Supplement Feature - April 2008
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Trends in Park Landscaping

By Sue Marquette Poremba


Sarah Reding, vice president of conservation stewardship at the Kalamazoo, Mich., Nature Center also is seeing people take more of an interest in plant selection, but in her case, there is a trend toward using more native plants as opposed to non-native plants.

Reding's organization helps businesses, golf courses and other members of the Kalamazoo community design their park spaces. She, like many landscapers around the country, is taking a sustainable, or green, approach, to landscaping. For example, bluebird boxes are popular, she said, to increase the bird population. To safely protect pond water, Reding said her group raises beetles and then releases them into the pond. "They fight off foreign species," she explained.

But Kalamazoo isn't a stranger to water issues, either, and Reding approaches her landscape designs with preserving water in mind. One of the best ways to do that, she said, is to use native plants as a first choice.

Because most of the park space she helps to develop is privately owned, there is already a level of involvement by the community the park serves, although some involvement is greater for some groups than others. She developed a park on the Pfizer Inc., grounds recently. "The staff at the corporation monitor the park grounds," she said. "They are a bunch of research scientists, and are interested."

Otherwise, her greatest community outreach is educating the people she is working with on green-friendly landscaping options. "There are people who still want the perfect green grass lawn," she said, "but more people are becoming aware of the need to reduce our carbon footprint and preserve water."

Across Lake Michigan, Gregg Calpino of JJR, a nationally recognized landscape architecture and engineering firm in Chicago, said he, too, is seeing a pattern of sustainable landscaping. "It could be part of a LEED building, a green infrastructure or an eco-focus park," he said.

Residents, he added, are looking at whether or not the space is an active or passive park—is it a place to play Frisbee or is it a place to simply enjoy the landscape—and that is taken into account when landscaping parks.

Calpino also advocates the use of native plants. "They are more tolerant of the conditions," he explained. He also thinks native plants do a better job of naturally trapping water. He likes to look at historic patterns of the park he is landscaping, such as a current project he's working on at Hiram Park. He is returning the beach area to its natural landscape. It's been difficult to plan, he said, because of the current low water levels.

"You have to plan for the conditions," he said, but in a situation like this, you also have to plan for extreme levels and, in this case, even normal water-level conditions so the park's beach area won't wash away. To do so, he's working with plant life that has been historically native to that beach area and returning it to its most natural condition.

"We still see turf," he said, "but we're seeing less turf used as filler as standard landscape. You now find turf where it is being used, like playing fields."

However, even that is changing, he continued. As maintenance costs rise and concerns about water usage increase, more parks, like Chicago's Lincoln Park, are switching over to artificial field turf. Communities, Calpino pointed out, are looking at turf alternatives, anything that uses less water.

"Water problems are a common issue everywhere," Calpino said. "Even the Great Lakes are down to record low levels."

Five or six years ago, Calpino explained, he would have had to justify to citizens why he wasn't putting in standard turf. "Now," he said, "it is the opposite." People want more diverse landscaping and more sustainable landscaping.