(formerly known as The Parking Lot By That Wall)
We are very excited about the the opportunity to invest our time, expertise, and funds in a project that will bring beauty and enjoyment to our community while creating a habitat for pollinators. We have all grown weary of seeing the dreariness every day, and we want to demonstrate what we have learned: we can have beauty and function for us and the environment.
The GCOG members have varying levels of expertise from enthusiastic beginners to garden and landscape professionals as well as six certified master gardeners. One thing we all share is a love of our community, and this is the perfect project to celebrate our 95th year as we began our five year countdown to our Centennial.
We want to demonstrate that beauty, variety, and the environment can work together. Some equate “pollinator gardens” with “weedy mess”, and many homeowners do not know how many beautiful plants are east coast natives. We also want to showcase many of the beautiful and robust plants that we have in our gardens, especially the plants that we make available at our annual Plant Sale.
It Doesn’t Look Very Promising
We cannot make the wall disappear, and there will always be acres of asphalt and cars. There are strict limits on what we can plant on the areas controlled by the MTA, and we expect that these limits will be enthusiastically enforced in the near term. Instead of lamenting our limitations, we decided to focus on the area that isn’t ruled by a tri-state bureaucracy: the center island that divides the parking lot. We are going to focus on the western section of the island. Our garden will improve the parking lot view north from Arcadia Avenue, south from the stairs, and east from Sound Beach Avenue. Aesthetically, our main objective is to create a four season view that draws the eye away from the less attractive views. Plants with interesting structure and bold foliage will draw the eye and distract from the relentless asphalt and desert rose concrete.
The garden will be a mixed border. This will work well because it allows us to have four season interest, an appropriate scale (we need tall plants to compete with the wall and utility poles, as well as maintaining the balance as the trees grow), and using shrubs will make it easier to maintain. We also want to use color and texture to help reduce the visual confusion which is well known by anyone who has driven through there.
This is not a cutting edge design. We decided on this more traditional approach for several reasons:
People like it. It is pleasant and orderly without being formal. It represents the dominant garden style in Old Greenwich.
It is flexible. We can add to it or make significant changes while maintaining the design integrity.
Maintenance is relatively straight forward. We will use a limited selection of plants that have good manners.
It works with the island’s odd shape. The mix of foliage, height, and texture allow us to optimize the visual impact.
Too modern wouldn’t be appropriate. Clean lines and limited planting will emphasize the utility poles, the wall, and the island’s odd shape.
Meadow-like would look too messy. Narrow meadows look ridiculous. Also, this area is experienced by hundreds of people each day, and my experience is that non-gardeners do not appreciate them. Their “low maintenance” reputation is completely undeserved.
Every day, hundreds of commuters need to walk across the island. The town has planted two trees that obstruct the way home, but the town has agreed to MOVE THESE TREES. Instead of shimmying around trees, our citizens will be greeted by a walkway across the island that will be bordered with flowering plants. We feel that design should reflect what people desire instead of forcing them to change their behavior to accommodate the design. This pathway was already being formed before the trees were planted, and our design effectively “paves the cowpath,” which is a guiding principle in modern design. For the record, the path will not literally be paved, because the town uses asphalt and we have enough of that already. The path will be grass at first, and we may decide to leave it or use mulch or gravel.
These are pretty much a done deal, and I will write more about it when things are firmed up.
The centerpiece will be a Magnolia Grandiflora
A large tree will be planted to improve the view descending the stairs.
Native-ish flowering trees
Tall, narrow evergreens
Perennials and Shrubs
We are going to limit our plant palette. This will help keep the design cohesive and it will make maintenance a lot easier. We will need to keep this garden in a more traditional manner, and that means weeding, cutting back, and dead heading. We need to establish a standard of practice, and that will be easier if we have a dozen types of perennials instead of scores.
Plants, like GCOG members, will have these qualities:
Four season interest
Hardy and Long Lived
Available for the Plant Sale
Limit thugs. An aggressive plant will have to have a lot of merit.
Limit self seeders. I know this won’t get a lot of love, but I think it is very important. The simple truth is that they make weeding harder. Seed heads can be very attractive and wildlife appreciates them, but there is plenty of space where we can establish more naturalistic plantings. The average person thinks they look messy, and conversations that start with “You’re wrong, it’s actually beautiful” usually don’t go that well. Verbena bonariensis and aquilegia work because they are easy to recognize.
Emphasize late summer and fall bloom. The main reason for this is maintenance: late blooming plants look good all summer, but a lot of early bloomers look sad and hung-over after their blooming party, and constant bloom is very high maintenance. There is no shortage of early summer bloom in town, and we will have flowering shrubs and trees. Spring is always appreciated even if there are few flowers. The other reason is that there are so many underused fall blooming plants, most of which are great pollinator plants and many are native. Fall in Old Greenwich is under appreciated - I think we have the best fall on earth.
Use natives, but not exclusively. Many garden worthy exotic plants are excellent pollinator plants. Three exotics that will definitely be invited: sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, iris ‘Blessed Again’, and mum ‘Sheffield Pink’. The iris and mum represent Old Greenwich and the GCOG plant sale, and they bookend the season, providing the first and last perennial blooms. ‘Autumn Joy’ has no faults and not using it is masochistic.
The First Season
We will need to use annuals (large and bedding plants) and possibly some large containers until the other plants begin to fill in. Sunflowers and nicotiana sylvestris are great native-ish plants that will quickly establish the island as a beautiful GCOG project.