ASHS Press Releases

American Society for Horticultural Science

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Home HortTechnology Unique University Course Promotes Sustainable Landscape Design
E-mail Print

ITHACA, NY—In 2000, Cornell University faculty members from the Department of Horticulture and Department of Landscape Architecture collaborated to develop a unique course titled Creating the Urban Eden. The course combines principles, processes, and practical techniques of landscape establishment with a thorough examination of woody plant identification and use. Nina Bassuk and Peter Trowbridge showcased the popular two-semester course in a recent issue of HortTechnology.

According to Bassuk and Trowbridge, the idea of teaching environmentally sound landscape design and establishment was the foundation of the course long before the term ‘sustainability’ became ubiquitous. “Although Creating the Urban Eden originated before the current interest in sustainability, it falls directly in line with the principles of creating landscapes that foster ecosystem services”, they wrote.

Primarily comprised of graduate and undergraduate students in landscape architecture, the class also includes students in horticulture and other fields. Much of the curriculum is based on research from the Urban Horticulture Institute in the Department of Horticulture at Cornell, a program that focuses on the rehabilitation of difficult urban or human-impacted sites. Students in the class are challenged to create viable, sustainable landscapes both in theory and practice. The class incorporates all aspects of landscape establishment, including detailed site assessment, woody plant identification, choice of appropriate plants, planting design, soil remediation, transplanting, and early maintenance in human-impacted landscapes. In addition to designing for a specific site, students learn about written specifications for technical planting and how to design and implement proposals.

During the fall semester, students learn how to assess a landscape site while learning how to identify and use over 200 woody plants. The syllabus follows the process of site assessment, plant selection, soil remediation, and landscape installation; one class per week covers plant identification and use in the landscape and the other class covers a related area of landscape establishment. Students then put their learning to the test by creating new landscapes on the Cornell campus that integrate theory, principles, practice, and fundamentals taught in class.

The course also gives students opportunities to individualize their work. “Although sustainable landscape practices are highly desirable, Creating the Urban Eden helps students design and establish landscapes without prescribing one type of design ideal”, observed Bassuk.

In exit interview surveys at graduation, students expressed confidence in their ability to design site-sensitive, sustainable projects after taking the course. “Moreover, students can implement their design skills and see that there are many ways to achieve a sustainable landscape”, the authors concluded.

# # #

The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortTechnology electronic journal web site:

Founded in 1903, the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) is the largest organization dedicated to advancing all facets of horticultural research, education, and application. More information at


Original Article:

Creating the Urban Eden: Sustainable Landscape Establishment in Theory and Practice
Nina Bassuk, and Peter Trowbridge
HortTechnology 20:485–486. [Abstract][Full Text][PDF]

Corresponding author. E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it