Feature Article - October 2011
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A Born Natural

Nature Takes Its Place in Recreational Experience

By Kelly Anderson

"Rather than controlling nature, people are willing to be friends with it and live as a part of it. We are hearing from urban environments that people want ponds and water features more like a creek; people are interested in getting closer to nature."

James Burnett -
The Office of James Burnett

Go With the Flow

No one sets out to make a job more difficult. Whether it's choosing the right seating or the right plants, knowing how to go with the flow of the environment will go a long way toward reducing management headaches.

When developing a master plan for the vast acreage of the Parklands of Floyds Fork, the first order of business was to identify their natural assets. "The first thing was to take an inventory of what is special in our park," Martin said. "The landscape is special and we didn't want to diminish it or detract from it with artificial architecture. Secondly, we had to design accessibility to those places."

With a whole board highly committed to the park as an educational facility, it was important to maintain the integrity of the landscape and to work with its seasonal ebb and flow. Knowing, for example, that the creek that forms the spine of the park is dynamic, flooding and drying up at certain times of the year, the planners built bridges designed to handle worst-case scenario 100-year events, and trails were constructed where there would not be much current.

Similarly, not wanting to fight or work against the natural setting, the planners embraced the popular philosophy of "grow, don't mow," allowing much of the native areas to remain untouched. "What we don't do is just as important as what we do," Martin explained of the team's approach to landscaping. "When you come in the park, you have a series of ponds and savannas that really just need a little buffing on the edges. You can highlight many spaces without bringing in a Caterpillar D9 to re-contour that piece of land."

Room to Grow

Even when nature is not the star of the show, landscaping can still greatly impact a patron's experience. At the Annenburg Community Beach House, landscaping is given much of the credit for helping to create distinctive spaces, helping improve patron comfort and for creating a greater sense of atmosphere.

With a structure designed with many distinct spaces, landscaping was used to help define them.

"We wanted to create distinct places within the property that related to the buildings," Lehrer explained. "So the front guest house garden needed to feel more like a residence that celebrated the original history of the house, but also allowed people to meander into the house through a series of plantings."

Other spaces, from volleyball courts and children's play areas to a café and quiet terraces attracting older patrons for conversation, reading and card playing, are planted according to their need and their aesthetic—palms for shade, roses for beauty and pines for durability in a salty-sea-wind environment. The plants help create a sense of space.

They also serve to soften the severity of manmade necessities like the safety walls surrounding the pool, and transform pathways into more than just a functional experience.