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University of Kentucky Landscape
Architecture Students

Sustainability at the Kentucky Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

By Ned Crankshaw, Professor and Chair,
University of Kentucky Department of Landscape Architecture


Landscape architecture students from the University of Kentucky created bioswales and a wet meadow at the Kentucky Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. The bioswales are registered Monarch Waystations, creating habitat for monarch butterflies.



: The wet meadow and bioswales were designed and constructed by students using plants grown by the horticulture club. Students and faculty are studying the movement of water through the systems.

In December 2014, the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Kentucky learned that we were one of the awardees for the First Annual University of Kentucky Sustainability Challenge Grant. The project's goal was to improve the performance, education, and aesthetics next to the Arboretum Entrance Road through the use of three bioswales that infiltrate, filtrate, provide much needed pollinator habitat, and slow runoff reaching the downstream system. Additionally, we set out to demonstrate how this could be done on a small budget while still performing long-term ecosystem services. The Arboretum seemed like a natural place to demonstrate how plants provide these services and a natural captive audience to educate; our hope was to spread understanding of upland infiltration.

We are currently monitoring how the water moves through the system and what types of pollutants from the adjacent parking lot are trapped in the swales along Arboretum Drive. The reason we wanted to slow stormwater runoff was to lessen our effects on local streams. Impervious surfaces throughout Lexington, Kentucky increase storm water runoff to local streams, providing excess storm sewer supply and creating a flashy, dangerous, and polluted stream system. These bioswales are nationally registered as a Monarch Waystation, which creates habitat for monarchs as they move south to their overwintering regions.

During the spring semester of 2015, the landscape architecture class Water in the Urbanizing Landscape took on the challenge of designing, assessing measurements, and constructing the bioswales. During that time, plants were being grown by the Horticulture Club in the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment's own greenhouses. By the fall of 2015, the swales had been established and were under the close supervision of Arboretum staff and monitored by faculty from the Department of Landscape Architecture.

In December 2016, we were awarded a second grant to install a wet meadow and pervious paving near the Arboretum's Children's Garden. The Wet Meadow project is located just to the west of the Children's Garden and provides a place for children to observe nature and pollinators before and after their time in the garden. More importantly, this wet meadow is a large portion of a holistic upland stormwater management system that infiltrates runoff from the impervious parking area before it moves to the stream. We now infiltrate and filter most all (about 85%) of the parking lot and drive runoff before it leaves the Arboretum. The wet meadow was also designed and constructed by students with staff assistance, and will be maintained and studied by students.

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August 22, 2019, 3:18 am PDT

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