As the spring semester begins, students in the Landscape Architecture and Horticulture departments at Temple University Ambler are already hard at work on a 2003 Philadelphia Flower Show project that could change how people think about the use of household water.
"I don't think many people think about what happens to the water they use in their houses after it has disappeared down the drain," said Temple University Ambler Associate Professor Skip Graffam, one of the coordinators of an exhibit entitled "Graywater Gardens." "The idea is to change attitudes about water usage, to add the idea of water re-use to the mainstream way of thinking."
In addition to displaying an abundance of plants that require less water, Temple University Ambler's "Graywater Gardens" will detail how water used for cleaning may be recycled and used for watering plants and gardens.
"Many people have never heard of graywater; it's something they might not otherwise know about," said junior Tim Sivers, a landscape architecture major from Scranton, who gathered with his fellow students this week to brainstorm concepts for the exhibit. "If a community takes to the idea, it can make a substantial difference, but they first have to have some exposure to the concept."
The display will re-create an indoor and outdoor environment, with working washing machine, sink system, possibly a shower system inside, and lush garden areas with walkways of porous paving outside. The exhibit will also have a "sun side and a shade side," according to Graffam, to give visitors a better idea of which drought-tolerant plantings prefer sun and which thrive in shade.
"The core concept of the entire exhibit is water conservation with the primary example being a working graywater system. We want to show a wide range of options for graywater connections," Graffam said. "The exhibit will also stress the use of native plantings that require low water and are drought-condition tolerant. In some respects this is basically rediscovering an age-old system - before indoor plumbing all wash water typically went right into the garden."
The laundry/washing area is the easiest graywater hookup for most homeowners and is one of the largest single uses of water in any household.
"The concept is simple enough that a knowledgeable homeowner could take a weekend, install a graywater system onto their washing machine and have it working in no time," said student Jesse Forrester of North Wales. "It's an approachable solution to a serious problem"
A working model and informative displays will show the step-by-step filtration process that allows for the re-use of graywater to irrigate interior and exterior plantings, Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture Chair Dr. Lolly Tai.
"There are certain plant types that actually help to cleanse the water as well as making an aesthetic addition to your garden. The model home will give visitors a feel for what they can do with graywater, but the information we provide will also show the potential impact on a much greater scale; on a community level," she said. "Additionally, the landscape design will incorporate xeriscape principles, a water-wise design concept geared toward conserving water. Xeriscape principles include practical turf areas, appropriate plant selection, efficient irrigation, and proper maintenance."
While the landscape architecture students sketch out a working floor design for the exhibit - a "walkthrough" prior to physically building the structure - the Ambler campus greenhouse is a hive of activity with students preparing live plants for the exterior of the exhbit.
Graffam said the exterior design will also incorporate other ideas for "water harvesting," some as simple as a modernized "rain barrel," which can capture hundreds of gallons of water. Displays will also provide visitors with information about the use of cisterns in landscaping, which are able to capture thousands of gallons of rainwater. The use of porous paving in driveways or garden paths, he added, allows for greater water recharge.
"Drought conditions are not just climactic. Physical construction, impermeable surfaces, and the use of 'water hungry' plants may all contribute to periods of drought," he said. "An important point that we want to make is that you can still create a beautiful, lush design without requiring massive amounts of water."
Temple University returns to the Flower Show in the Academic Education category after taking home a "Best of Show" award in the division for its Green Roof Technology exhibit in 2002. Ambler students will be involved in the 2003 exhibit from the initial designs through construction and display at the Flower Show in March.
"There is nothing like hands-on experience in our profession," said Rebecca Giordon of New Hope. "Working on this project for the Flower Show gives me the opportunity to build a structure, an experience that I might not have otherwise had."
Graywater Gardens Exhibit Awards
Shades of gray came up gold for Temple University Ambler at the 2003 Philadelphia Flower Show.
Temple University Ambler Landscape Architecture and Horticulture students won Best of Show in the Academic Educational category at the 2003 Philadelphia Flower Show for their detailed representation of "Graywater Gardens."
"For the students, this has been a very intense, rewarding process. They met every challenge and I'm very proud of them," said Temple University Ambler Assistant Professor Skip Graffam, one of the coordinators of the exhibit. "It was an excellent learning experience that will certainly help them in their careers. To win Best of Show, to earn this distinction at an internationally recognized exhibition, it's immensely gratifying for them."
The Landscape Architecture and Horticulture Department was also awarded the prestigious Bulkley Medal of the Garden Club of America. The Bulkley Medal is awarded to a special exhibit in the fields of horticulture, botany, or conservation and "must be one of exceptional educational merit, which increases the knowledge and awareness of the viewing public," according to Flower Show organizers.
The Graywater Gardens exhibit details how water used for cleaning may be recycled and used for watering plants and gardens. With close to 300,000 visitors from all over the world at the week-long Pennsylvania Horticultural Society event, the concepts presented by the exhibit are receiving tremendous exposure - something the students are hoping will catch on as those visitors return to their respective communities.
"The idea is to change attitudes about water usage, to add the idea of water re-use to the mainstream way of thinking," Graffam said. "In that way, I certainly think we succeeded."
Many people have never heard of graywater said junior Tim Sivers, a landscape architecture major from Scranton.
"It's something they might not otherwise know about," he said. "If a community takes to the idea, it can make a substantial difference, but they first have to have some exposure to the concept."
The display, which students worked on from initial design to completed exhibit, re-creates an indoor and outdoor environment, with working washing machine, sink system, and shower system inside, and lush garden areas with walkways of porous paving outside.
"The core concept of the exhibit is water conservation with the primary example being a working graywater system. We wanted to show a wide range of options for graywater connections," Graffam said. "In some respects this is basically rediscovering an age-old system - before indoor plumbing all wash water typically went right into the garden."
While the landscape architecture students designed and built their walkthrough structure and graywater system, Horticulture students assisted Adjunct Instructor Sinclair Adam in preparation of the lush display of plant material for the gardens.
"It was important for us to stress the use of native plantings that require low water and are drought-condition tolerant," Adam said. "An important point that we wanted to make is that you can still create a beautiful, lush design without requiring massive amounts of water."
From the inception of the Graywater Gardens project, "we wanted it to be an educational exhibit for the conservation, harvesting, and recycling of water," said Dr. Lolly Tai, Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture.
"The Bulkley Medal is for conservation and we are so pleased to be recognized for that. Our hope was that the message this exhibit conveys would be heard loud and clear and we're glad we've been able to achieve that goal," said Dr. Tai. "It's a true tribute to the faculty and all of the students who worked countless hours on the exhibit. It is fabulous to see that kind of energy, enthusiasm, and commitment on campus."