamo Area Master Naturalists, retired teacher; Lottie Millsaps, graduate of the first Master Naturalist class; and Bea Caraway, Associate Professor, Trinity University, Coates Library. Others have stepped forward to help us conduct the classes and keep track of enrollment.
The outcomes we seek are a stronger, more active chapter with improved service to the community, which appears to be happening, at least partly due to the program. We look forward to increased use and cultural acceptance of native plants in urban landscapes and rejection of invasives, improved marketability of native plants, a greater sense of place for residents and visitors, appreciation by landowners of their land’s natural assets, increased community rejection of destruction of natural resources, increased production of native plants by the horticulture industry, increased presence of “desirable” wildlife species in urban landscapes and reduced undesirable wildlife, such as grackles, and increased advocacy by licensed professionals for native plants.