Rain Garden: Chinese Style Retrofit

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Don’t forget, Dreaming of Landscapes is migrating to its new home at Bingle Studios.com.  

This is a brief summary of a design project I have been working on for the Seattle Chinese Garden. The projected concerns a rain garden along the garden’s entry path that has fallen into disrepair. A poor soil mixture and hot southwestern exposure has caused the plantings to die except for a few grasses. In addition, the rain garden’s planting felt out of step with the Chinese Garden’s aesthetics.

This project has three major goals:

  1. Maintain the rain garden function by not changing the bed layout and engineering
  2. Restore the rain garden plantings by creating a new planting plan, amending the bed soils and adding summer irrigation
  3. Create a Chinese style through plant selection and the addition of stone work

Existing: Filled with low grasses, the existing rain garden has little seasonal interest and is a hole in the current Chinese Garden’s Welcome Walkway. Three alternative proposals were created to address this gap. Each option was explored through a Photoshop perspective elevation.

Option #1: The bed bottom is planted with Iris japonica and bamboo is used to form a backdrop. Taihu rocks give a suggestion of mountains.

Option #2: This scheme is more open and emphasizes the Taihu rock arrangements. Pine trees add a sculptural element to the garden. The bottom of the planter would be filled with Rubus pentalobus.

Option #3: The open nature of Option #2 is maintained, but the pines are replaced by Nandina domestica as an shorter evergreen option. The bottom of the planter would be filled with Rubus pentalobus.

This project is ongoing, but I hope to see it realized sometime next spring. After discussions with the Seattle Chinese Garden Horticulture chair, Phil Wood, we are leaning towards a combination of Option #2 and Option #3. This fourth option would maintain the open, sculptural nature of the pines and stone, but use the heavenly bamboo to soften the planting.

To learn more about the Seattle Chinese Garden visit here.

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My First Article in Washington

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          This past August, I took over as the editor of the Washington Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (WASLA) newsletter. I have not been writing much as I have adjusted to the shift from writer to editor. I returned to the realm of writing this month with the publication of an article in the WASLA newsletter on a design charrette WASLA hosted in the small town of Wilkeson, Washington. I am reposting the complete article below because it is only available through WASLA’s emailed newsletter.

Wilkeson Charrette

Photo of Wilkeson, WA by Allisa Carlson, PLA, LEED AP

On a rainy October weekend, WASLA and the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (NPS) came together to create a vision for the development of the Town of Wilkeson’s historic and natural resources. Wilkeson is a town of 477 residents in rural Pierce County. The town is historically significant as a source of sandstone, coal and coke in the late 19th and early 20th century. The charrette focused on the remains of Wilkeson’s coke ovens and the development of the site around them into a regional park.

Between 1890 and 1930, Wilkeson had 160 coke ovens producing coke for use in steel production. Today, 30 coke ovens remain in various states of decay. The Town of Wilkeson owns the land around the coke ovens and would like to develop the site into a premier regional park that:

  • Restores, preserves and protects the historic coke ovens
  • Provides educational opportunities (Washington State’s longest operating school is in Wilkeson)
  • Supports a variety of community events (The town currently uses the site for hand car and lawn mower races)
  • Meets basic park user needs for safety, accessibility and enjoyment

Participants met on October 19th for a tour of the site provided by Wilkeson’s mayor Donna Hogerhuis and the National Park liaison Bryan Bowden. Everyone then adjourned to the local Eagles Lodge for dinner and a meet-and-greet with local residents. Highlights included a prime rib or vegetarian lasagna dinner and a tour of the Eagles Lodge meeting hall and poker room. The evening wrapped up with a presentation by Mayor Hogerhuis on the history of Wilkeson. Participants then broke up to spend the night with local residents, in the Wilkeson fire station and a local motel.

Participants reconvened at 7am in the Eagles Lodge for breakfast before kicking off the charrette at 8. The charrette was broken into four teams: the Interpretation Team, the Community Events Team, the Trails Team and the Master Plan Team. The charrette began with participants and residents jumping between each group to generate ideas. Then each team settled down to generate a set of drawings and documents the city could use in the future.

The Interpretation Team developed a number of suggestions to preserve the coke ovens and provided educational and interpretational opportunities. The team suggested creating a full size model of the coke ovens that visitors could explore and touch. A barrier would surround the existing coke ovens to limit damage from human interaction. The team also developed a list of significant spots in the park and town. They generated an interpretation outline for these spots and a signage system to create a unified experience.

The Community Events Team explored ways to support the town’s existing and future use of the space. This centered on an amphitheater that would provide space for the current hand cart and lawn mower races. The amphitheater could also serve as a space for future concerts, bike rides and other events.

The trails and connectivity team proposed a series of trails that would provide access to the interpretive stops and community event spaces. The team also proposed connecting the park trail system into the Foothills Trail via a trail through town. Currently, the Foothills Trail ends on Wilkeson’s north boundary and does not continue through town. The team also proposed future connections to a possible museum at the Wilkeson Quarry.

Finally, the master plan team tied all of the pieces together. Their plan highlighted each proposal and provided a cohesive vision for the park. WASLA, NPS and the Town of Wilkeson were very pleased with all the products produced by the landscape architects, students and volunteers. The Town of Wilkeson plans to use these documents and vision as a critical piece of their grant application to develop Coke Oven Park. WASLA would like to wish the Town of Wilkeson the best of luck and thank them for the opportunity to work on this project. WASLA would also like to thank the landscape architects, students, volunteers, and residents who made this project possible.

Master Plan Photo by Allisa Carlson, PLA, LEED AP

Landscape Architects
Don Benson (WASLA President, Event Co-coordinator), Jan Swattherthwaite, Bronwen Carpenter, Matt Mathes, Ned Gulbran, Bob Droll, Andy Mitton, Jim Brennan, Allisa Carlson

Local Parties
Bryan Bowden (National Park Service, Event Co-Coordinator), Buzz Grant (Foothills Trail Coalition President), Greg Griffith (Washington State Historic Preservation Office), Hollie Rogge (Pierce County Parks and Recreation)

Jordan Monez (ASLA), Laura Barker (National Parks Volunteer), Logan Bingle (ASLA), Ole Sleipness (ASLA, WSU Professor

AJ Babauta (WSU, landscape architecture), Bryan Inglin (WSU, landscape architecture), Jeff Hall (WSU, landscape architecture), Jonathan Dingman (WSU, landscape architecture), Jonathan Duran (WSU, landscape architecture), Lucas Vannice (WSU, landscape architecture), Nick Boyce (UW, landscape architecture), Toree Miller (WSU, interior design), Wuttiporn Taksinvarajam (UW, landscape architecture)

Becky Gilbert (Former Town Council), Betty LaCrosse (Resident), Bill Summers (Eagles Lodge Trustee & Booster Club President), Chris Lyons (Distillery Owner), Donna Hogerhuis (Mayor), Florence Fabiani (Wilkeson Historical Society), Jeff Sellers (Former Town Council), Kathy James (Town Planner), Keith Quimby (Distillery Owner), Lisa Grace (Wilkeson Elementary Teacher), Mark Thompson (Civil Engineer), Nick Hedman (Town Council), Robert Bean (Saloon Owner), Sherrian Robertson (Wilkeson Historical Society), Sue Hallin (Town Council), Sunny Bean (Saloon Owner), Trisha Summers (Wilkeson Council Member)




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View down the SAM upper lobby towards the north entrance. Inopportune: Stage One launches over the heads of visitors in a flash of lights.

Do you remember the highway chase scene from The Matrix Reloaded. Gas trucks exploded, cars do triple summersaults and the heroes escape unscathed. It is over the top, unrealistic and just about the point you probably stopped paying attention. At the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), the lobby transforms this type of Hollywood violence into a reflective art form.

SAM’s lobby extends across a city block. A series of terraces take us from the new upper lobby, added in 2007, to the old lower lobby. These terraces house the museum store, SAM Cafe, public art galleries and lecture halls. The most dramatic element of this space is a sculpture composed of nine ford sedans. Seven of these cars are suspended from the ceiling as if they have been thrown over the lobby by a massive explosion. Two cars at either end of the space anchor the piece to the floor.

This sculpture is Cai Guo-Qiang’s Inopportune: Stage One (2004). Cai Guo-Qiang is a Chinese artists best known for his spectacular firework art. However, he has also built a wide range of sculptural work as well. Inopportune: Stage One was originally created for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. The piece removes the dramatization of violence presented by Hollywood and asks us to consider the deeper nature of violence, our relationship to it and how we respond.

Even if you are not in a reflective mood, Inopportune: Stage One is a perfect introduction to the SAM. If you are short on time and/or do not want to pay the $25 to enter the museum, I suggest following the upper lobby past the escalators to the public gallery space. There is usually a piece from SAM’s collection on display. In addition, the hallway past this space features a wonderful wall of glass art and a series of murals by local artists.

View from the SAM Cafe terrace. A ford hangs over the lower lobby as a patron walks through the public gallery.

Want to learn more about SAM and its collection? Visit here.

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