As landscape architect Margot Taylor walks past her small pond, she pauses to greet a few of its residents: two large and brazenly vocal bullfrogs.
"After we built this, they showed up pretty much right away," said Taylor. "All it took was a good rain. They know where to be. It just goes to show you."
Taylor's property along rural Creek Road outside Kennett Square was recently selected by the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) to participate in a pilot program designed to evaluate a new rating system for sustainable landscapes.
SITES is a partnership established in 2005 by The American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden. It was originally established to create an official set of voluntary guidelines for those who wish to design sustainably.
The project includes 174 participants in 34 states and Canada, Iceland and Scotland. Participating landscapes are rated on such criteria as site selection, soil, vegetation, human health and well-being, materials, construction, and maintenance.
The project's eventual goals include restoring habitats, rehabilitating landfills, cleaning and storing stormwater, lowering the urban heat effect and creating outdoor educational activities.
The study will continue until June 2012, and the results and final reference guide will be released in 2013.
For Taylor, a longtime resident of the sustainable community, the decision to participate in the project was easy.
"My transition into sustainable design began around 1993," Taylor said. "The horticulture community was introducing the concept of native plants and who should grow them. I found myself trying to teach customers what was right for the community and the environment as a salesperson. Then, in 1996, I made the commitment to switch into education."
Taylor went on to receive her master's degree in education with a focus on environmental education, and she later spent six months running two nonprofit environmental education programs and volunteering in her township as a spokeswoman for resource management.
"I finally got the chance to teach people what was right for the environment," Taylor said. "Now I'm able to speak the speak and walk the walk by telling people what's best for their property because I do it myself. I decided to participate in SITES because the program could marry my love of architecture, understanding natural systems, and teaching people how to have a relationship with the land."
Taylor's hillside 1.5-acre property consists of a house originally constructed in 1933 by tenant farmers and a fenced-in piece of land composed of both wooded areas and meadow. Additionally, the site boasts a straw bale hut with a roof covered in living plants and moss as well as multiple gardens consisting entirely of native plants and grasses.
Each garden was designed by Taylor with a specific purpose in mind to fulfill the human health and well-being aspect of the SITES survey.
A small, shaded grove off the main house offers Taylor and her husband a place for morning coffee. A large, sunlit, hillside clearing with a spiral pathway of stones was created to give visitors a quiet place for contemplation and reflection.
"Part of having a relationship with the earth and community at whole involves relaxing and taking those moments for personal rejuvenation,"
Taylor pointed out. "Stop! Pause! We're always going!"
As a landscape architect focusing in sustainable design, Taylor sees a slow
but hopeful future for sustainable construction.
"We have a problem in our system of economics in that we don't equate the value of ecosystem services," Taylor said. "But I do see municipal leadership changing rules and requirements for how things are done, and much more garden industries business.
"We've been handed a very difficult series of problems, but if we look at it like a puzzle, we can achieve better care of our water and soil, protect our culture, and obtain personal and spiritual rejuvenation."