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Getting to the root

August 7, 2015 -  By

Did you know Andrew Jackson Downing pioneered the use of lawns around homes, and Frederick Law Olmsted promoted them by including turfgrass in public space designs? Or that four of the top five food crops are grasses? (Sugar cane, corn, wheat and rice.)

Neither did I, until late last month when I attended the Grass Roots exhibit at the U.S. National Arboretum.

It was a scorcher of a Sunday, and I was with my colleague Craig MacGregor in Washington, D.C., for the National Association of Landscape Professionals Renewal & Remembrance event at Arlington National Cemetery. We arrived early to visit Grass Roots.

I’d been hearing about the exhibit for the last two and a half years throughout the planning and construction stages, and I wanted to see the finished product.

We could have arranged an official visit or requested a press tour, but we opted to just show up like regular tourists would do.

The concept for Grass Roots was introduced a few years, but it was an underfunded endeavor. When Kevin Morris, president of the National Turfgrass Federation, got wind of it, he and then-director of the Arboretum, Colien Hefferan, took it to the green industry for support. The industry responded with several hundred thousand dollars of monetary and in-kind donations. The result is a four-year, 1.3-acre exhibit with 12 displays demonstrating benefits and uses of turfgrass. The ground breaking was in late 2013 with the grand opening last October.

Upon arriving at the Arboretum (which has plenty of free parking, by the way), we quickly made our way over to Grass Roots. It’s located right next to the visitor’s center. We checked out the displays, including a golf hole, a natural vs. synthetic athletic field comparison, an interactive irrigation section and more.

Before long, we were greeted by a staff member, who turned out to be Geoff Rinehart, program coordinator of the Grass Roots initiative. He’s responsible for outreach and day-to-day maintenance, with the help of an intern. Often, he gives off-the-cuff tours and talks to folks who show interest—like us.

So far, he says, the exhibit is achieving its goals. “We wanted to make it fun, educational and try to weave in some best management practices that visitors can take home no matter where they live,” he said.

Although Grass Roots isn’t the most eye-catching exhibit at the arboretum (it’s tough to compete with azaleas), it’s likely one of the more relatable and practical ones for Americans, since an estimated 50 million acres of the U.S.—an area the size of New England—is covered in turfgrass, according to EPA.

It might not be the facility’s main attraction, but Grass Roots is an informative stop for Arboretum 
visitors (estimated at 500,000 per year), a win for the landscape industry and definitely worth a visit the next time you’re in the region.

Marisa Palmieri

About the Author:

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

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