Site #11: Above: March 31, 2018, Below: June 3, 2018
Test Plot #1 on RPI’s campus at the corner of Sage Avenue and 10th Street

Lawn (Re)Disturbance Laboratory:
Unearthing to Rewild, Remember, Look Forward

*Season 1 pilot project is taking place in institutional and residential lawns throughout the city of Troy, NY in Spring-Fall 2018*

Upcoming Workshops & Events, Fall 2018:

  • September 29th, 3-5 pm, Freedom Square (101st Street & 6th Ave, Troy, NY), for Story Harvest at the Sanctuary for Independent Media
  • October 12th, 3-5 pm, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
    (Vasudha at Nason Hall, back garden, PDF flyer here)
  • November 13th, 4-6 pm, “Lawn Lab: Preserving Plants”, NATURE Lab at the Sanctuary for Independent Media, (3334 6th Avenue, Troy, NY)

Past Workshops: June 20th, 4-6 pm, Cohoes, NY, with CMA, April 27th, 1-3 pm with Vasudha Living & Learning Community, RPI, April 22nd, 2-4 pm with NATURE Lab, North Troy

“Pioneer species” are those plants that respond to disaster and disturbance, sprouting rapidly in bare, exposed or otherwise de-vegetated earth to jumpstart the process of ecosystem recovery. Large-scale events like earthquakes, floods, and landslides can churn up soil, exposing it to light, warmth, air and moisture. These ingredients unlock latent energy in the living soil seed bank- seeds that may have been dormant for years or even decades spring into action, providing the basis for ecosystem recovery and restoration.


What seeds are hiding, dormant in the soil, beneath the myriad institutional and residential lawns of Troy? By removing 1 x 1 meter patch of lawn, we hope to find out!

Map of established test plots, Troy, NY
Lawn (Re)Disturbance at Freedom Square, North Troy (Sanctuary for Independent Media), photo by Luke Bateman
Lawn Lab Worksheet, Spring 2018 (pdf)

Often labeled as “weedy”, many of the plants that emerge from disturbances produce relatively large numbers of seeds that have a long shelf life. This means they can stay dormant in the soil for many generations until the right kind of disturbance occurs, at which point they sprout and grow rapidly, stabilizing the soil and generating habitat until slower growing species arrive. What species does the city of Troy have waiting in the wings? Maybe a wildflower that was common in 1600 but we never see anymore? Maybe a medicinal herb that was brought by an immigrant from Europe or Asia two hundred years ago? Maybe a dandelion seed that was buried thirty years ago when the foundation for a new apartment building was excavated? Let’s find out!

Through both in-situ and lab-based disturbance and germination tests across a variety of heavily human-impacted landscapes, from long term turf grass monocultures to abandoned industrial sites, this art-ecology experiment will uncover the hidden power of past seed burial for future rewilding in the face of a rapidly changing climate.

Publicly visible test plots will be accompanied by educational information about wild urban plants and city ecology, and results will be shared with the community through group fieldwork days, public presentations and publications, and art workshops and exhibitions.

Below: 1 x 1 meter test plots are being established in the landscape and observed over the growing season.

Freedom Square, Plot #11, Sanctuary for Independent Media/NATURE lab, photo by Luke Bateman
Colonie Apartments, RPI, plot #5
Establishing Site #12 with CMA in Cohoes, NY
RPI Nason (Plot #4), with Vasudha Living & Learning Community
RPI Nason (Plot #4), with Vasudha Living & Learning Community
RPI Nason (Plot #4), with Vasudha Living & Learning Community
Freedom Square, Plot #11, Sanctuary for Independent Media/NATURE lab, photo by Luke Bateman
Freedom Square, Plot #11, Sanctuary for Independent Media/NATURE lab, photo by Luke Bateman
Freedom Square, Plot #11, Sanctuary for Independent Media/NATURE lab
Freedom Square, Plot #11, Sanctuary for Independent Media/NATURE lab, photo by Luke Bateman

Below: A sculptural representation of the project will be shown in gallery settings

Lawn Lab at Collar Works Gallery, May 2018, photo by Eleanor Goldsmith

Below: Soil germination tests are being carried out in a controlled setting at The Sanctuary for Independent Media’s NATURE Lab, and results tracked over the course of the study

Relevant Related Studies and Articles:

Albrecht, Harald, Elisabeth Eder, Thomas Langbehn, and Clara Tschiersch. “The Soil Seed Bank and Its Relationship to the Established Vegetation in Urban Wastelands.” Landscape and Urban Planning 100, no. 1 (March 30, 2011): 87–97.

Robbins, Paul, and Julie Sharp. “Turfgross Subjects: The Political Economy of Urban Monoculture.” In In the Nature of Cities: Urban Political Ecology and the Politics of Urban Metabolism, edited by Nik Heynen, Maria Kaika, and Erik Swyngedouw, 1 edition. London ; New York: Routledge, 2006.

Ian Graber-Stiehl, “Lawns are an Ecological Disaster“, Earther, May 2018

Ian Johnston, “Keep off the grass: Research confirms that highly manicured lawns produce more greenhouse gases than they soak up“, UK Independent, January 2015

Gu, Chuanhui, John A. Crane, George Z. Hornberger and Amanda R. Carrico. “The effects of household management practices on the global warming potential of urban lawns.” Journal of Environmental Management 151 (2015): 233-42.

Ma, Hongyuan, Haoyu Yang, Zhengwei Liang, and Mark K. J. Ooi. “Effects of 10-Year Management Regimes on the Soil Seed Bank in Saline-Alkaline Grassland.” PLOS ONE 10, no. 4 (April 22, 2015): e0122319.

Thompson, Ken, Stephen Colsell, Jennifer Carpenter, Richard M. Smith, Philip H. Warren, and Kevin J. Gaston. “Urban Domestic Gardens (VII): A Preliminary Survey of Soil Seed Banks.” Seed Science Research 15, no. 2 (June 2005): 133–41.

Seeds Buried in 1967 Time Capsule with be Unearthed to See how BC Crops Have Changed

The 120-yr period for Dr. Beal’s seed viability experiment

Can Soil Seed Banks Serve as Genetic Memory? A Study of Three Species with Contrasting Life History Strategies

Planning Documents and Mockups: