2009-09-03 / Top News

Botanical Garden's irrigation system up for 'smart water' award

BY ELIZABETH KELLAR Special to Florida Weekly

The irrigation system at Naples Botanical Garden is up for an award. The irrigation system at Naples Botanical Garden is up for an award. On your next visit to the Naples Botanical Garden, take time to stop and smell the sprinklers.

The garden's irrigation system may not be as breathtaking as its beautiful flowers and plants, but it's an essential element of the property's management, and helped the garden be named as a finalist for Rain Bird's 2009 Intelligent Use of Water Leadership Award. Rain Bird is a manufacturer and provider of irrigation products and services.

Judges recognized the botanical garden for its commitment to high performance and the integration of sustainable green building practices. By adopting the water use goals for LEED Gold Certification, the garden is a leader in freshwater conservation and management.

Its design includes numerous water conservation features, such as parking lot bioswales and the "River of Grass" garden, which acts as a natural filtration system.

Four other gardens in the United States are finalists for the third annual award, including Hui o Ko'olaupoko in Kailua, Hawaii, and Queens Botanical Garden in Flushing, N.Y. The winner will be announced at the WaterSmart Innovations Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas on Oct. 8, where it will be awarded $10,000 and featured in a short film.

Clarence Tears, director of the South Florida Water Management District's Big Cypress Basin, believes the garden's national nod is duly earned.

"They are in the forefront, I think," Mr. Tears said of the botanical garden.

He noted how the garden's leaders considered the property's future and began planning for it at the outset. One of the savviest decisions was to find ways to capture rainwater and use it to satisfy the garden's needs, Mr. Tears said. Doing that means a reduction in irrigation, but also benefits botanicals, which thrive on nutrient-rich rainwater.

Brian Holley, director of the Naples Botanical Garden, said the garden's goal is to be a long-term, sustainable institution that creates the minimum possible environmental footprint.

"It isn't just for 10 years from now or 50 years from now," Mr. Holley said. "Hopefully it's for 500 years from now."

The garden's water management system has several eco-friendly sides, he explained. The drip irrigation system directs water where it's needed, allowing fertilizer to be most effective and reducing run-off. Elsewhere, the bio-swales aid in water treatment by removing pollutants as the water flows downhill to enter the property's irrigation lakes and, finally, wetlands.

"The water quality, by the time it gets there, is very, very high," he said. "We feel very good that it's a sustainable system."

The garden also includes other environmentally smart additions, such as solar-powered wells and weather stations to measure rainfall.

"I think as we go forward, it's going to be a tremendous system," Mr. Holley said.

The 170-acre garden site is located at the corner of Bayshore Drive and Thomasson Drive in East Naples, and includes 90 acres of permanent conservation. In June 2008, the gardens closed to undergo an extensive expansion project.

Phase One of the renovated gardens is 45 acres and reopens on Nov. 14. It includes the children's garden, Caribbean and Brazilian gardens, a palm walk, flower and tree groves, nature trails, a birding tower, the River of Grass feature and a butterfly house.

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