Rain garden specialist is Twin Cities ‘Ecopreneur’
The outdoors is Doug Owens-Pike’s playground. Therefore, he lives his creed to sustain and protect it, especially on the job. The 1976 UW-Green Bay graduate with a degree in Science and Environmental Change is president and owner of EnergyScapes, a full-service, Minneapolis-area landscape firm.
The following is an expanded version of a story that appears in the April 2009 edition of the Inside UW-Green Bay print magazine.
Owens-Pike was named an “Ecopreneur of the Year” by the Minnesota Environmental Initiative. He describes himself as an “Earth protector” with a mission to create sustainable, environmentally appropriate landscapes.
He takes pride in restoring native plant communities, reducing the spread of invasive exotic plants, protecting the water supply and showing people how to achieve these gains themselves.
Business has boomed in recent years, especially with residential properties. He says Americans are recognizing that subtle changes can create huge gains in sustainability, not to mention cost savings and improved bottom lines. He points to a study of two neighborhoods in the south Twin Cities suburb of Burnsville, one with rain gardens and one without.
“Water discharge from the neighborhood with rain gardens was greatly reduced, water quality vastly improved, and properties with rain gardens were selling for more than those that opted out,” Owens-Pike says.
“I do believe it will become the accepted practice to have one, and if you don’t, you will be seen as out of touch… sort of the attitude people have toward folks who let their dandelion seed fly these days.”
The range of garden projects make the job interesting. Many are on dry, sandy soils, where rain-garden plantings thrive while the adjacent lawns go brown. “People do tend to think dry prairie and full sun when they think of native plant gardens, and many do fit that stereotype,” Owens-Pike says. “But we also do many woodland gardens, as well.”
He is particularly proud of a recent project involving a mile-square woodland property near Eau Claire, Wis., now a showcase for eco-friendly development. A client bought the property from a Chicago-based Girl Scout council. Some acreage was donated to the state DNR for extension of the Ice Age Trail. Just a dozen lots were developed, with tight restrictions on cabin size and lake shore landscaping.
“It was our job to save the native forest floor where one cabin was going in. We set chunks of the forest soil that had previously been undisturbed, diverse community of native plants — many of them unavailable in the nursery trade — aside for a year and transplanted them back last fall after most of the construction was completed. The idea was to make it appear that the cabin had always been there.”
Owens-Pike sounds absolutely evangelical when he preaches the virtues of green living. He exhorts people to take up the fight against what he calls the “triple threat to native diversity” of insensitive development, climate change and invasive non-native plants. He also favors changes in tax policy to reflect the true impact of carbon emissions, something he says would speed the transition to healthier living.
He also wishes, in a way, that he had more competition — actually, allies — in the campaign for green landscaping.
“Yes, there’s a transition happening now,” he says. “But it would happen even faster if there were more landscape designers skilled at installing and maintaining communities of native plants. We’re only getting started.”