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LAAFB Landscape Architect Saves Water and Maintenance

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Most bases don't get the luxury of having a landscape architect. In fact, some might wonder why a military installation would really need one. But according to Janice Ellis, the landscape architect for Los Angeles Air Force Base and just one of six in the Air Force, the benefits of having one are important to the morale and mission of the base.

"A military installation has a high degree of stress," said Ellis. "Studies have shown that landscaping reduces the amount of stress that people feel. Health and safety is a landscape architect's number one priority. People think it's [planting] trees, and it's really not; it's the health and safety of people," she said.

But how does Ellis directly contribute to the health and safety of the people on base?

She designed and drafted the plans for an artificial turf intramural field located between the 61st Medical Squadron and the Air Force Fitness and Sports Center. The project has been approved and is in the works. Because the new artificial turf field is 99.5 percent maintenance free and doesn't require water, fertilizer or mowing, the upkeep cost is drastically reduced.

"Our goal is to reduce water and maintenance overall," she said.

Because of her extensive knowledge of plant diseases and soil types, she could prevent the Air Force from pending disaster. She's been instrumental in making sure some of the diseased palm trees surrounding the parade field at Fort MacArthur get cut down: "A pink rot palm tree can fall and it can kill someone," she said.

Ellis has a B.S. degree in landscape architecture which includes engineering classes, community planning and architecture. She's also in the process of obtaining her license, which requires her to meet certain health and safety standards for the public.

"A landscape architect doesn't simply pick out plants," she said. "They specialize in picking the right plant for the right type of soil for the right climate for the right function."
Ellis has made strides to choose flora and fauna that flourish in the dry climate of Los Angeles. She uses the "xeriscape" landscaping method, which refers to creating a landscape design that has been carefully tailored to withstand drought conditions.

Surrounding Building 272, she's planted colorful succulents, filter fabric (fabric that suppresses weed growth while retaining moisture in the soil) and replaced thick green vegetation with much smaller rock that adheres to Anti-Terrorism Force Protection guidelines.

She's also planted Blue Agave (a small, compact shrub with thorns that only takes water during the winter) at the Aviation and Douglas Street gates,"...keeping people who want to do harm to the base at bay," Ellis said. "So plants not only have to be beautiful, they must be functional."

Ellis went on to say that even though plants won't necessarily stop a terrorist, it makes it more difficult to get onto the base, rather than having soft vegetation that can be easily climbed and trampled on. She said she prefers using ATFP-type plants over everything else because this keeps the people who work here safer.

At the end of the day, Ellis wants people to know that Los Angeles Air Force Base wants to be a community leader in sustainability.

"We're not going to follow the tracks of people who waste water," she said.

And demonstrated by the actions of the 61st Civil Engineering and Logistics Squadron thus far, they're willing to prove it.