Three-Star Certified Pilot Project

Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Project Size: 10 acres
Project Type: Open Space - Garden / Arboretum
Site Context: Urban
Former Land Use: Greyfield
Terrestrial Biome: Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests
Budget: $500,000
photo by: Cynthia Druckenbrod

Project Overview

Cleveland’s Public Garden: Modeling Sustainability in the Rustbelt demonstrates best conservation practices on both the institutional and residential scales for Cleveland Botanical Garden’s 140,000 annual visitors, its health care, education and cultural institution neighbors, and the 1.5 million people that pass by this urban landmark each year. Six acres of outdoor display gardens and grounds are visible to the public. By applying sustainable landscaping techniques, and by modifying existing building operations using green practices, the Garden shows the public how to integrate them into their own yards and facilities.

Cleveland Botanical Garden is where this SITES project, "Cleveland's Public Garden" is located. On this map, this makes up numbers 5 and 11 (the Woodland Garden and the Inspiration Gardens).

Regional Context

The Cleveland Botanical Garden is located in Cleveland, Ohio which is in the Eastern Great Lakes Lowlands region, as defined by the EPA. Considered a greyfield, the site is 10 acres of gardens, a visitor center and a mixed woodland broadleaf forest primarily made up of beech-sugar maple mesic forest. It is within the USDA hardiness zone 6 and the typical annual precipitation is 39.87 inches. Soils are Oshtemo Sandy loam.

SITES Features + Practices

Low-maintenance Lawn: This lawn showcases an alternative to traditional turf by interpreting the multiple benefits of a low-mow lawn which requires no additional irrigation, fertilization or weekly mowing. Approximate size: 0.13 acres.

Rain Garden: The Rain Garden displays native plants that can thrive in extended wet periods. It also shows guests the benefits of permeable asphalt, and helped the Garden solve specific flooding issues along the main visitor pathway. Approximate size: 0.02 acres.

Vegetated Roof: Guests are educated on the many benefits of green roofs including energy savings, storm water storage, plantings for pollinators and extending the roof's life. Approximate size: 0.07 acres.

Native Plantings: The woodland garden is an ideal place to showcase and emphasize the importance of native plants. Invasive plants will be eradicated and a great number of new native plants will be added to enhance the riparian area and to continue to improve the two acre woodlands in the city. Approximate size: 2.49 acres.

Onsite Food Production: Growing food crops onsite, offering the bounty free to the general public, and coordinating associated educational programming helps Garden visitors to understand the possibilities of growing produce at home.


Design team members contributed in their fields of expertise enabling the completion of the varied projects at the Botanical Garden. The collaborative process enabled complex issues to be solved. Additionally, the team worked closely with outside contractors to ensure that operations were sustainable, that materials were sourced locally and sustainably manufactured, and that materials were recycled whenever possible.

Maintenance + Stewardship

Sustainability is part of the Cleveland Botanical Garden's culture. All new employees are trained in the Garden's message and brand which includes sustainable operations at its core. Cleveland Botanical Garden's Sustainability Action Committee will oversee maintenance and operations to ensure adherance to sustainability principles established in 2008.

Additionally, the site maintenance plan will be reviewed annually by a Sustainability Action Committee. The goal is to calculate the site's ecological footprint at least every two years and reduce that number by 15% by 2012. Several different SITES-specific monitoring measures were conducted to review sustainability awareness and education at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. Surveying visitors at sustainability programs and conducting observations of visitors at the garden sustainable exhibits is already established and ongoing at the Garden.

The Cleveland Botanical Garden attracts over 150,000 visitors per year. The hope is that they leave the Botanical Garden with a better understanding of sustainable principles and a better appreciation of the importance of ecosystem services. The Garden is also reaching out to various local organizations that are considering SITES certification to consult with them on how to move forward. East Boulevard before landscape improvements

Site Challenges

The Cleveland Botanical Garden faced a few difficulties when implementing SITES. Renewable energy was a challenge because the only available utility provider does not offer an option for obtaining site electricity from renewable resources and the Garden's budget and space limitations did not allow for the installation of renewable energy sources on site. The service area size is too small to allow composting vegetation trimmings on site, so trimmings are sent off-site for composting. Budget constraints also limited the potential square footage of green roof space that could be developed.

Project Goals + Successes

The Cleveland Botanical Garden’s mission is to spark a passion for plants and cultivate an understanding of their vital relationship to people and the environment. The Garden's guiding principles include the stewardship of biodiversity, enriching lives through plants, collaborating to achieve a greater impact, and sustainable use of resources. In the Garden’s strategic plan over the next five years, a commitment has been made to growing through socially and ecologically responsible practices. As a pilot project through the Sustainable Sites Initiative, the completion of an in-depth assessment of operations protocols helped inform how to follow best maintenance practices. The Initiative served as a guide in making the most sustainable decisions regarding new enhancements and projects within the largest gardens. The certification of Cleveland's Public Garden as a sustainable site will allow the Botanical Garden to set an example for others in the fields of landscape development in our region.

Lessons Learned

One of the lessons learned through the SITES certification process is that documenting all aspects of the project is of utmost importance.

Now that Cleveland's Public Garden is certified, SITES principles are being incorporated into all landscaping and operating projects at the Garden.

Project Team

Cleveland Botanical Garden
Cynthia Druckenbrod, Director of Horticulture - Project coordinator
Andrew Pratt, Former Grounds Manager
Ann McCulloh, Curator of Collections
Larry Giblock, Horticulturist
Tony Figliola, Facilities Manager

URS Corporation
Shannon Forry, ASLA, LEED AP, Graduate Landscape Architect
Tom Evans, ASLA, LEED AP, Manager, Landscape Architecture

Doty and Miller Architects
William Doty, Jr., LEED AP

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