Feature Article - November 2006
Find a printable version here

Open Invitation

Landscape design brings in visitors

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Smart planning

With all these ideas swirling about, it's natural to want to grab a shovel and some potting soil and jump right in. But the landscape designers we consulted are certain this is not the right first step.

"Start with a serious analysis of the existing facility in terms of what's working and what isn't," Fraze advised. Do you have a blank canvas of open field or a series of past planting efforts that haven't quite worked out? Are your grounds overgrown and underused or so well loved that the greenery can't keep up?

"You can easily freshen a facility by changing the [landscaping] material, but other things can have a bigger impact, [such as adjustments to] parking lots and traffic flow, both vehicular and pedestrian," he said.

For example, rather than the usual system of sewer ducts and drains to collect and dispose of rainwater runoff from a parking lot, Fraze is a fan of the bio-filter. A basic bio-filter includes a ditch to collect the water, which is planted with a variety of vegetation to slow the water's flow, as well as extract debris. Then at the lowest point, the water is absorbed into the ground, or it may be carried via a small pipe to drain elsewhere, Fraze explained. At Arbor Hills Nature Preserve in Plano, Texas, a huge, spiraling bio-filter transports excess water to a nearby creek and also makes the parking lot more attractive with a central island.

"We're teaching people the moment they come into the parking lot how to be good stewards of the land," Fraze said. And, he noted, as an extra bonus, kids really like to play on it, too.

As you analyze and identify problem areas, specific needs and opportunities for improvement, it's also a good idea to talk with other facilities in climates and cities similar to yours to get a sense of what sorts of landscape design projects have worked well for them and what consultants they've used, Fraze suggested. Surveying the surrounding area for other parks may allow you to enhance your facility by linking it to other nature spots via existing trails or something you could create.

When completed, the Oshkosh Riverfront project will link with the Wiouwash Trail, a multiuse path that connects to Wisconsin's state trail system and will likely bring many a hiker and traveler in to see what Oshkosh has to offer, Williams said.

In Orange County, Calif., the Great Park Design Team, led by landscape architect Ken Smith, is crafting a master plan to revitalize the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station into a world-class park that will be linked to existing green space and nature preserves to create a "wildlife corridor" comprised of national forest as well as state and local parks that stretches from the Cleveland National Forest to the Pacific Ocean.