Ecological Restoration as Art?
It’s almost Christmas and it’s cold, dark, and dead-looking outside. Thought we’d brighten up the mood with a project profile.
The client owns ten acres in Princeton, New Jersey, and expressed interest in restoring their property to be more ‘woods-like and authentic.’ The property is in EcoRegion 064a and features a typical upland oak-hickory forest with bountiful Danthonia spicata and Carex pensylvanica patches, among other appropriately indigenous species. However, the prior owners had done their best to beat back nature with turf grass, Japanese pachysandra, Boston ivy, Japanese spiraea, and other typical landscaping plants, which weren’t doing particularly well. The clients wanted something more natural and consistent with how the property might have looked in the past, but implemented in a way that would present as an artistic landscape.
Is it possible to do an ecology-oriented project but still have it look like a designed landscape? Ecological restoration as art? Challenging, but exciting.
Our first major task was to visit known oak-hickory reference (e.g. clean and mostly undisturbed) sites in EcoRegion 064 to catalog what was growing; we also consulted historical botanical records for the area that would augment our field observations. Using this information, we shared a palette of site-appropriate species with the clients and they opted for colorful species with interesting textures. From this narrowed list, we revisited the reference sites to hone in on the soil characteristics in which the species were growing and then built a tailored soil specification.
Once we had sourced the soil components, we started the build process, which was fairly typical. The steps, starting with a design charrette and morphing into a master plan, and then a detailed design for the front gardens, are shown below.