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Landscape & Grounds

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Unique landscape features emblematic of Stanford University are recognized worldwide. Palm Drive, the grassy foothills, oak groves, the redwood trees, and wildflowers all come together to symbolize the Farm.

Principles now heralded as sustainable in the 21st century were fundamental to the Stanford campus since its inception over 100 years ago. Basic concepts introduced by Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architect and the university's planner in the 1890s, as well as Stanford’s Landscape Design Guidelines first published in 1989, encourage climate responsive designs, native plant materials and water conservation. In 2013, the Arbor Day Foundation named Stanford University a 2013 Tree Campus USA school based on its landscape and conservation principles.


From large gathering space to intimate retreats, developed outdoor areas create a mosaic of formal and informal elements including cultivated gardens, plazas, usable lawns, tree lined alleys, drought tolerant native landscapes, oak groves, wildflowers and grasslands. The result is a dynamic and flexible environment that is essential to Stanford’s rich and unique landscape character. Today, the university functions as a large arboretum or park with gardens that support both its occupants and its educational mission. These spaces include the Community Garden, the Educational Farm, organic gardens outside many of Stanford's dining halls, the rose gardens at Toyon and Terman, the Camellia Garden at the Main Quad, the oak groves along Serra Mall, the Arizona Garden and vernal pools in the Arboretum, the California native gardens at the Alumni Center and Keck, the Campus Drive botanical parkway, and the Waterwise Demonstration Garden on Raimundo Way within Faculty Staff Housing.

A total of 61 percent of Stanford's 8,180 acres has been preserved as undeveloped oak woodland. Some of the notable preserved areas on Stanford's campus include Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, the Arboretum, and small oak groves spread throughout the main campus.

Goals and Results

It is Stanford’s goal to continue on the path that its predecessors envisioned and use new technologies and understanding to expand Stanford’s sustainable landscape and grounds practices. Examples of current accomplishments and activities in key landscape and grounds areas include the following:

Vegetation Management

  • Approximately 75 percent of the campus is native or drought resistant plantings with mulch or non-irrigated grass grounds and native oaks for canopy.
  • To date, over 1,000 mature trees – including oaks, olives, redwoods, pines and cedars – have been transplanted with an approximate 85 percent survival rate.
  • Since 1980, Stanford’s Oak Reforestation Program works with non-profits, volunteers, community and school groups to annually plant oak seedlings, now totaling over 2,000.
  • Green waste from tree and shrub trimmings is converted into compost or wood chips and reused on the campus landscape.
  • Seasonal color relies on the choice of perennials and wildflower seedings over more water intensive, non-native ornamental annual plantings.

Integrated Pest Management

Stanford employs an integrated pest management (IPM) system to minimize the use of chemicals, synthetics, fossil fuels and water. The IPM system applies to about a quarter of Stanford’s campus, a feat that requires much planning and monitoring by the Department of Buildings and Grounds Maintenance.


  • Stanford’s irrigation responds to site conditions using data collected from an on-site weather station abd weather-based irrigation controls that maximize conservation effort. 
  • Non-domestic water sourced from Stanford’s Searsville and Felt Lakes is used to irrigate almost all of the campus landscape.

Landscape Design

  • Swales and detention areas planted with native vegetation are integrated into all new project landscape designs.
  • Water is incorporated in landscapes for maximum use, enjoyment, air quality and moderation of climate where the largest numbers of people gather and is minimized in peripheral areas, borders or other non-intensive people spaces.
  • Stanford’s landscaped “outdoor rooms” serve as meeting, classroom, break-out, circulation and gathering spaces replacing what would otherwise be constructed, enclosed and conditioned interior spaces.
  • Trees are consciously placed to provide shading and cooling for buildings and pavement with an emphasis on deciduous trees along the southern and western building exposures.

Research and Development

  • Campus planners continue to research the manufacturing processes and material sources of new sustainable products and test their durability and performance over time. Current tests include exterior LED lights, recycled plastic furniture and posts, permeable pavements, newly developed drought resistant usable lawn and other plant materials.
  • Responding to concerns caused by global climate change, the university is working with a nonprofit to plant a range of oak test species and varieties collected from acorns to explore their adaptability to warming climate, pathogens and seasonal moisture.

To learn more about the philosophy and treatment of the Stanford landscape, please visit the University Architect / Campus Planning and Design and the Building and Grounds Maintenance web sites, which include detailed specifications and guidelines for vegetation, irrigation, landscape design, site furnishings, site lighting, water features and other topics related to landscape and grounds.