Freeway Park, Seattle

I had the opportunity to visit Jim Ellis Freeway Park in downtown Seattle last June – an iconic public space designed by landscape architects Lawrence Halprin & Angela Danadjieva. It was the first park built over a freeway, and was conceived as a means of re-connecting neighborhoods that were severed from the downtown when Interstate 5 was built. The original section of the park was opened on July 4, 1976 – the nation’s bicentennial.

The park’s structures were designed in the brutalist style that was in vogue at the time, including board-formed concrete walls, planters, and fountain elements. Also, Halprin envisioned the character of this space as “freeway vernacular” (hence the emphasis on concrete), while representing the region’s mountain ranges with the various heights and shapes of the fountain structures. Waterfalls were a large part of the fountains during the early years of the park, and effectively masked the noise from vehicular traffic on the freeway below. However, due to maintenance and safety concerns, some of the fountains were shut off in more recent years. When I visited, no water was running, and I don’t know whether the fountains are turned on at all during the summer.

Plantings throughout the park were also designed to help mask freeway noise and to reduce vehicular pollution. The plant communities represent those typically found in the natural areas of the nearby mountains, and include many mature trees and broadleaf evergreen shrubs.

Urban parks built in this style in the decades following World War II have often suffered from neglect in recent years, but this space seems to be relatively well-maintained and appreciated, at least for now. I hope the interest and support for Freeway Park will persist into the future.


Main fountain structure in Freeway Park


Typical zig-zag walkway with seating


One of several park entrances


Smaller fountain structure next to one of the park’s plazas


Typical seating design


Main fountain structure, sans water

Photos by Alice Webb

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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.
 
Red Butte Garden 1
Allium and falling water
 
Red Butte Garden 2
Four Seasons garden
 
Red Butte Garden 3
Herb garden
 
Red Butte Garden 4
Fragrance garden
 
Red Butte Garden 5
A roof garden with a view
 
Photos by Alice Webb

An Oasis in the Inner City

cover - WSDCC playground

Kids from impoverished sections of my city don’t often get to play in natural settings, since they typically live in apartment houses and buildings with little to no yard space. That has recently changed for some lucky preschoolers at the Webster Square Day Care Center here in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The center, which operates out of the lower level of a church, wanted to update their playground, which then consisted of scattered equipment within a sand surface. Originally their goal was to simply change the surfacing to a safer material that would be acceptable under current state requirements for day care centers. However, I convinced them to take the renovation a step further and add some nature-based features for a more enriching play experience.

My firm developed plans for this playground, and the day care center received several grants which funded the improvements over a period of a couple years. Since the budget was fairly limited, we retained the existing play equipment, keeping the larger pieces in their pre-existing locations and moving the smaller items. Plants, rocks, stepping stones, logs, water and sand play tables, musical chimes, and a vegetable garden were added to the space.

Although the playground is used exclusively by the day care center during the weekdays, it is open in the evenings and on weekends for use by neighborhood children. The kids get a lot of enjoyment out of this space, and I’m told that the natural features are particularly popular. A few “before” and “after” photos are included below to illustrate the improvements.

1 - before - west end A
BEFORE:  A couple of play panels, sand surfacing, weeds, and an ugly fence (owned by the neighbors) were all that existed on the west side of the playground. The wooded area behind the play area is on adjacent property.
 
2 - after - west end A
AFTER: Relocated play house, plants (including shrubs which will grow to hide the fence), stepping logs, & chimes. The drums are portable, stored in a nearby shed.


3 - before - west end B
BEFORE: West end of the playground
 
4 - after - west end B
AFTER:  Lots of enjoyment from a few simple features


5 - before - east end
BEFORE: East end of the playground
 
6 - after - east end
AFTER:  Rocks and plants create a space for imaginative play.


7 - before - central area
BEFORE:  Central section of playground
 
8 - after - central area
AFTER:  Existing play equipment was retained, engineered wood fiber safety surfacing was installed, and a sand table was added. An at-grade sand play area is situated behind the table.


9 - before - garden area
BEFORE:  Unused, weedy area west of the existing shed
 
10 - after - garden area
AFTER:  A raised vegetable garden for the children to learn about growing food
 
Photos by Alice Webb and the Webster Square Day Care Center staff

An “Urban Glade” in Miami Beach

The Lincoln Road pedestrian mall in Miami Beach includes a relatively new addition: a block of water gardens that evoke Florida’s Everglades. The site was designed by the landscape architecture firm of Raymond Jungles, Inc., and construction was completed in 2010. The surfaces of the water gardens are raised above the surrounding pavement, and include many native plants such as Bald Cypress, Red Mangrove, and Pond Apple. The biomorphic shapes of the gardens and seats are juxtaposed with the bold linear pattern of the surrounding pavement, creating an interesting combination of urban and natural themes.
 
Lincoln Road Mall 1
The gardens include a variety of plants that thrive in or near water, with an emphasis on native vegetation.
 
Lincoln Road Mall 2
Islands in the water gardens – these ones include large Bald Cypress trees. I’m guessing that the surrounding water somehow infiltrates the soil in the islands from below.
 
Lincoln Road Mall 3
A “dry” garden with Live Oak trees
 
Lincoln Road Mall 4
The gardens are raised above the surrounding pavement – some more than others.
 
Lincoln Road Mall 5
Mosaic surfacing forms bold stripes in the pavement.
 
Lincoln Road Mall 6
Water flows over this pond edge into a drain for recirculation.
  
Photos by Alice Webb

Think Spring (and Summer)

This is the time of year (in New England, as least) that many of us are really longing for warmer weather, tired of shoveling snow and otherwise being secluded indoors. The following images (from my garden in spring and summer) should provide some welcome relief from the bleakness of winter:

Barren Strawberry
Barren Strawberry

Chives in bloom
Chives in Bloom

Cranesbills (True Geraniums)
Cranesbills (True Geraniums)

Crocus
Crocus

Fritillary butterfly on Boneset
Boneset with Fritillary Butterfly

Goat's Beard
Goat’s Beard with Hostas

Japanese Iris
Japanese Iris

Lace-cap Hydrangea
Lace-cap Hydrangea

New growth - variegated Andromeda
New Growth on Variegated Andromeda

Red Admiral on Enkianthus
Red Velvet Enkianthus with Red Admiral Butterfly

Variegated Solomon's Seal
Variegated Solomon’s Seal

Violets
Violets in the Lawn

Photos by Alice Webb

Portland Japanese Garden

In Portland, Oregon, there is a lovely 5.5-acre Japanese garden situated in a hilly area west of the city center, within Washington Park. It is considered one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan. I visited this serene setting in May a couple of years ago, and would like to share some of my photos.

Portland Japanese Garden A

 

Portland Japanese Garden B

 

Portland Japanese Garden C

 

Portland Japanese Garden D

 

Portland Japanese Garden E

 

Portland Japanese Garden F

 

Portland Japanese Garden G

 

Portland Japanese Garden H

 

Portland Japanese Garden I

 

Portland Japanese Garden J

 

Portland Japanese Garden K

 

Portland Japanese Garden L

 

Photos by Alice Webb

Plants for all Seasons

After deciduous trees have shed their leaves in cold climates, the landscape need not be a boring and drab scene. There are a number of plants that display ornamental characteristics during the chillier months of the year, sporting colorful and interesting bark, stems, fruits, and seeds. Below are a few examples that should brighten your day!
 

A stunning display of Bloodtwig Dogwoods
 

Crabapple fruit against a backdrop of fallen Ginkgo leaves
 

Hydrangea seed heads add visual interest to the winter landscape.
 

The bark of this River Birch appears to glow in the sun.
 

Although ornamental grasses die back in winter, leaving their flower stems and foliage in place until spring adds color and texture to winter landscapes.
 

Brightly-colored Weeping Willow branches enhance a snowy park scene.
 
Photos by Alice Webb