Right Plant Right Place

Helping landscape architects decide the best seeds to plant in a certain area earned an Honors Award in the Communications category of the 2010 American Society of Landscape Architects’ (ASLA) Student Awards competition for Nick Serrano, MLA ‘11, and other members of his Emerging Media Fellows team.

Their invention, JFNew’s NativeSpec, is a database that will enable users to create a seed or plug mix tailored to the unique conditions of each site.

“In one way, winning this national award was a sense of accomplishment, but equally important, it was encouragement to keep doing more. It’s really just a start for me,” says Serrano, the project lead.

Landscape architects have traditionally relied either on using standard mixes available from native plant nurseries or hiring specialists who build custom mixes. Standard seed mixes are limited in the combinations of site characteristics for which they are adapted, resulting in more plant failures and customer disappointment.

“I think NativeSpec will help promote environmentally conscious design because of its ‘tip of the finger’ accessibility,” said Jody Rosenblatt Naderi, chair of Ball State’s landscape architecture department. “This will likely be used as a communication tool by landscape architects in their work with other professionals, clients, and stakeholders as well as a design tool in plant material selection.”

NativeSpec allows the user to review the environmental characteristics of a given location, with the database displaying all plants viable for the intended project. Then, each time the user inputs more or less of each plant type, correcting information—such as the cost of the seeds, average site ecological value and how each plant will look—is updated, allowing the user to consider alternatives. With NativeSpec, landscape architects make better informed planting decisions, facilitating more environmentally sound planting designs sensitive to the specific ecological context of each site.

In 2011, Serrano will be a research fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, working on his thesis, which looks at the aesthetics of planting design. After graduation, Serrano wants to work internationally, specifically as a landscape architect in the burgeoning Latin American market.
He says the landscape architecture program at Ball State is the perfect setting for the kind of creativity and innovation represented in NativeSpec.

“The landscape architecture program recognizes a student's strengths and builds upon them,” he says. “We also have excellent faculty advisors who go beyond the role of ordinary professor to engage and challenge students, rather than simply teaching them. They do not deliver information—they really foster learning.”

For the NativeSpec project, Serrano collaborated with five other students: Brittany Harvey, who also won the award, Saul Jones, George Keller, Elizabeth Marthaler, and Caroline Weidman. They represented multiple majors, including landscape architecture, natural resources and environmental management, communication studies and accounting—another trademark of Ball State’s focus on immersive learning. Faculty mentors included Martha Hunt, a landscape architecture professor, Chris Turvey from Emerging Technologies, and Bob Koester, director of Center for Energy Research/Education/Service (CERES).

Emerging Media Fellows is a part of Building Better Communities Fellows.

Related links:

Accounting

Building Better Communities Fellows

Communication Studies

Emerging Media Initiative

Immersive Learning

Landscape Architecture

Natural Resources and Environmental Management

“The landscape architecture program recognizes a student's strengths and builds upon them. We also have excellent faculty advisors who go beyond the role of ordinary professor to engage and challenge students, rather than simply teaching them. They do not deliver information—they really foster learning.”

—Nick Serrano, MLA ‘11