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Facilities Team Wins First Place for Learning Garden

Southern Nevada Water Authority recognizes university's ongoing efforts to convert grass to desert-friendly landscaping

Campus News  |  Jul 11, 2011  |  By Cate Weeks

Carlson Learning Garden

Tucked into the nook of the Carlson Education Building is a quiet and useful little garden now vibrant with desert plants. The Learning Garden is the latest project by the landscape, grounds, and arboretum department to win an award for beauty while saving the university money.

The project won first place in the commercial category in the Southern Nevada Water Authority Landscape Awards.

Before the project, that patch of ground seemed like a little-used afterthought. The design, developed in-house by facilities manager Robert Lynn, added a sidewalk to connect the building to main sidewalks, making the southwest entrance handicap accessible for the first time. Tables and chairs were installed to give students and employees a new outdoor meeting place. And plants were chosen based on the microclimate formed in the small space; shade-loving ornamental plants, for example, were planted beneath trees.

The grounds crew replaced grass with drought-tolerant plants, including three species not previously found on campus. The Chihuahuan primrose, a flowering groundcover, has done very well and will be used elsewhere on campus.

Lynn's favorite addition is the Mexican plum tree, which flowers in the spring. "While I like the color of the purple leaf plum, it tends to have a short life span in our heat," he said. "This Mexican plum appears to be a viable replacement for adding color to the campus."

UNLV's entire campus is a designated arboretum, providing an example for the community of how drought-tolerant plants and native vegetation can be used to save water and add beauty to residential and community landscapes.

Lynn hopes to expand the garden as more funding becomes available for turf-reduction projects.

Since 1998, UNLV has converted 998,592 square feet of turf to xeriscape or water-efficient technology, such as the artificial surface on the football practice field. This has resulted in rebates from the SNWA totaling $892,408. According to their figures, this is saving the university more than 55 million gallons of water and $199,650 annually.

The SNWA Landscape Awards are based on an entry's aesthetic appeal and proper plant selection, use of mulches, and maintenance and irrigation systems.

Related links

Las Vegas Review-Journal: UNLV Cutting Out Grass to Save Water, Tax Dollars