An Urban Dog Park



I’m back from a blogging hiatus, and I’ve got a few sites to post about that I visited during a trip to Seattle earlier this year. The first is a unique little dog park in the city that’s tucked between a couple large buildings downtown.

Most leash-free sites that come to mind are the suburban variety with large fenced lawns – although this one is small, it’s a valuable amenity for those urban-dwelling canines who don’t have their own yards to roam. Dogs who live in the city are probably used to smaller, cramped quarters anyway, so they don’t need a lot of space to run around and socialize off-leash.

This little dog park is the best-looking one I’ve ever seen – although the dogs don’t care, their humans probably appreciate the pleasant features of this space. Instead of being separated from the street and other areas with fencing, the designers took advantage of the grade change of the site and included a retaining wall which works very well as a barrier. This wall is an attractive metal gabion which includes a carefully-placed line of aqua-colored glass stones along the center.

The park also contains a little patch of lawn (artificial, I’m assuming); rocks (for peeing?); a dog-height drinking fountain; and a multi-level platform (perhaps so the pups can play “king of the hill”). And, of course, there’s the requisite doggy poop bag station. The whole park looks like it’s regularly washed down to keep things clean.

I rate this space as a win-win for both the dogs and their people.
 
Photo by Alice Webb

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Post Office Square, Boston

In Boston’s financial district, a lovely 1.7-acre park is nestled between the office buildings, giving workers and others a pleasant respite for enjoying lunch and relaxation. Post Office Square, also known as Norman B. Leventhal Park, features numerous trees and other plantings, an open lawn, a pergola along one boundary, fountains, and a café. This space is privately-owned and maintained, but open to the public. It was completed in 1992 on a site that was formerly occupied by an above-ground garage. Parking is now located below the property.
 
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A central lawn, pergola with benches, and other seating areas provide plenty of opportunities for relaxation.
 
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Fountain near the north end of the park
 
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Seating wall along the west side of the space
 
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Café with outdoor seating at the south end
 
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The park is flanked by several attractive art deco buildings.
 
Photos by Alice Webb

Protect Your Trees, Please!

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We all love trees in our built landscapes, but the odds are against their survival if we don’t follow a few simple rules. Although I’m not a horticulturist or urban forester, I’ve worked with people in those professions in the past and learned a lot from them. I’ve also attended lectures and webinars by renowned arboriculture expert, James Urban, from which I’ve gained valuable knowledge.

I’ve seen countless examples of trees that are improperly sited, planted, and/or maintained, which oftentimes has shortened their life span. Below I’ve listed some guidelines for design, installation, and maintenance that will increase the chances of your new trees thriving to a venerable old age, and keep existing trees healthy as well.

New Trees:

  • Shade trees such as Maples and Oaks should be spaced at least 35 feet on center for healthy crown (canopy) development.
  • Do not specify tree grates or guards. These will girdle (i.e. strangle) trees when their trunks outgrow the size of the grate hole or guard diameter. Better alternatives around the base of the tree are mulched areas, groundcover plantings, pavers on sand setting beds, or porous rubber surfacing, which the tree trunk can push away as it grows.
  • Avoid specifying staking and guying, since the guys are frequently never removed, girdling and killing the tree as it grows. A tree cannot survive if its supply of water and nutrients is completely cut off. (This action occurs in the cambium layer, just beneath the bark.) Trees do not need stakes and guys unless they are planted in extremely windy sites or have abnormally small root balls in comparison to the size of their canopy. In these cases, make absolutely sure that the stakes and especially the guys are removed after the first growing season.
  • Tree roots generally extend at least to the edge of the zone beneath the canopy of the tree, and often beyond that. Don’t limit the root zone to such a small area that the tree becomes stunted. Plan for its future growth where possible.
  • When the budget allows, invest in modular subgrade cells and structural soils to prevent soil compaction where trees are sited in sidewalks, plazas, and other hard-surfaced areas. These allow roots to grow sufficiently beneath paved sites, resulting in much healthier trees than those planted without these systems.
  • The planting hole should be at least twice the diameter of the root ball.
  • If roots are pot-bound (encircling the root ball), they should be unwound and extended out from the root ball as much as possible when planting.
  • The root ball should be set on firm soil so it the ball does not settle. The trunk flare, or collar, needs to be at least 3 inches above surrounding grade.
  • After the root ball is set in the hole, the areas around the root ball should be backfilled with un-amended native soil. Tamp soil in place by hand. Water heavily before mulching, and fill with more native soil where it has settled. Do not place any soil over the root ball.
  • Mulch should be about 3 inches thick, but no mulch should be placed within 6 inches of the trunk.
  • Trees should be watered at least once a week during drought periods for the first two years after installation. This means thoroughly soaking the root ball by hand, and not relying on sprinklers!

Existing Trees:

  • On construction sites, keep construction equipment and any other heavy objects away from the root zones of existing trees. I advise specifying/installing temporary fencing around the root zones for this purpose. Compaction of soil around roots will kill a tree.
  • Do not specify any grading within root zones of existing trees (neither cut nor fill). Cutting will destroy roots; filling will suffocate them.
  • Do not trench though a tree’s root zone, for installation of utilities or any other purpose. As mentioned earlier, this zone often extends beyond the tree’s canopy edge. The small feeder roots near the surface of the soil are just as important to the tree as its larger roots are. Cutting through any roots will often shorten the life of the tree.

All Trees (Old and New):

  • Do not “volcano mulch” around trees (piling mulch high around the trunk). This can lead to rot and decay of the buried part of the trunk, and result in a tree’s death. As noted earlier, mulch should only be about 3” thick, and should not be placed within 6” of the trunk.
  • Keep a mulch or plant bed around trees that are in an open lawn situation, instead of allowing grass to grow to the trunk. Turf adjacent to trees can be an invitation for overzealous weed trimming around the trunk, which can cut through the bark, particularly of young trees. If these cuts completely encircle the tree, this can result in girdling, leading to the tree’s death.
  • If you’re going to hire someone to prune your trees, be sure to hire a certified arborist for this job, not just anyone with a chain saw. Improper pruning can compromise a tree’s health.
  • Do not encircle a tree’s trunk and branches with strings of holiday lights, unless you plan to remove the lights after the winter season or holiday. If the lights are left in place indefinitely, the tree will be girdled as it tries to grow.

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Death by tree ties
 
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Trees outgrowing their grates and guards
 
Photo credits:
Top photo of large tree – Stefan Wernli (obtained from Wikimedia Commons)
All other photos – Alice Webb

North End Parks, Boston

On a chilly, windy Sunday back in late March, I walked the majority of the Rose Kennedy Greenway while visiting Boston. I found that most areas were devoid of visitors, except for the North End Parks and the southern-most tip at the Chinatown gate (which always seems to have activity). The two North End parcels (divided by a cross street) include a spacious steel pergola running along the east perimeter, facing a lawn and linear water play areas. I imagine that these spaces attract big crowds in summer, judging from the amount of use they got on the cold day I visited. The parks feel quite connected to the city, with views in all directions of downtown and north end buildings, as well as the iconic Zakim bridge. However, ample plantings and some grade separations help to segregate these spaces comfortably from the busy perimeter streets.
 
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All the swinging benches in the pergolas were occupied at the time – unfortunately, I’ve heard that they’ve been removed due to maintenance/safety issues, and replaced with standard benches (which were there before).
 
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Area with water play jets
 
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Photos by Alice Webb

An Uncommon Playground

I finally got to visit the play area on the Common in Cambridge, Massachusetts – A superbly-designed space with hills, custom wooden structures, sand and water play areas, logs, plants, and other fun and unusual components. It includes many elements that help define a successful playground – one modeled on natural features that fosters imaginative, open-ended play. Although there weren’t many children there when I visited (likely due to cold weather and other plans on Easter Sunday), I could tell that the playground is well-used and loved, with sand tracked all over the place!
 
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A challenging wooden climber
 
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Sand play station
 
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Swings, plants, rocks, and a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round
 
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Climbing net on a hillside
 
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A custom wooden structure, slide, and tunnel
 
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Water play station (too cold in March for the water to be turned on yet)
 
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One of several attractive custom wooden benches
 
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Custom wooden picnic table and seats
 
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Sculptural entry gate
 
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Logs provide a balance challenge
 
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Wooden “ship”
 
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Double slide embedded in a mound
 
Photos by Alice Webb

Red Butte Garden

I like to post photos of warmer seasons while we’re in the depths of winter, to remind us that spring is not very far ahead. Here are a few scenes from a lovely botanical garden on the edge of Salt Lake City, Utah, which I visited last June.
 
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Allium and falling water
 
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Four Seasons garden
 
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Herb garden
 
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Fragrance garden
 
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A roof garden with a view
 
Photos by Alice Webb

Merging Nature with Architecture

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While in search of interesting examples of landscape architecture in Salt Lake City last spring, I came across a building and site with an unusual juxtaposition of formal and naturalistic design. The LDS Conference Center includes two sides that were designed to represent a mountainside, dominated by a series of terraces with coniferous trees. The other two sides of this massive edifice, however, are quite formal in design, with a prominent tower from which a water cascade falls to the street level below. The roof landscape also features this peculiar blending of nature and structure. It’s almost as if vegetation were taking over the building from the east and north sides. Many parts of this design are quite attractive, but I’m not so sure that the scheme works as a whole.

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LDS Conference Center (view from south) – The vast and stark hardscapes of the roof and entry plaza contrast with the naturalistic planting design of the roof’s large meadow and trees.

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LDS Conference Center (view from northeast), showing the planted terraces

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Formally-designed elements of the building and landscape include a tower with a water cascade that falls down to the street level, and reflecting pools on the roof.

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Up on the roof: One in a series of formal water features with a naturalistic landscape beyond

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Tower view on the roof

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The roof includes an expansive meadow with a view of the distant mountains

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Northeast corner of the building with trees on terraces, suggesting a mountainside

Aerial images obtained from Google Earth; all other photos by Alice Webb