Dreaming of Landscapes Has Moved!

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Dreaming of Landscapes has moved to its new self hosted space. You can find it at binglestudios.com.

Latest Article for the Washington ASLA: Maintenance Planning

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This is a reprint of an article that appeared in the December edition of the newsletter for the Washington Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (WASLA).

Most landscape architects know that maintenance is an important element of landscapes, but landscape architects are rarely involved in the maintenance of the landscapes they design. This is beginning to change. This past October at the Green Gardening Workshop an entire session was dedicated to a presentation of the maintenance plan for Seola Gardens prepared by Johnson and Southerland. Intrigued, I took some time to talk with Margaret Johnson ASLA, LEED AP about the emerging field of maintenance planning and what it could mean for landscape architects.

Seola Gardens is a affordable housing development in the Roxbury Neighborhood of Seattle built by the King County Housing Authority. Several years after completion, the King County Housing Authority began to notice that the landscape did not match with their landscape vision. They worked with the maintenance crew but miscommunications resulted in frustration and a landscape that still did not match the management team’s vision. Finally, the King County Housing Authority asked Johnson Southerland to develop a landscape maintenance plan for them. Working with a team of horticulturalists and arborists, Johnson Southerland condensed the King County Housing Authority’s landscape vision into a series of maintenance goals and standards and developed¬† a yearly maintenance schedule. They also provided illustrations showing when and how plants should be planted and how to prune shrubs.

Johnson Southerland had past experience with the King County Housing Authority. Several years previously, Johnson Southerland developed a series of maintenance plans for several King County Housing Authority apartment building landscapes. These guides aimed to provide the property managers with a simple system to maintain the value of their landscapes. However, these plans ended up on shelves and were forgotten by the time new property managers too over the property.

Margaret Johnson feels that Seola Gardens has been successful because the maintenance plan provides a few simple steps that the property management team can take to insure that everyone involved with the landscape is included in decisions about the landscape and understands the landscape vision. At Seola Gardens the maintenance plan calls for a biannual meeting in the fall and spring of the landscape architect, arborist, maintenance team and managers. The group reviews the past six months, tours the property and sets priorities for the next six months. This allows everyone involved with the landscape to help in creating a consistent landscape vision and setting goals to achieve this vision.

Despite the success of Seola Gardens, gaps still exist in our knowledge of maintenance planning. Margaret Johnson pointed to mulch as one example. Over the last decade, she has seen an oscillation between bark mulch and compost as the mulch of choice. However, there is little scientific evidence to support favoring one type of mulch over another. Currently, there is research underway to answer some of the questions surrounding maintenance, such as the work of Linda Chalker-Scott at Washington State University.

It seems assured that landscape maintenance plans will become increasingly important in the future. The Sustainable Sites Initiative features an entire section for maintenance and operations. In addition, maintenance plans preserve the value of landscapes, improve communication amongst landscape professionals and property management staff and reduce the use of resources in the landscape. These benefits and continuing work in the field of maintenance planning is sure to bring new energy and excitement to the profession of landscape architecture.

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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