Entering the Pathway to Sustainable Landscape Design at Casa de Arte

Authored by:
Karen Masters

Karen Masters

Written by by Ellie Reed (Whitman College), Internship in Sustainability and the Environment

Directly across from the CIEE Study Center in Cerro Plano, sits Casa de Arte, a local shop and art gallery which sells Costa Rican made art and merchandise, all unique to the shop at fair prices meant to benefit each artist. Monteverde resident and owner of the shop Berta Lia hopes that visitors of her shop will spend time exploring the entire property which includes a riverside pathway, shop, and gallery. All are welcome at any time of the day to stroll along the path or sit at a bench handcrafted by previous CIEE interns, making the area one of the few open, public places in Monteverde to locals, visitors, and tourists. Last October’s Tropical Storm Nate left Casa de Arte in a state of chaos, but after a year of improvements, the property appears to have mostly recovered. This is where the CIEE sustainable landscaping internship comes in.

My internship with landscape designer Felipe Negrini and Sadie Pickering, my fellow CIEE student and partner, has given me a closer look into Monteverde’s history, geography, and varied landscape. Furthermore, working directly with plants and learning by visiting different sites within Monteverde has allowed me to gain an increased knowledge of native plants and their uses. For example, during our visit to New Forest Park, the garden at the Monteverde Institute, we looked at specific plants and discussed their traditional uses as well the wildlife which they support. We spent two full days in the ProNativas greenhouse planting over 50 cuttings from various native plants as well as improving an epiphyte display.

Over the past four weeks, Sadie and I have accomplished more together than I believe we would have if we were if we were working apart. By working together, we were able to discuss each of our ideas with Felipe’s input and come up with an idea which we all believed would have the most benefit to Casa de Arte. We learned that landscape design requires time, thought, and flexibility. In the end we attempted to address several issues in one section of the trail and work together on each project in that area. Our goal through each project along the path was to enhance accessibility, aesthetic appeal, and resilience.

After learning about the benefits of using native flora to its environment by creating habitat or food for wildlife, we planted native groundcover known as cuphea as well as several native shrubs. Native plants also allow for more resilience as they are adapted to local climate, including seasonal changes and weather conditions. Among other accomplishments, we also created several artistic elements, using natural and repurposed materials, including mini stepping stones and a vine archway.

Previously, I had little experience with landscape design and the creative process which comes along with it. This internship provided me with an opportunity to discover more about a specific area and its complexities. I have learned about and undergone the creative process of landscape design, from the initial analysis and plans of the site to the design and completion of a project. Beyond that, the physical effort of planting the groundcover and shrubs gave me both a sense of peace and of accomplishment. I now can recognize native plants of the area and know that our project has contributed to Monteverde’s environment.

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