02-19-21 | Feature

Sustainable Landscapes are Functioning Interpretations of Nature

New Tripoli
by Laura S.D. Greloch, The Outdoor Room

Black Swallowtail butterfly feeding on Allium lusitanicum 'All Summer Beauty' (Ornamental Onion)
A) Carex flagellifera 'Toffee Twist' (Bronze Sedge), B) Osmunda Regalis (Royal Fern), planted with (in the background) Penstemon 'Huskers Red' (Beardstongue) [All in Autumn display]
A) Stachys byzantine 'Helen von Stein', B) Molina caerulea 'Moorflamme' (Purple Moor Grass), C) Eryngium yuccifolium (Rattlesnake Master)
Helenium autumnale 'Mariachi Fuego' planted with (out of view) Astilbe chinensis var. taquetii (False Goatsbeard), Molina caerulea 'Moorhexe' (Purple Moor Grass), Sorghastrum nutans 'Indian Steel' (Indian Grass)
Astilbe chinensis var. taquetii (False Goatsbeard), planted with (in the background) Echinacea 'White Swan' and 'Magnus', Leymus aurenarius 'Blue Dune' (Blue Lyme Grass - to be used with caution because of its spreadibility - but a beautiful color in the landscape where it is partnered with equally aggressive species)
A) Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance' (form of Japanese Sedge), B) Osmunda regallis (Royal Fern, coming into autumn color)
Geranium maculatum 'Espresso' (Spotted Cranesbill), planted with (in the background): Iris pallida 'Varieagata Aurea' (Yellow Variegated Sweetflag) and Stachys byzantine 'Helen von Stein' (Large Leaf Lambsear - Great for its use as a course texture and pale foliage to contrast with other finer foliage. Works well with grassy textures, burgundies and is an over-all great trouble-free foil in the landscape)
A) Penstemon 'Huskers Red' (Beardstongue), B) Eryngium yuccifolium (Rattlesnake Master), C) Osmunda Regalis (Royal Fern) [All in Autumn display]

This New Tripoli, Pennsylvania, property is an old farm and pasture landscape visited by bear, turkey, deer and a lively bird population. Envisioned to be a sustainable meadow that would thrive through a range of conditions, this 11 1/2-acre site consists of a planting palette that is both ecological and sustainable.

Ecologically Artful Landscape
The method of ecological landscaping requires the craftsman to consider how a site's natural features will be impacted by proposed structures and maintenance while creating outdoor living spaces and gardens that complement the surrounding environment. To be successful at this practice of sustainable landscape design, we honor a stringent list of site-specific criteria and choose a planting palette compatible with the parameters of soil type, moisture level, sun exposure, pressure from invasive species and a client's particular requirement for aesthetics and aftercare.

The soul of the sustainable landscape is to function as nature does, requiring as little human intervention as possible, while enhancing human joy through visual appeal and interaction. Designing plant communities that are fluid, functional and elapse season-long interest require diligent observation of thriving natural plant communities, detailed research, trial and error, testing of maintenance practices and patience. The possibilities are endless as we strive to deliver creative solutions that draw people into these crafted landscapes.

As an experienced garden designer and Landscape Architect, Laura S.D. Greloch, of The Outdoor Room, refers to this practice as ecologically artful landscape design. Through observation, she takes cues from nature's placement of plants and studies habitats in the environment that reveal intricate patterns, or randomness. Nature plays on how plants congregate, and benefit, through their collective groupings in the landscape. On both private residences and public spaces, environmentally conscious landscapes include permeable hardscape surfaces and relatable architectural scale; plants are chosen in layers and by season of interest to ensure that weeds are suppressed, pollinators stimulated and texture and visual appeal are provided throughout the cyclical annual cycle.

Sustainable landscapes steer toward the result of water conservation and enhanced water quality, minimize erosion and run-off, protect and supplement biodiversity, and diminish the use of toxic pesticides and non-renewable resources.

The Project
The goal for this project was to consider the ecology of the overall site and define outdoor living spaces by the individual uniqueness and variety of existing habitats present. The team was tasked to create observation points or nodes from which to pause to encourage a deeper connection to both the designed and indigenous habitats.

Located at the foot of Pennsylvania's Blue Mountain, a former agricultural pasture on this 11A 1/2 -acre site existed stone hedgerows, a trickling mountain fed creek, and a flanking mature woodland of upper piedmont oak, maple, poplar and beech. Declining ash trees on site have opened the canopy in places to awaken blooms of Hamamelis virginiana and Azalea prinophyllum and reveal an emergence of numerous, long dormant understory plants including a montage of Phlox divaricata (Purple Woodland Phlox), Adiantum pedatum (Maidenhair Fern), and Trillium luteum (Yellow Wakerobin), Mertensia virginia (Virginia Blue Bells), Cornus canadensis (Bunchberry) and Geranium maculatum (Wood Cranesbill)that are widely missed due to their ephemeral spring time seasonality.

The clients' list of wishes included to preserve and make more accessible, the widely self-sustaining native landscape, be mindful of the water needs in proposed gardens, negate the use of pesticides, encourage pollinators, provide winter forage for birds, and tolerate deer browse and the occasional bear. Trust and broad creative freedom were given by the clients to provide the best design and to steward the site responsibly for them to enjoy and experience.

Fifteen years after its inception, the meadow portion of the site development was the final phase of the landscape master plan. The Meadow Garden comprises four fields of planting separated by narrow mown paths. A stone spill-way slows run-off during heavy downpours through the site to allow dispersion of run-off while giving foundation to a painted iron bridge which serves as a point to pause and view the gardens above ground level. Peripheral meadow beds border the wood-line like a ribbon and transition to the vernacular landscape.

Preparation for the site began in the late summer of 2015, followed by installation in the fall of the next year. Structure plantings were placed initially; dominant shrubs, grasses and perennial drifts followed by a matrix of low growing sedges, groundcovers, herbs, and bulbs. The design team's intent was justified with the arrival of small butterflies and bees seemingly immediate as the inventory arrived and was laid out into position.

A Living Landscape
An ecologically artful landscape evolves continually, it ebbs & flows with the seasons and brings many unexpected surprises. This season was not unusual, as quarterly visits to the property found an abundance of Pollinators, Bees, Black Swallowtail and Monarch Butterflies, Cicadas, and a diminished amount of nuisance Black Flies, curiously. Woodpeckers were in abundance, including the Great Pileated. Bluebirds, woodland gold finches and the occasional Oriol, Pheasant and Turkey. Magic is found here and a plethora of life in the evolving diversity.

Ecological landscape design engages people and fosters a balance between the built environment with what already occurs on the site combined with the selection of species that meet these cultural conditions.

As seen in LASN magazine, January 2021.


Sign up for
LAWeekly newsletter. Get exclusive content today.