Landscapes of the Month: Cultivating a Green Oasis in the City - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Landscapes of the Month: Cultivating a Green Oasis in the City

Photo: LandCare

Nestled between Circa Center Tower and 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is Drexel Square, a privately-owned, publicly-accessible park open year-round.

The 12,064 square-foot Elliptical Lawn is the focal point of Drexel Square. It provides a reprieve for visitors in busy downtown Philadelphia where they can gather, relax or enjoy a meal. Park tables surround the lawn to encourage social gatherings.

Photo: LandCare

Constructed in 2018, Drexel Square is also lined by twenty 30 feet tall dawn redwoods. LandCare took on the maintenance contract in July 2019. They found many of the flowers in the raised planter beds would be unsuccessful due to their proximity to the redwoods. LandCare’s team replaced these flowers with 800 perennials that prefer direct sunlight and moist soil.

Plants within seven to eight feet off the bases of the trees were removed to prioritize the health of the trees. Now lantana and Wave petunias create a colorful groundcover in the planters.

LandCare’s work maintaining Drexel Square earned them a Silver Award in the 2020 Awards of Excellence.

Photo: LandCare

“I think it’s incredible,” says Joe Bacon, an account manager with LandCare. “It’s a really special, high-profile site. Everyone has such pride in caring for that site. It’s a cool thing to get to work on that crew and everyone was just super pumped, and we hope to win another one.”

The Elliptical Lawn is located above ground floor classrooms owned by Drexel University, causing the soil to reach only 8 inches deep. This creates various maintenance challenges with water retention, turf burn and blight susceptibility. LandCare uses a robust eight-step turf program to care for the lawn. In the fall, they do seeding and aeration.

“Throughout the whole season, we will do any touch-up seeding or sod replacements,” Bacon says. “Just never letting it become a problem even when very minute issues occur, just being prompt with the solution is wildly important.”

Due to the unique design of the Elliptical Lawn, irrigation schedules were adjusted to water more frequently at reduced cycles to keep water in the root zone without oversaturating the lawn.

The client requested the property’s raised planters be maintained chemical-free, presenting a challenge when weeds appear in the spring and summer, requiring hand pulling.

Photo: LandCare

“It’s honestly pretty cool,” Bacon says. “It does require a lot more maintenance and hand pulling and so forth. But that was an initiative by the client that they’re pushing out on a lot of their campuses.”

In the turf, LandCare’s team implemented an integrated pest management (IPM) approach, using the least amount of chemicals possible without sacrificing the quality of the lawn area. LandCare also conducts soil analyses on a regular basis to monitor the health of the turf.

“I would say the most challenging part is the urban setting and high traffic,” Bacon says. “There’s high heat due to all of the concrete around.”

With the radiation of the pavers coupled with being surrounded by glass skyscrapers, the perennial plants are often burnt out.

“It’s a constant responsibility to make sure that everything is living and thriving,” Bacon says.

Photo: LandCare

Working in a high traffic area, Bacon says the space is very time, weather and heat sensitive. Their crews typically get to Drexel Square at sunrise and leave by 8 or 8:30 a.m. On a weekly basis, six employees care for this space. At certain times in the year, they bolster that to 10 or 12 crew members. The crew is there weekly on average for four hours.

Bacon says they are very enthusiastic to be working in the midst of Schuylkill Yards, a fast-developing part of the city.

Interested in participating in the Awards of Excellence? Submit your entries by Aug. 9, 2021. 

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.