Green infrastructure is an emerging market that has important ramifications for the horticulture industry. That is, if growers, designers and other industry players prepare ahead of time and take a proactive approach to grasp the opportunities that come their way as this area continues to gain momentum. That is the important message that Debbie Hamrick, director of specialty crops for the North Carolina Farm Bureau sought to leave with audiences during her “Green Infrastructure = Green Opportunity?” presentation during Cultivate’15, held in July.
“Green infrastructure is the most important opportunity for the industry — plant production and landscape management — that I have seen in my lifetime,” said Hamrick during her presentation.
Opportunity Lies In Keeping Water Where It Falls, Says Hamrick
Green infrastructure at its most basic level is an approach to water management that utilizes natural areas for stormwater control, flood protection, and ultimately, better air and water quality. Landscape features like stormwater wetlands, bioretention basins, rain gardens and vegetated swales protect or restore the natural water cycle by soaking up and storing water that would normally run (unfiltered by pollution) off impervious surfaces into the lakes, rivers and oceans that make up our water supplies.
“A tangible, real benefit of plants is managing stormwater,” said Hamrick.
She went on to say in her presentation that mandated regulation is driving green infrastructure in urban areas as large cities like Seattle and New York and smaller municipalities invest in projects to comply with EPA water standards. Two examples she gave are Philadelphia’s $2 million investment in a 25-year plan to convert 15 square miles into permeable surfaces using green infrastructure, and the current campaign to install 12,000 rain gardens in the Seattle/Puget Sound Region by 2016.
Hamrick said this creates an opening for the horticulture industry to source plant material and provide other related services like consulting, designing and collaborating with the contractors charged with implementing green infrastructure projects.
Plants Make Or Break Green Infrastructure Projects
One of the major challenges with green infrastructure is the plants that are so vital to its success. Unfortunately, those choosing plants for the projects or developing required plant lists are too often landscape architects and engineers unfamiliar with plant habitats and their appearances and functionality, as well as their regional adaptability and maintenance requirements. Horticulturists, landscape designers and growers — those who have an invaluable knowledge of plants and their functions — are too often missing from the equation, says Hamrick, and that needs to change.
“We need to work together as an industry to develop the science on this issue, and help these groups understand how plants function” she said. “This is an opportunity to redefine how we sell plants.”
Hamrick said she believes the horticulture industry is paramount to the success of green infrastructure. Since green infrastructure is still an emerging market that is not quite there yet, she gave our industry this call to action, saying that now is the time to position ourselves to not only have a voice in how green infrastructure plays out, but also to take full advantage of a new avenue for growth.