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The Glenstone Model: A Landscape Plan for Businesses, Municipalities Everywhere

Make it a Point to Visit Maryland Museum in 2012

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At the core of transformative learning theory, according to Wikipedia, is the process of “perspective transformation” with three dimensions: psychological, convictional and behavioral. True transformation in this world, according to many sources, is rare.

It has taken place, however, at a magnificent facility known as Glenstone, an art museum in Potomac, Md.

Prior to a phone call to SafeLawns in the early summer of 2010, the 150-acre facility with 16-acres of manicured lawn, functioned on the premise of IPM, known as integrated pest management in everyday landscape vernacular — or “instant pesticide manipulation” to the skeptics. Tasked with keeping the facility as emerald green and weed free as possible, Glenstone groundskeepers fertilized with synthetic chemicals, sprayed weeds and dealt with insects and fungal diseases with chemicals. They also hired outside contractors to spray plants just in case something might happen in the future.

All that stopped in July of 2010. The organization’s founders provided the psychological and convictional impetus that led to a behavioral change among the grounds crew.

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It was such a major and sudden shift, I can admit to holding my own breath at times. The conventional wisdom, even among some organically oriented landscape professionals, is that the transition to organics takes three to five years. Many believe going organic is inherently “going ugly,” at least for a while.

Although it was never stated to me, part of me felt like if we did fail to deliver a beautiful landscape at any point in time then maybe that conviction to stay the organic course would be tested. Maybe the facility would revert to IPM, which may often loosely be defined as: “it’s OK to use pesticides as a last resort when nothing else is working.”

Eighteen months into one of the largest organic lawn care transformations anywhere in North America the grounds crew has never even had to consider going back. Given the true convictional transformation that has occurred — among the residents, the staff and the landscape crew — I can’t imagine synthetic chemicals will ever be openly sprayed again.

Just a few highlights of the results:

1) The grass has been green and lush, even in times of drought;
2) The lawn is fertilized with only compost top-dressings and sprays of compost tea, with only a single pound of organic nitrogen (alfalfa-based) fertilizer applied each year (per thousand square feet);
3) The limited weed pressure has been dealt with by spot spraying of Fiesta and other organic products, or by hand pulling;
4) The facility has SAVED MONEY on products and labor due to . . .
5) Vastly reduced mowing and watering, as well as elimination of all pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

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The greatest thing about Glenstone from my perspective has been the facility’s willingness, even desire, to share what it’s learning with the world at large. We have hosted group tours with national horticultural dignitaries, held public events for local citizens and, just yesterday, hosted a VIP Open House for the greater DC environmental community. Enthralled attendees reached a unanimous conclusion: Glenstone’s beautiful, sustainable grounds serve as the model for the New American Landscape — where aesthetics and safety can co-exist.

Glenstone is funding research with the University of Maryland’s turfgrass department that is being replicated both at Glenstone and the UMD campus. Within the trials, composts and compost teas will go head to head with synthetic chemical products and results will be made public.

What we know already — stated above — is that Glenstone is saving money, just as any business, municipality or homeowner would if they follow what I call the Glenstone Model: 1) Stay committed; 2) Do it Right; 3) (that means) Don’t be afraid to do things differently.

Glenstone succeeded because it took a leap of faith, even though many of the techniques were inherently different from what had previously given the groundskeepers good results. Remember, Glenstone didn’t change because the grounds looked bad, or because it couldn’t afford the chemicals; Glenstone changed because founders were concerned about human, animal and planetary health within the context of providing a pleasant aesthetic experience to visitors.

I encourage anyone who visits the nation’s capitol to take the time to experience Glenstone, where viewings of the modern art galleries and grounds are arranged by appointment. The place may be the very polar opposite of Disney World, where millions of people visit at once. Glenstone is intended as a serene, intimate experience where the art and architecture integrate elaborately, yet quietly with a grand suburban landscape.

When you’re there, it’s as if you’re a guest in someone’s home — because essentially you are. No money changes hands. No one will try to sell you anything.

That doesn’t mean, however, you won’t leave transformed.

Horticulturists from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and other Mid-Atlantic institutions toured Glenstone in late November.

Horticulturists from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and other Mid-Atlantic institutions toured Glenstone in late November.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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