Candidate – Greece
Submission by: Thermi municipality
Project name: BOTANICAL AWARENESS PUBLIC PARK (BAPP)
BAPP was designed with the aim of maintaining in public view and open access documented collections of living plants organized in thematic displays for the needs of plant protection and environmental education as it demonstrates plant identification labels and interpretation signs. Its live rescue collections include 1,000 plants of 70 priority taxa which based on the study prepared by the Institute of Plant Breeding and Genetic Resources (IPBGR)-Balkan Botanic Garden of Kroussia (BBGK) of HAO-Demeter, are characterized as priority species and are classified into three main conservation priority categories (A, B, C). The species-subspecies were categorized based on their risk of extinction (A), their level of endemism (B) and their rarity in the natural environment of the cross-border region of Greece (C).
The project is innovative and unique in nature, as for the first time a public park displays priority plants combining ex-situ conservation, environmental awareness and public engagement.
Social cohesion & Wellbeing of visitors/users
Every day and during weekends BAPP is full of young children, parents and elderly people who relax in the open-air, play, chat and interact with others. Also, throughout the year depending on the occasion, various festivals and celebrations are organized. Finally, volunteers from the surrounding neighborhood offer their time and efforts on a regular basis performing tasks such as weeding, seasonal maintenance, litter removal, graffiti removal, or other special projects.
Biodiversity & Climate
In the context of biodiversity conservation and climate change the scope of the project was to create for the first time new plant displays with priority plants open to the public, thus raising environmental awareness and public engagement regarding the targeted priority plants and their habitats. This approach promotes design installations that utilize the local phytogenetic resources sustainably based on consolidated plant identity and biological characteristics (e.g. rarity, endemism, habitat specificity, extinction risk assessment) combined with naturally enhanced plant resilience and minimized maintenance. BAPP’s thematic plant displays support significantly more wildlife, they are adapted to the local climate and soil type, they contribute to both plant conservation and environmental education, enhancing the public’s awareness on the native biodiversity.
Selection, origin and quality of the products and materials
In BAPP selected priority plants that do not exist in the local trade but are domesticated plants, collected in botanical expeditions derived from wild species of the wider area of Northern Greece and its borders are preserved ex situ in specially designed thematic plant displays. All, the collected material was evaluated and studied for the first time in terms of its ornamental value and its ability to be maintained ex situ in specially designed environments. In particular, priority species unknown to horticulturists, gardeners and landscape designers for their aesthetic value such as Achillea holosericea, Alchemilla serbica, Alyssum doerfleri, Centaurea immanuelis-loewii, Centaurea prespana, Dianthus viscidus, Salvia ringens and many others showed special flowering and ornamental interest.
In terms of constructing materials, carefully selected boulders (large rocks) from local mines are placed in certain locations and layout to enhance the arrangement of the plant groups and improve water drainage. Also, geotextile is used above the soil mainly to delay the growth of weeds, but also to retain soil moisture and ground cover materials such as gravel and beach pebbles to ensure good drainage around the plants and limit the growth of fungi and weeds.
The overall design
BAPP covers an area of 3,340 m2 and is developed in two horizontal levels with an altitude difference of 1.40m. The lower level is north facing and at the previous condition it was already landscaped with paved walkways, flower beds with no vegetation and several trees, two built-in seating areas and a drinking fountain (Figure 1). Today this level is fenced, new meandering gravel pathways and thematic plantings with priority taxa were created (Figure 2b and 2d). The upper level is to the south, at the previous condition it was an open green space completely undeveloped with scattered playground toys and several trees (Figure 1). Today this level is also fenced, new meandering gravel pathways, a kiosk, a playground area and thematic plantings with priority taxa were established (Figure 2a, 2c and 2e). In more detail, the thematic plant displays are divided into three main conservation priority categories (A-endangered plant species, B-endemic plant species, C-rare plant species), the spiral garden that hosts aromatic and medicinal priority plants, as well as the circular educational raised beds.
Most of the of the 70 priority taxa from 23 plant families (12 species from A priority, 42 species from B priority, 16 species from C priority) are perennial herbaceous, with flowering period mainly in the months of May to September, they grow in sunny and/or partially shaded places, on stony slopes and rocky soils and have low demands on inputs, such as irrigation, fertilization and plant protection. In particular, about 30 taxa have aromatic and /or medicinal properties, such as the different species of thyme, sage and mountain tea and 25 have proven commercial value according to European nurseries catalogues, such as Achillea clypeolata, Geum coccineum, Iris reichenbachii, Jovibarba heuffelii, Lilium candidum, Lilium martagon, Salvia jurisicii and Viscaria atropurpurea. The latter, must be noted that remain unknown to horticulturists, gardeners and landscape designers in Greece and cannot be found in local nurseries. Special designs were conducted and certain characteristic such as growth form, habitat, flower and leaf color and size, altitude, flowering period and plant height, were taken into account in order to deliver sustainable planting solutions, attractive and of educational interest.
In terms of implementation of the thematic plant displays, construction works were completed by the beginning of September 2020 and all plantings were finished by the end of the same month (Figure 2). The results from the acclimatization process of the plants and their growth in the soil are very encouraging.
According to the photographic documentation (Figure 3) all plant material reached successfully its maturity and bloomed.
- In terms of landscape design, for the implementation of the project several factors were taken into account:
- the ecological and botanical characteristics of the species, ensuring the biological balance between plant species
- the low maintenance cost
- the possibility at all times of the year to have elements of interest in the thematic plantings that give special decorative value (evergreen, deciduous, flower color, foliage color, shape, etc.).
- the functionality of the spaces (e.g. unhindered movement and the facilitation of organized play in the space) and
- visitor safety (e.g. avoid toxic and thorny species).
Finally, the design of the plantings includes principles of environmental education, so that school tours are served and experiential actions on the topic of biodiversity and environmental protection are hosted. In this direction, an important role is played by the correct design of plant markings and environmental interpretation. In particular, the botanical identification of the different plant species through plant labels together with the accompanying information material on certain interpretive signs, constitute an educational process that familiarizes the visitor with the plants, their properties and their use.
The impact on the environment
Landscaping with native plants, also known as “naturescaping” gains grounds more and more these days. Whereas landscaping with priority plants is even more specialized, goes a step forward and focuses on native plants that are rare, endemic or endangered. Therefore, priority plants are the best choice for both a low-maintenance and sustainable landscape. Using a combination of groundcovers, perennials, shrubs, and trees the introduced plant communities create a layered ecosystem which helps filter pollutants from the air, provides shade, prevents soil erosion, absorbs rainwater and enhances wildlife habitat.
Innovative value of the project
A close collaboration of various scientist and experts in the field of collection, propagation, garden design, construction and exploitation of native plants made this project a successful story. For the first time, in only two years time priority species from the wild were collected, evaluated in terms of their ornamental, aromatic and/or pharmaceutical value, propagated accordingly, maintained in 2.5lt pots in the mother plantations of BBGK-IPBGR-HAO Demeter in Thermi, Thessaloniki (https://ipgrb.gr/) for a 10 month period where, mild nutrition and plant protection measures were applied and finally were planted in specially designed thematic displays for public view, raising citizens’ awareness and alertness about the importance of local biodiversity.
In terms of landscaping, the results of this project have shown that landscaping with priority plants can delivery promising and well established gardens, low in maintenance and minimal water needs. Therefore, a significant step towards sustainability and landscaping with native plants has been made and a documented list of proposed species for ornamental use in contemporary garden design has been delivered.
Acknowledgements: The project was co-funded by the European Union and National Funds of the participating countries in the framework of the INTERREG IPA CBC Program “Greece – Republic of Northern Macedonia 2014-2020” project entitled “Improving the conservation of the priority plants in the cross-border area” (acronym Conse-pp). The Park constructed under the supervision of Marina Panagiotidou (Landscape Architect MLA , the team of Balkan Botanic Garden of Kroussia) and the all works done by green construction company “Vasileiadis Nurseries” (Thermi).