Landscaping Review

Landscaping at St Paul’s Reduces the Church’s Carbon Footprint

 St Paul’s has been “greening” since 2003.  Greening means renewing our commitment to Creation Care through education, reflection, and action.  Significant conservation actions have taken place inside the church (e.g., energy efficiency, recycling, etc) and outside the church (e.g., landscaping).

These activities help the church appearance and finances – yes, but a larger goal is to educate Parishioners, visitors and neighbors about what can be done in their own homes and yards for conservation.

Energy Use in Buildings

The most significant program to date inside the church buildings (church and rectory) was relamping – conversion of fluorescent and incandescent light to more energy efficient lighting.  We enrolled in the EPA’s Energy Star Congregations Network, and small energy projects are ongoing (weather strips, HVAC maintenance, caulking, etc).  We were recognized as a Cool Congregation by Interfaith Power and Light in 2011 for the relamping project.   

In addition to the lighting project, we further lowered our “carbon footprint” at the rectory by installing new storm windows (28 windows), upgrading the heating and cooling system to a heat pump, insulating brick walls that were exposed during remodeling, and making other small energy-saving improvements.

An unkempt lawn at the front of the church is now an attractive garden; much admired by passersby on 6th Street, and by pollinators (e.g., insects like butterflies and bees).

Landscaping has several goals

On the church grounds, we are finishing a 4-yr project to further reduce our carbon footprint by converting lawn to urban wildlife habitat.  An important part of the landscaping project is to provide contemplative gardens where people can appreciate The Creation (i.e., at least the aspects of nature that can be demonstrated in our small urban setting).

The landscaping project is focusing on three areas of the Parish grounds 1) front yard conversion of grass to native flowers and shrubs, 2) back yard conversion of grass to patio and gardens, and 3) gardening for wildlife throughout.  Most of the work has been done by volunteers who consider their time, talent and treasure as an “environmental tithe.”

The landscaping project had two overall goals 1) reduce carbon footprint, and 2) garden for wildlife.  The gardening for wildlife theme was made possible by funding from the Ralph Town Memorial (Ralph was a retired U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist).

Southwest corner of 900 ft2 patio and rose garden showing arbors that will support vines for hummingbirds, pollinators and other urban wildlife.  An important part of the landscaping project is creating places for people too!

Wildlife habitat with people too!

When the plantings and gardens  mature, they will have four key components of wildlife habitat 1) water, 2) food, 3) places to raise young, and 4) places to rest (as prescribed by the National Wildlife Federation’s Gardening for Wildlife Program (

We are creating habitat for pollinators, butterflies, and birds, although small mammals such as bats, rabbits and squirrels also frequent the grounds.  Native plants were chosen because they are native to this region (e.g., cone flower, blue stem) and are drought tolerant.  Plantings provide four habitat complexes (e.g., open lawn, vertical vines, short shrubs, trees) and several types of food (e.g., berries, nectar, fruits). Artificial structures (e.g., bird baths) provide water in summer and winter.  Places to raise young (bird houses, bee houses, bat houses) have been added (or are planned).  We plan to feed birds in winter. (

The ultimate goals of the “greening” projects at St Paul’s are education and inspiration.  Wildlife gardens included contemplative venues for people to pause and appreciate the “Natural Cathedral.”  Information about the wonder of nature and Earth stewardship is included in Parish newsletters (The Messenger) and special events (e.g., Ecopalms on Palm Sunday, Earth Day Sunday, Rogation Day, Beating of the Bounds).  The landscaping project includes a tulip garden that will demonstrate the fun and values of observing nature as a Citizen Scientist, and help educate about the complimentary roles of religion and science in our lives

[St Paul’s is the only tulip test garden in South Dakota, see map on web site above]

 Landscaping reduces carbon footprint and pollution

In addition to the advantages for urban wildlife and appearance of the church grounds, the conversion of lawn to gardens, patios, seating areas, and walkways will reduce St Paul’s use of water, energy, and herbicides, and reduce air pollution from mowers.  Following is how we calculated our energy and pollution savings through landscaping.

Lawn watering uses water and energy (e.g., embedded energy of pumping and purifying).  We converted about 1,800 ft2 of lawn to garden and other uses.  We estimate we will save about 1,248 gallons of water, which amounts to reducing our carbon footprint for water energy use by 2.8 pounds of CO2/year.  The calculation method is described in:

We will mow eight hours less/year with a riding lawnmower that consumes about 0.5 gallons of gas/hour, thus saving another 70.8 pounds of CO2/year (We used this equation: Footprint = (gas used) x (17.7 pounds of carbon per gallon) .

A gas mower produces volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides emissions in one hour of operation equal to that of 11 cars each being driven for one hour.  Because we mow 8 hours less than before gardens were installed, we have reduced pollution equal to that of 88 trips to Sioux Falls (a 1 hour drive).

For the remaining lawn, we follow a policy of “cut it high and let in lie,” which is a cliché summarizing the fundamentals of ecological lawn care that improves the turf while reducing weeds, watering, and mowing time.   

The patio is made with porous pavers thus reducing runoff.  Water use will be further reduced when we install a rain barrel for watering the rose garden.  Conversion from evergreen to deciduous trees on the south side of the church increases the efficiency of passive solar radiation for heating and cooling the church (one large spruce was replaced with a red oak).

Although St Paul’s energy impacts are small, the savings may be increased when Parishioners, visitors and neighbors learn about and see the benefits of landscaping with ecological goals (see how the church savings of about 75 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere relates to greenhouse gas emissions from other sources at   

Inspiration and Outreach

Environmental problems sometimes seem so big that we think that there is nothing we can do, but there are everyday decisions an individual makes to help our society walk more gently on the Earth.

The inspiration of St Paul’s landscaping project comes from Psalm 19 that says in effect that “the Lord speaks through two works, the Bible and the masterpiece of Creation.”  Further, we are to serve and preserve The Creation – God’s Garden (Genesis 2:15).  “God has no hands but our hands” to do this work, but we must improve our understanding of the moral imperative to do so.  We have hope (active hope) that St Paul’s Creation Care program will contribute in a small way toward a transformative change in stewardship of the Earth.

St Paul’s began an outreach effort in 2013 that is extending these stewardship ideas beyond the Parish to the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota (80 churches,  A Creation Care workshop at the 2014 Diocesan Convention was organized by St Paul’s Natural Cathedral Committee.  Ten churches have joined the Creation Care Network proposed by St Paul’s – the grass-roots project is growing! (See page 4 in:

This Creation Care “mission” at St Paul’s is symbolized in three new stained glass windows installed in 2014.  The window is a memorial to Dr. Ruth Alexander who championed Creation Care (among many other services to the church).  The window sends the message of Faith, Hope and Love in a landscape featuring a bed of Pasque flowers (the South Dakota State Flower) and butterflies (unique in that they are in relief or 3D).

St Paul’s youth hold the earth in their hands on Earth Day Sunday as they surround Ruth Alexander, an early advocate of “the greening of St Paul’s.”

Lower section of the Alexander Faith Hope and Love window showing part of a flower bed with butterfly.




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