Developing Urban Ecosystems: Our Landscapes Can Do More

How can our landscapes do more? Asking that challenging question is how Klausing Group conceptualized, designed, constructed and transformed its property into one of Central Kentucky’s green infrastructure icons.

The project began simply enough. Klausing Group needed to create an employee parking lot at its Lexington facility. “Literally a day or two before we were to submit our final plans to the city and apply for a construction permit on a traditional asphalt parking lot, the city of Lexington announced a stormwater grant program,” says Roscoe Klausing, president.

Klausing Group

That planted the seed for a project with many more layers, and multiple environmental benefits. After investing nearly $375,000 including just over $321,000 from the Stormwater Quality Projects Incentive Grant Program and Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG), Klausing Group is now setting a precedent for green infrastructure and best environmental practices.

“As a community and society, we can no longer treat nature as destination outside our cities,” Klausing says. “We have to bring nature to where we live, our buildings and our properties.”

Stormwater Management: Thinking Beyond Asphalt Parking Lots

Parking LotRather than traditional asphalt, the Klausing Group installed a permeable paver parking lot that reduces stormwater runoff and filters and improves water quality. The company also decided to renovate the existing guest and visitor lot into a permeable parking lot.

But the project didn’t stop there. Grant dollars combined with Klausing Group’s construction budget allowed the firm to think beyond its initial plan and focus more intently on reducing stormwater runoff and creating a haven of green infrastructure in an industrial area.

“Lexington is focused on putting in place some internationally recognized best management practices for green infrastructure and stormwater management that are used around the country but aren’t incredibly prevalent here,” Klausing relates.

It was time to set the bar higher for green infrastructure in Lexington, and Klausing Group took that initiative as an invitation to show how landscaping can “do more.”

“We got as creative as we could,” Klausing says.

That resulted in a landscape that today provides multiple environmental services. A detention basin manages stormwater and includes a rain garden, attracts pollinators and is a national registered monarch waystation. The landscape attracts wildlife and beneficial insects. Large trees and plants improve air quality and reduce the urban heat island effect. Permeable parking lots reduce stormwater runoff and improve water quality,  and rainwater harvesting reuses graywater for landscape irrigation.

“We went from one ecosystem benefit, and by a matter of design, construction and plant selection, we created what is the epitome of asking more of your landscape,” Klausing says.

Revamping A Detention Basin Into A Rain Garden

The original detention basin at Klausing Group performed just fine for infrastructure designed 23 years ago. It had your typical stormwater management features: flumes to channel water away from parking lots into the basin; a headwall and outlets; and compacted soil and turf. It did effectively reduce Klausing Group’s impact on the public stormwater sewer system. But—the detention basin could do so much more.

The plan was to create a rain garden and integrate an oil/water hydrodynamic separator to improve stormwater quality.

Rain Garden at Klausing Group

During construction, Klausing Group hit bedrock sooner than expected and could not build the necessary soil depth specified by the engineer for the rain garden. “Because of that, we changed the plan and went wide instead of deep with our special soil mix,” says Dan Stever, senior horticulturalist. “We improvised our system, so the rain garden is unique in how it is constructed.”

What’s also different is the plant material included in Klausing Group’s detention basin/rain garden. Plant selection was crucial for maximizing the ecosystem services on the property, including stormwater management, rainwater harvesting and attracting pollinators.

“The reason why so many rain gardens fail is because plants are typically chosen for areas that flood—but rain gardens’ normal state of existence is actually one of drought,” Stever points out. “We chose plants that thrive in both extremes.”

Those native plants have staggered bloom times. Stever adds, “Just because a plant is native doesn’t mean it has to look like a weed.”

Plant placement is just important as selection.  

“Rain gardens can tend to look like weed patches because it’s visually difficult for people to distinguish one plant from another,” Stever explains. By organizing plants into groupings based on size, the rain garden / detention basin at Klausing Group delivers environmental benefits and curb appeal.

“We think about form, color, texture and foliage,” Stever says.

There are 50 different species of plants included in Klausing Group’s green infrastructure project.

Attracting Beneficial Pollinators

Inviting beneficial wildlife to the Klausing Group property provides a safe haven for wildlife suffering from habitat loss like monarch butterflies, and has a positive impact on surrounding Central Kentucky communities.

Plant selection makes all the difference. “By choosing plants that monarchs and other pollinator insects look for, we create a feeding station that is part of a ‘trail’ of waystations across North America along monarch migration routes,” Klausing says.

Plants also can “do more” than just look beautiful.

For example, while many people appreciate the appearance of daylilies, these flowers appeal to very few pollinators, Stever says. On the other hand, milkweed attracts droves of pollinators.

The same goes for butterfly bush, which is planted assuming it will attract beautiful insects. “But the nectar quality of butterfly bush is very poor so it’s not actually good for insects even though they all go to it,” Stever says. “It’s sort of like eating fast food.”

Instead, Klausing Group chose Buttonbush, which attracts pollinators and provides a higher quality source of nectar.

Planting A Green Roof

Green RoofJust look up for more ecosystem benefits at the Klausing Group green facility. The company installed a vegetative roof at its entrance. Again, the question was: How can the plants on the green roof do more? Traditional sedum is known for its hardiness and drought-tolerance. “But they don’t provide much in terms of ecosystem services,” Stever relates.

Instead, Klausing Group’s green roof includes a range of native and Mediterranean plants that are ideal for green roofs because they evolved in an environment with little rainfall. “We chose flowers for pollinators, food sources for butterflies and hummingbirds, and plants with a staggered bloom times,” Stever says.

Between the rain garden and green roof, there are plants blooming at Klausing Group’s facility 10 months out of the year.

Harvesting Rainwater

Rainwater_Harvesting.jpgThe Klausing Group property reduces pressure on local stormwater sewer systems in a number of ways. Another approach is via the rain water harvesting system. This series of pipes and tanks diverts rainwater off of approximately 3,000 square feet of the company's rooftop. The water is directed into 4,200-gallon tanks which capture the gray water. The water is used to irrigate during hot, summer months.

Curb Appeal Is Not Enough

Klausing Group took a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency action to improve managing wet weather flows in Lexington as an opportunity to improve its environmental footprint and to increase the ecosystem services at its facility.

Regular tours of Klausing Group’s facility show visitors how a landscape represents more than green grass and pretty flowers. Klausing Group has received two LFUCG environmental awards for the work.

“When it was all said and done, this project in the center of a heavy industrial area in Lexington became a location in Central Kentucky with more best management practices for stormwater management and green infrastructure than most any other facility in the region,” Klausing says, proudly.

We invite you to learn more about the green infrastructure at Klausing Group and take a tour. Call us any time at (859) 254-0762, or fill out this simple contact form and we’ll get in touch with you.

Request a Proposal