With numerous breathtaking views, Wake Forest University’s beauty goes beyond the brick and mortar that composes the bones of the campus – it’s also in the Magnolia trees that outline Manchester Plaza, the curry-colored Black-Eyed Susans in front of Alumni Hall, and the Oakleaf Hydrangeas that transition from white to pink, welcoming students into their residence halls. These beautiful plants do more than add to the splendor of campus, however. They are native to the area and therefore support the wellbeing of the local ecology.
As David Davis, WFU manager of landscaping services can attest, successful landscape design entails planning for size, site requirements, and aesthetics. Davis takes it a step further, bearing in mind subtle elements like attraction for pollinators, fragrance, and even sound. One example of this process is the planting of native grasses near a bench where the sound of their dried dormant foliage can be appreciated on a breezy day. Such grasses are just one of the 20-25 staple native cultivars that are incorporated into the Wake Forest landscape.
Davis has planted native species, or what he calls pre-European flora, intentionally. The Winston Hall rain garden, a certified Monarch Waystation might be one of the more familiar native planting sites on campus. Davis is making a point to add “native islands” in parking lots and in front of residence halls too. At the front of Bostwick Residence Hall, he has replaced the English Ivy with a robust mix of native PowWow Wild Berry Coneflowers, switchgrasses, and Moonbeam Coreopsis. Similar native islands were planted near faculty/staff parking lots, F, G, and H.
Although it is evident Davis is a supporter of native plantings, he recognizes that placing only native species across campus is not always appropriate; the microclimates created by the urban environment severely limit plant selection. A hearty mix of natives and non-native species takes advantage of the unique qualities of each plant in the landscape. In front of Alumni Hall, the native Purple Muhly Grass glimmers next to non-native shrubs. At Farrell Hall, the native Sweet Kate pops in a landscape with non-natives like the Japanese Red Maple tree.
It is important to note that principles of sustainability are considered even when incorporating ornamental plants into the landscape. Davis selects vegetation that will thrive in the immediate environment and that requires minimal maintenance. In theory, such considerations may seem obvious. But in reality, aesthetics often outweigh practicality and sustainability for some landscapers.
Davis even opted to go native while landscaping the area around The Barn. Early succession Virginia Pines stand as the backdrop for the LEED Silver-certified building, but it is the surrounding vegetation that warrants a second look. The central island in the driving loop outside The Barn consists of natives that have flourished in the damp environment, fed by the runoff from the road. Other native vegetation frames the area: cedars, American Holly, Bracken Fern, Sassafrass, Eastern Redbuds, Flowering Dogwoods, and Serviceberry trees.
The research and knowledge that is necessary to choose the appropriate cultivars is just one example of the work required to effectively landscape with natives. A current undertaking that requires even more preparation is the invasive plant eradication along the Reynolda Village walking trail. Invasive species targeted for removal include Kudzu, Porcelain Vine, Bush Killer Vine, Wisteria, and Japanese Stilt Grass. EPA and NCDA-approved aquatic herbicides are being sprayed to eliminate the plants along Silas Creek. Once this first phase is complete, the area will be populated with natives that will be aesthetically pleasing, that will provide habitat for pollinators, and will stabilize the soil in the area.
Landscaping with native plants might be considered trendy. For Davis, however, it is not a fleeting idea – it’s a priority. As Wake Forest University strives for excellence in teaching and research, Davis notes that it is important for the facilities to do the same, creating landscaping that reflects the values of the university.
By Hannah Slodounik, Program Coordinator