The way Douglas Owens-Pike sees it, people can spend less time and money on their landscaping, all the while creating more beautiful, resilient yards. They can reduce their grass-cutting and their use of inputs and yet be more confident in their garden’s well-being and ability to withstand the challenges of severe weather events like record-breaking snow in April or extreme heat waves in August. People just need to think beyond turf grass and foundation plantings, with a little help from someone knowledgeable in sustainable land care.
“You can become a grower instead of a mower,” this eco-landscaping expert says pithily, and will gladly share the benefits of this approach, including creating native habitat that attracts songbirds, bees and butterflies, and installing landscape features like raingardens and swales that divert storm water from polluting our lakes and streams.
Owens-Pike recently joined Metro Blooms staff to lead the development of the Blue Thumb Sustainable Landcare training program, which teaches people maintenance skills in ecological gardening. Among other things, he is preparing educational materials on alternative turf, training Conservation Corps and other youth crews in plant identification and vegetation management, and talking to property owners about managing native plants and invasives in their raingardens. “It’s part of the education process, to learn what needs to be controlled and what needs to be nurtured,” he says.
Though he joined the staff only recently, Owens-Pike has long been a familiar presence at Metro Blooms and within the local native and sustainable landscape community. He won a gardening award in 1995 from Metro Blooms for his home garden. Aside from being beautiful, his garden was built on sustainable principles, deliberately using native plants to create habitat—rather uncommon for the time. He has served on Blue Thumb’s steering committee and, more recently, on Metro Blooms’ board of directors.
Owens-Pike also has decades of field experience and knowledge. He has a master’s degree in plant ecology from University of Washington. For 27 years he owned EnergyScapes, an eco-landscaping business. These days he is transforming an old farm in Wisconsin into a sort of outdoor lab, with raingarden demonstration areas and a passive solar home and greenhouse. With support from a USDA EQIP grant, he is turning several acres into pollinator meadows, using native flowers and grasses, and he keeps bees there. He has also written Beautifully Sustainable, a compact book that gives practical knowledge about making your landscaping more sustainable while creating less work for yourself.
As an educator, Owens-Pike likes teaching people specific ways to achieve sustainable goals. For example, he recommends locating trees and shrubs very deliberately on your property to create windbreaks in the winter and shade in the summer, saving on energy bills. He also urges people not to cut their grass so short because short blades stress the plants and allow the ground to heat up more. Future plans include starting an “invasive plant of the week” blog, complete with pictures, that focuses on which plant species deserve top priority given current plant maturity, across the metro region.
Owens-Pike is optimistic about landscaping for sustainability in Minneapolis and other cities. “There’s a tremendous groundswell of interest and effort underway in urban areas,” he says. Metro Blooms, and Douglas himself, are thrilled to be a part of this movement.