Report from the Design + Restoration Department

Above: Part of the CUH landscape restoration crew at Brumfield Elementary School in Northern Virginia. From left to right, field techs Julia, Ashley, Maren, Lance, and Jessie. Image by Rachel Floyd.

The 2020 Roundup

Project Manager, Rachel Floyd, and field tech Zadie Nassetta, at the IX Art Park “Pollocks Branch and Meadow” installation. Image selfie, by Rachel.

What a year! 2020 was a year of cultural upheaval, and this presented many challenges. We have emerged the stronger for it, having made the changes needed to continue to grow and have a positive impact. The people of the Piedmont continue to express a desire and willingness to learn more about restoring the landscapes they live with in order to support biodiversity. Thanks to the support of our beloved clients and partners, we accomplished ecological restoration in the designed landscape setting at 41 different project sites in 2020. We planted 20,325 native plants! Through these efforts we reached people where they live with natural history education, thereby pulling them into the fold of an ever-growing army of stewards!

Cross Section of the south half of a boardwalk and constructed storm-water basin. It will serve as an interactive living exhibit of Blue Ridge wetland ecology near the front entrance of Blue Ridge Discovery Center (while buffering the Center’s rain runoff before it reaches the montane stream nearby. Section by Devin Floyd.

Landscape Design

Many of the projects we accomplished this year were already underway. We added 16 new natural community-modeled design projects in 2020, and 14 of those have already moved to the implementation phase! Our approach to design ensures we are permitting a landscape to reach toward its natural trajectory, to include natural levels of richness and diversity, and to provide the context that animals need to thrive. Our designs ranged from large scale natural history education center designs (Blue Ridge Discovery Center) to small rain gardens in urban backyards. The designs included projects focused on restoration, expansion, and management of an existing natural resource (such as the remnant grassland at the home of Cheryl Lewis in Orange County, Va.) and exciting new designs, including a substantial outdoor ecology classroom (Brumfield Elementary School in Northern Virginia).

A view across an ultramafic prairie restoration in the semi-formal entrance garden at The Quarry Gardens at Schuyler. CUH designed and installed the gardens, including the dry-laid soapstone walls. Photograph by Rachel Floyd.

Landscaping

As you have gleaned, we are not ornamental landscapers. We do ecological restoration in the designed landscape, and our primary mission with every project is to advance biodiversity education. We are actively engaged in post-design landscaping at 39 different restoration sites spread across a 5-county area in Central Virginia. Activities include site preparation, plant procurement, installation, weeding, and a sensitive approach to shepherding the installations across a 3-year installation timeline. We strive to engage clients, their families, and communities during the process. Getting them directly involved is a requirement of each project (in order to satisfy our education mission). 

Client and supporter, Carl Wise, looks on as the burn boss, Ryan Lepsch and field tech, Jessie Wingo, get a prescribed burn rolling through a backyard prairie. Image by Devin Floyd.

Prescribed Fire and Grassland Restoration. Our fire crew began the year by accomplishing prescribed burns at 7 different restoration sites scattered around Albemarle County, Virginia. As we near the end of 2020 we are making plans for this winter’s burns. We expect to do 10 this year, and we hope that number continues to climb annually. Prescribed burns are conducted in order to reintroduce fire to landscapes that had it for millennia, and in doing so we ignite the spark of diversity. While this is particularly important in grasslands (prairies, savannas, woodlands, and wetlands), fire is also an integral part of biodiversity in forested landscapes such as chestnut oak heaths and acidic oak-hickory forests!

Devin Floyd teaches a class of landscape design students from Piedmont Virginia Community College. The classroom is in one of CUH’s 2015 landscape installations. Image by Professor Nathan Miller, of the PVCC Biology Department.

Education Landscaping, Classes, Seminars

Despite the setbacks of the global pandemic, we were able to reach a large audience with education through online forums, outreach, and publication. To highlight this point, here’s a quick overview. We delivered ecological restoration classes to youth, including college level classes at Virginia Tech  and Piedmont Virginia Community College and a 6th grade class at Peabody School in Charlottesville. Thanks to the ongoing support of The Quarry Gardens in Schuyler, VA., we delivered socially-distanced place-based education for adult volunteers every Friday within the context of some of our best installation examples. Thanks to the support of the James River Association, we delivered a keynote presentation focused on grassland restoration and environmental equity to a wide audience at the Buffer Summit of the Middle and Upper James Riparian Consortium. Thanks to the donations of our supporters, we were able to publish 4 new educational sheets through our “Illustrated Plants of the Piedmont” initiative, each relaying the natural history of a plant species considered within the designed landscape. It was a busy year, but we are just getting warmed up. Expect our education outreach to double in 2021!

Tiny monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexxipus) in the clay-stained palm of Executive Director, Devin Floyd. Image by Ryan M. Kelly.

Thank you! To our clients, donors, volunteers, partners, and hard working staff, we cannot express enough appreciation and gratitude for your ongoing support. You’ve allowed us to experiment over the years with a very progressive and effective means of accomplishing education and conservation. We’ve created hundreds of little nodes of natural history education, one property at a time! It’s a model for success and we plan to build on this to fully realize the benefits of your efforts and investments of time, energy, materials, and money. Education and Conservation will be evermore on the front burner, and we want you, our “Founding Trustees”, to know that none of it would be possible without you!