by James Sottilo
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on May 14, 2019.
James Sottilo passed away on April 23, 2019. James contributed his expertise and his passion to making soils better for landscapes, and the world as a whole. This was his last entry for The Field.
Here’s looking at you, Sustainability.
Today more than ever sustainability is used in our line of work; designing and managing green spaces that reflect the value of the word. It only makes sense that nature remain, as she always has, sustainable.
Over the past several years our team has worked on projects across the United States. These national experiences have exposed us to a variety of natural soils and fauna such as the gumbo clays and wildflower meadows of Southeast Texas, the high silt soils along the Mississippi River, the clay loams of the West Coast, and the forests of the Northeast.
Nature by herself always seems to have the answers to the questions we are asking when designing and building new landscapes. It is our job to dissect the ecological behaviors of the landscape, explain them, and apply them in our work.
There are times when we believe we have unlocked certain secrets of the Earth and developed efforts unparalleled, but eventually science and/or technology deem these efforts linear or one dimensional when compared to her.
Our efforts are stretching beyond the industrial landscape plane and asking the critical questions to scientists and academics that are not part of the main stream landscape franchise. Foresters for example have a different perspective on certain ecologies, scientists in the management of human microbiology have in-depth knowledge on bacteria and how they grow and respond. Agronomists, who manage thousands of acres of farm land, may look at soil completely differently than you and I—yet all of these individuals have insight into the same problems our industry faces such as soil compaction, pH, lack of nutrients, etc.
Soils are the foundation of the landscape and plants are the engineers of the ecosystem. One cannot survive without the other. Questions that we are often faced with include, where does the plant end and the soil begin? Is it realistic to have a specification on soil and second specification on planting? Should both be combined into one specification as a system?
As of now we are still figuring out the answers to those questions but perhaps as we adapt changing paradigms, our soils and plants will shift into performance specifications and eliminate the constant finger pointing when a problem arises with the health of the landscape.