Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Featured Project: Poconos Summer Cabin

Entry landscape, with raingarden bottom right.

In early 2010 we began working with a client at their lake front property in the Poconos.  The existing landscape design tied the home into the surrounding woodland landscape and aimed to build on local native plant communities.  Beyond the installation of prescribed  stonework and planting we were also responsible for further development of the client's initial design.

Entry steps and landing (walls not constructed by Land Stewards)

The project features a great deal of stone work.  In naturalistic gardens like this one, we want the stonework and boulders to blend into the landscape, appearing as if they were there all along.  Naturally irregular boulders were arranged to form steps, landings, and thresholds, making for beautiful transitions throughout the landscape.  Vegetated swales and raingardens were installed to facilitate the movement of water around the property away from the home, slowing and absorbing the water into the ground.

Raingarden plants:  Magnolia virginiana,  Juncus effusus,  Iris versicolor,  Hibiscus moscheutos
Roadside raingarden, intercepts stormwater from the road


Raingarden with nurselog (which quickly became a hangout for a local frog)

Mature oak and hemlock trees can be found all over the site.  Care was taken throughout the installation to protect these trees while site work and planting took place.  This helps to preserve the remaining canopy while we reestablish a healthy community of understory plants.

As the initial work around the home has been completed, we have now been able to focus our efforts to the peripheral areas of the property.  Unlike the immediate landscape outside the home, these areas require less direct input.  The lake is surrounded by a patchwork of  blueberries, black chokeberry, ferns and numerous other indigenous plants growing in wild populations.  Here we have taken more of a management stance in the landscape, suppressing the more aggressive patches of weedy plants while fostering existing healthy communities.  Into these bottomland areas we have also planted understory trees and shrubs.  Paw Paws (Asimina triloba) and Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) have been planted along the path leading down to the lake.  In time the patch of blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) will provide a nice trailside snack on the way down to the dock.

Natural stone steps down to the dock.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Featured Project: Temple II: North Gratz Street

In 2011, we continued with Phase II of the Temple North 16th Street project by 1260 Housing Development Corporation.  Land Steward's involvement in the project was to design and install a second phase of landscapes just a few blocks away on North Gratz St.  Here 1260 has restored 29 historic townhomes, creating 40 energy-efficient family apartments.  This project has been awarded LEED Platinum status, the largest of its kind in the nation.  For more information on the housing restoration by 1260, click here.

Our role in the Gratz street project was to design and install the 18 individual rear yards on the site.  The goals of the project are that the landscape would be low-maintenance, conserving water and resources, not requiring the extensive irrigation systems, pruning, fertilizing and mowing typical of a conventional landscape.

The way we achieve these goals is by trying to design landscapes that work with nature and not against it.  We begin by selecting plants that are well suited to this environment.  We find that a palate of native perennial plants is most appropriate, since they have developed along with the local environment.   They also help to preserve local native wildlife, while also providing a sense of place and identity to a project.

In nature, bare patches in landscapes don't usually remain that way, some plant will almost always hurry to fill in the gaps.  On Gratz street, any bare patch of soil that wasn't constantly mown would soon be overwhelmed with weeds.  For this reason we try to choose perennial plants that seed heavily or spread out quickly by their roots.  This allows them to rapidly spread out and hold their own against the weeds.  In a few seasons they are able to establish themselves and spread to fill in any gaps, not only suppressing weeds, but also casting dense shade on the ground.  This helps to keep the ground cool and prevents it from drying out even in the heat of summer, allowing the plants to tolerate longer periods between rainfall.

The best way to hold onto water when it does rain is to have deep healthy soil, rich with organic matter.  On Gratz St., organic matter was added to the planting beds in the form of compost.  This will serve as a sponge for holding moisture, as well as provide nutrients for the growing plants.  Over time, dead leaves and other vegetation will add to this organic matter and increase the soils water holding capacity.

When selecting plants for any project we like to incorporate plants that are not only appealing to the eye but those which also carry out different roles in the landscape.  Some of the plants used on Gratz Street, for instance, Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis), Highbush and Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum, V. angustifolium) and Wither-rod viburnum (Viburnum nudum) are beautiful landscape plants that also yield edible fruit people can enjoy (if you can get to them before the birds do!)  Plants like Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)  and Blue-Stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) have fragrant leaves that can be used as healthful herbs added to food or tea.

To reduce the need for mowing on Gratz Street, the lawn areas throughout the site have been seeded with a No-Mow seed mix.  This mix of clumping fescue grasses will stay reasonably short and requires mowing only a few times a year instead of the weekly mowing required by regular turf grass.

This project on Gratz Street is still fairly new, we are excited to see how things fill out in the spring.  We look forward to updating this post with photos in the coming season!

- 2012 update.
Plants are settling in nicely.  While some patches have succumb to the typical wear and tear of an urban site, the majority of the plants are going strong the second season, spreading out and setting seed.  Blueberries are loaded with fruit and flowers are blooming and buzzing with life.

Blueberries...not quite blue yet!

Caterpillar enjoying the Meadow Anemone (Anemone canadensis)

Wildflowers and ferns spreading out
beneath a Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)
Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
climbing a chainlink fence