A person’s lawn or garden is a personal space, a reflection of their connection with nature. And for some, their landscape is more than just a pretty place; it serves to enhance and sustain the natural environment.
For Dick and Betsy Potts from Oakland, Md. and owners of the first property certified under the new University of Maryland Extension Water-Wise program in Garrett County, their landscape combines water conservation techniques with tiered flower beds, native plants, and other features that help to protect local waterways in a beautiful way.
“We’ve worked hard to have something that brings joy to us, joy to the community, and environmentally is good for the property,” said Betsy, who has been gardening with her husband for over 50 years and is a member of the local garden club.
The summer of 2022 saw the certifications of the first five properties eligible for Water-Wise recognition, with two additional properties slated for site inspection at time of publication. The new Water-Wise conservation program, was adapted from the award-winning Bay-Wise program and modified for Garrett County’s unique geography and geology by UME Master Gardener Coordinator Ashley Bodkins and a team of local partners from many different groups including the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Garrett County Government, Mountain Laurel Garden Club, Western Mountains Chapter of the Native Plant Society, and the Deep Creek Watershed Foundation.
“There’s a Deep Creek Watershed Management Plan that was put into effect in 2014 which mentioned implementing a potential certification program, and that was part of the reason for adapting the Bay-Wise program for Garrett County,” said Bodkins. “But we had a lot of people who were interested in getting this program here; the constituents were asking for it.”
Water-Wise, which doesn’t use the “Bay” moniker because Garrett County is split by the Continental Divide and much of its water goes to the Mississippi watershed rather than the Chesapeake, uses the same premise as the Bay-Wise certification program: homeowners who utilize water conservation techniques into their landscaping, such as rain gardens, native plants, or rain barrels, could be eligible for Water-Wise certification.
The program uses a “Yardstick” to measure the number of environmentally-friendly features that a landscape has, which could include smart lawn care practices, integrated pest management techniques, composting, installing a bird bath, or many other ways to earn “inches” on the yardstick. Once a Garrett County homeowner believes they have reached the requisite 36 inches, they can contact Bodkins and the Garrett County Master Gardeners to set up a site visit where they can show off their green design and become officially certified.
“Water-Wise is more of an awareness and educational tool that gives an opportunity to do something a little better for the environment,” said Dick, who is also a Master Gardener volunteer. As one of the first Master Gardeners to be trained in site visits and certifications for Garrett County’s new program, he and Betsy emulate those practices in their own landscape. “A little sign in the yard isn’t going to make someone change their behaviors, but it can help get some education out there.”
“Marylanders are already thinking about these issues and how to manage them in their own landscapes and personal spaces. Many people already have some Water-Wise practices in place,” said Bodkins. The first several properties in many cases doubled the number of inches needed on the yardstick to reach certification, she said. “Water-Wise aims to acknowledge and reward property owners for implementing practices that protect local waterways, encourage pollinators and wildlife, and restore native plant life.”
“I got into native plantings long before I was thinking about the waterways due to the pollinators. I think it’s the focus of most gardeners to take care of the environment, and of course, water is a part of that,” said Denise Kramer, Oakland, Md. resident and garden club member who received the second Water-Wise certification in the county. “I think it’s just good gardening practice to be concerned about water. It’s really about trying to be cohesive with the natural habitat.”
While maintaining environmentally sustainable landscapes is a priority for both the Potts’ and Kramer, they agree that their gardens are meant to be a place of beauty for the community and for themselves.
“Going for certification doesn’t mean you can’t have exotics or a paved driveway,” said Dick. “We have a couple of shrubs that people might wrinkle their nose at, and we have lilies of the valley. My mother loved lily of the valley so we brought it here. It’s happy, and it’s not going anywhere. Gardens are personal to people and you want them to be that way.”
To learn more about Water-Wise in Garrett County, go to https://extension.umd.edu/locations/garrett-county/home-gardening. To see if your landscape qualifies for certification, follow the Water-Wise yardstick at https://go.umd.edu/WaterWiseYardstick. To have a site evaluation completed at your property, contact Ashley Bodkins at 301-334-6960 or email@example.com