Janet Marinelli

Hello there, and welcome. I’m an author, an interpretation, publication, and web consultant, and a certified plant nut. You’ll find plenty of my musings about plants and other matters on this website.

These days you can’t pick up a newspaper without learning how our influence is being felt even in the most remote parts of the globe. You can’t turn on the TV without hearing that we are poised at the start of an age of extinction that could rival anything in the three and a half billion-year history of life on this planet—including the mass demise of the dinosaurs. What you almost never hear is that it isn’t just giant pandas and polar bears that are in big trouble. It's estimated that half of the planet's plant species are also in peril. And a lot of them won't survive unless plant lovers like you and me do something about it.

Plants are strange creatures. They don’t have big brown eyes and they can’t bark or purr or moo. But they have the amazing ability to pluck sunlight out of thin air and convert its energy into the food that all animals, including us, need to survive. Plants fuel the dazzling diversity of life on this planet. Without plants there would be no Earth as we know it. If like me you want to make the world a healthier, more beautiful place, they are a good place to start.


August 25th, 2009

Dickson Despommier Does it Again

You gotta give it to Dickson Despommier—he’s certainly persistent. The professor of public health at Columbia University has been pushing the concept of vertical farming in cities for the past several years, and he made his pitch again in Sunday’s New York Times. He even tossed in a few stats on the economics of growing food in urban highrises to counter the arguments of skeptics. You can find my previous takes on vertical agriculture here,  here, and here.

July 12th, 2009

Green Exhibits

The following was published as part of my regular “Growing Greener” column in Public Garden magazine, Vol. 24 No. 1 (2009). Public Garden is the flagship publication of the American Public Gardens Association. In “Growing Greener” I answer sustainability-related questions from public garden staff.

Q: What is a green exhibit? How green does it have to be?

A: A green exhibit isn’t necessarily one that tells visitors how your garden is becoming more sustainable and how they can, too (though that’s a good idea!). Exhibits of all types and sizes can be beautiful expressions of sustainability. As for how green to go, you should make your exhibits as green as you can, and keep growing greener.

By now, most people in the public garden world are familiar with the LEED guidelines, performance benchmarks, and rating system for green buildings. The same basic guidelines can also be used for creating a green exhibit. Read the rest of this entry »

July 8th, 2009

Growing Greener: The Sustainable Sites Initiative

The following was published as part of my regular “Growing Greener” column in Public Garden magazine, Vol. 23 No. 3/4 (2008). Public Garden is the flagship publication of the American Public Gardens Association. In “Growing Greener” I answer sustainability-related questions from public garden staff.

Q: What is the Sustainable Sites Initiative, and how can public gardens use it?

A: In the past several years, the LEEDR program of the U.S. Green Building Council has become synonymous with sustainable design. The USGBC awards four levels of LEED certification for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. This rating system has provided targets for public gardens and other institutions striving to go green.

One limitation of LEED, especially for public gardens, is that it currently is concerned primarily with buildings. It’s not surprising, then, that two public gardens, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the United States Botanic Garden, have teamed up with the American Society of Landscape Architects to produce the Sustainable Sites Initiative, the first program to develop guidelines and standards for sustainable landscapes. Read the rest of this entry »

July 7th, 2009

Growing Greener at Public Gardens

The annual meeting of the American Public Gardens Association always charges my batteries. This year’s meeting in St. Louis was no exception. Among other things, it gave me the kick in the pants I’ve needed to actually post the “Growing Greener” columns I write for Public Garden magazine, APGA’s flagship publication. In each issue, I answer sustainability-related questions submitted by public garden staff. You can find my column on the carbon footprint of homegrown food here. I’ll be adding additional columns over the next few days.

June 23rd, 2009

Blue in the Face Campaign

Oxfam wants us to demand action on climate change until we’re blue in the face—literally. The goal of the global anti-poverty group’s new campaign is to send a strong message to world leaders who will meet this December in Copenhagen to negotiate a new climate deal. To make the point, Oxfam is sponsoring face-painting and picture-taking sessions at festivals across the UK this summer. The photos will be used to create a giant multi-media petition.

June 22nd, 2009

Vertical Vegetecture

It remains to be seen whether vertical farming in cities is feasible economically, but it’s sure inspiring a growing number of architects. You’ll find a thumbnail history of the sky farm, as well as 16 different designs, at Dornob. Two of my favorites—complete with stunning renderings—are Eric Ellingsen’s and Dickson Despommier’s Pyramid Farm, and Vincent Callebaut’s Dragonfly Farm.

June 20th, 2009

Meatless Monday

When I was a kid, we didn’t eat meat on Fridays. I came from a Catholic family, and like most Catholic families, meatless Fridays were a commemoration of the crucifixion and death of Christ, which according to scriptures occurred on a Friday. Not being all that impressed with the rituals of Catholicism, my brother and I held our noses and ate the standard end-of-the-week fare—fish cakes or fried flounder. But like millions of other kids we survived. In fact, we were probably healthier for having avoided still another evening meal of beef stew, hamburgers, or pot roast.

Now a new movement called Meatless Monday is gaining traction. The goal of the campaign, which is being promoted in association with Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, is to reduce meat consumption by 15 percent to improve personal health, reduce our carbon footprint, and conserve resources like fresh water and fossil fuel. Last month Ghent, Belgium became the first city in the western world to go meatless once a week, although they’re doing it on Thursdays instead of Mondays.

On the Meatless Monday website, you can find information on seasonal fruits and vegetables, including recipes, check on who’s going meatless, and take the Meatless Monday pledge yourself.

June 18th, 2009

Missing in Action

As some of you have noticed, I’ve been consumed with consulting work for the past several weeks and unable to blog. But there have been interesting developments on vertical farming, green walls, and “Meatless Mondays” as a carbon-reduction strategy, to name just a few. I’ll try to catch up on some of these things in the next few days.

May 22nd, 2009

Carbon Consciousness

These days, as part of my semi-nomadic life as a program planning and interpretation consultant for public gardens and nature centers, I’ve been offsetting a lot of travel-related carbon emissions. Like this week. I just got back from one of those places that seem to engender periodic bursts of human creativity. Call it karma or happy coincidence, these places suddenly  become magnets for artists, oddballs, and other rebellious types who, through a critical mass of their collective contrarian consciousness, change the course of history. Like Florence in the 15th century, or Baraboo in the 20th century. Baraboo??

Baraboo is a small city in south central Wisconsin with a population of less than 12,000. The surrounding Baraboo Ranges are all that remain of one of the most ancient rock outcrops in North America, composed of Baraboo Quartzite, a metamorphosed form of sandstone that originated about 1.85 billion years ago in what geologists call the Early Proterozoic Eon. The Baraboo area is also the terminal moraine of the Wisconsinan, the place where this final glacier of the last Ice Age dumped its debris, creating impressive sights like Devil’s Lake Gorge, where quartzite blocks crunched up by the ice sheet cling tenuously to steep slopes.

It was in Baraboo in 1884 that the Ringling Brothers began their circus, a band of oddballs if there ever was one. Over six seasons, the circus expanded from a wagon show to a railroad show with 225 employees, touring cities across the United States each summer. Baraboo remained the circus’s headquarters and wintering grounds until 1918.

A few years later, in 1924, Aldo Leopold arrived in nearby Madison, and in the early 1930s he purchased a dilapidated chicken coop and a few hundred acres of Dust Bowl-ravaged land near Baraboo as a weekend retreat for his family. At the shack, as it was called, Leopold was inspired to write conservation classics like A Sand County Almanac, launching the fields of restoration ecology and land ethics. 

The Baraboo Ranges continue to work their magic. A couple of years ago, about a mile down the road from the shack, the Aldo Leopold Foundation built the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center. The second highest-rated LEED Platinum facility to date, the Legacy Center also meets the 2030 Challenge, which aims to rapidly transform the U.S. and global building sectors from the biggest single contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central part of the solution to the climate crisis by changing the way buildings and developments are planned, designed, and constructed. 

The Legacy Center also happens to be the first carbon-neutral building certified by LEED. The initial carbon budget for the facility was based on projected emissions from combustion (including stationary sources such as wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, vehicles driven by employees to and from and at work, and estimated visitor vehicle use); on-site electricity generation from photovoltaic cells; wind-generated electricity purchased at night and on days when the solar array does not meet building demand; and carbon sequestered by the Foundation’s 500 acres of forested land. You can find out more about how the Center reduces and offsets its carbon emissions here.

The beautiful facility is located on the land where Leopold perished in 1948 while fighting a brush fire on what was then a neighbor’s property.

May 18th, 2009

Regenerative Design Update

So I’m back in New York, having seen enough redbuds in bloom on our cross-country trek to keep me happy for an entire lifetime. While I was gone, I heard from David Schaller, whose essay “Beyond Sustainability: From Scarcity to Abundance” has been a driving force for regenerative design. He’s now sustainable development administrator for the city of Tucson, and publishes a weekly newsletter called Sustainable Practices.

You know regenerative design is on the fast track when the annual meeting of the ASLA, to be held in Chicago in September, is titled “Beyond Sustainability: Regenerating Places and People.” “We’ve been anticipating public sentiment to turn to the need for sustaining the planet for many years,” wrote ASLA President Angela Dye in an email that arrived in my inbox this morning. “As landscape architects, we must go beyond, and aspire to adopt practices that not only sustain, but regenerate our ecosystems and restore diminishing biohabitats.”