Featured Project: Temple II: North Gratz Street

In 2011, we continued with Phase II of the Temple North 16th Street project by 1260 Housing Development Corporation. Land Steward’s involvement in the project was to design and install a second phase of landscapes just a few blocks away on North Gratz St. Here 1260 has restored 29 historic townhomes, creating 40 energy-efficient family apartments. This project has been awarded LEED Platinum status, the largest of its kind in the nation. For more information on the housing restoration by 1260.

Our role in the Gratz street project was to design and install the 18 individual rear yards on the site. The goals of the project are that the landscape would be low-maintenance, conserving water and resources, not requiring the extensive irrigation systems, pruning, fertilizing and mowing typical of a conventional landscape.

The way we achieve these goals is by trying to design landscapes that work with nature and not against it. We begin by selecting plants that are well suited to this environment. We find that a palate of native perennial plants is most appropriate, since they have developed along with the local environment. They also help to preserve local native wildlife, while also providing a sense of place and identity to a project.

In nature, bare patches in landscapes don’t usually remain that way, some plant will almost always hurry to fill in the gaps. On Gratz street, any bare patch of soil that wasn’t constantly mown would soon be overwhelmed with weeds. For this reason we try to choose perennial plants that seed heavily or spread out quickly by their roots. This allows them to rapidly spread out and hold their own against the weeds. In a few seasons they are able to establish themselves and spread to fill in any gaps, not only suppressing weeds, but also casting dense shade on the ground. This helps to keep the ground cool and prevents it from drying out even in the heat of summer, allowing the plants to tolerate longer periods between rainfall.

The best way to hold onto water when it does rain is to have deep healthy soil, rich with organic matter. On Gratz St., organic matter was added to the planting beds in the form of compost. This will serve as a sponge for holding moisture, as well as provide nutrients for the growing plants. Over time, dead leaves and other vegetation will add to this organic matter and increase the soils water holding capacity.

When selecting plants for any project we like to incorporate plants that are not only appealing to the eye but those which also carry out different roles in the landscape. Some of the plants used on Gratz Street, for instance, Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis), Highbush and Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum, V. angustifolium) and Wither-rod viburnum (Viburnum nudum) are beautiful landscape plants that also yield edible fruit people can enjoy (if you can get to them before the birds do!) Plants like Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) and Blue-Stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) have fragrant leaves that can be used as healthful herbs added to food or tea.

To reduce the need for mowing on Gratz Street, the lawn areas throughout the site have been seeded with a No-Mow seed mix. This mix of clumping fescue grasses will stay reasonably short and requires mowing only a few times a year instead of the weekly mowing required by regular turf grass.

This project on Gratz Street is still fairly new, we are excited to see how things fill out in the spring. We look forward to updating this post with photos in the coming season!

2012 update.
Plants are settling in nicely. While some patches have succumb to the typical wear and tear of an urban site, the majority of the plants are going strong the second season, spreading out and setting seed. Blueberries are loaded with fruit and flowers are blooming and buzzing with life.