Landscapes of the Month: Keeping River Point Camera-Ready - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Landscapes of the Month: Keeping River Point Camera-Ready

Photo: Balanced Environments, Inc.

The West loop of Chicago is a hub of activity with numerous office buildings surrounding the Chicago River. One of these properties is River Point, a beautifully designed building created in 2016. This highly manicured property has a gorgeous view of the Chicago River and the skyscrapers that cover downtown Chicago.

Each day, between 1,500-4,000 people come to River Point for work, making it vital to keep the landscape at its best. But that’s not all. The most popular feature on the property is a vivid red swirl sculpture known as Constellation. This art piece is a backdrop for thousands of engagement and wedding photos each year. Balanced Environments, Inc., based in Mill Creek, Illinois, has maintained the various turf plots and ornamental plantings at River Point to keep the property looking sharp.

Challenges Overcome

When Balanced Environments took over the property, much work was needed.

Photo: Balanced Environments, Inc.

“The current account manager inherited this site unexpectedly and had to dive headfirst into a full-blown spring season,” says Gayle Kruckenberg, vice president of sales and marketing for BEI. “This is a challenge for anyone not to know a site and have to learn all the varying environments along the river, but also how a site this large operates.”

Many of the original plantings were reaching the end of their lifespan and needed replacing. A high priority was examining the current plantings and deciding what plants needed to go.

In addition to plant install and maintenance, Balanced Environments is responsible for all irrigation management and lawn care. With so many people using this property, foot traffic is continuous throughout the year. Many visitors walk their dogs on the property, a common source of turf damage. To reduce this problem, the team is adding designated areas for dogs with dog stations. A large construction fence is installed during turf repairs to allow new seedlings to root and establish.

While not apparent to visitors, this site is suspended above a multi-level parking garage and railroad tracks. As the crews work, they give careful attention to weight loads during spring turf repairs.

Photo: Balanced Environments, Inc.

“Spring turf repairs on the large lawn panel are a calculation on the weight of soil being excavated and the amount of soil we need for turf repairs due to massive amounts of winter animal relief damage,” Kruckenberg adds. “A special lightweight soil mix is utilized for the roof deck, and it is specifically blended for roof applications with superior drainage and resistance to compaction yet provides enough moisture retention for the plants.”

Using sustainable soil conditioners is a vital part of the turf program for Balanced Environments.

Many of the landscape beds on this site are contoured and elevated to enhance the property’s unique look. These slopes cause the mulch to erode onto pedestrian paths, so the team has installed metal edging to keep the mulch in the beds.

Photo: Balanced Environments, Inc.

River Point has one of the largest irrigation systems in downtown Chicago, which requires extra attention to keep the property maintenance smooth and efficient. To reduce delays from this system, Balanced Environments does a monthly irrigation check-up to prevent any significant issues. This constant observation has prevented any major repairs that delay the maintenance team.

In spring, the system is activated by a two-person crew that works on-site for three days. In the fall, the winterization process takes three days. This irrigation system consists of a drip line that runs through all the beds and relies on natural rainwater as the water source. The crew pays careful attention when planting around the drip lines, as the pump is sensitive and can only be programmed by a pump vendor.

Plant Selection

As summer winds down, Balanced Environments installs holiday lighting on the trees, a popular attraction for visitors to the property. Salt-tolerant plants are chosen for the beds to minimize salt problems from the sidewalks, and turf repairs are performed each spring to keep the edges of the lawn looking sharp.

Photo: Balanced Environments, Inc.

Communication is vital to ensure the right people are involved in the projects that achieve yearly goals for the property.

“Every July, we are asked to put together a proactive plan for the following calendar year,” Kruckenberg says, “The plan includes everything from mowing and weeding to plant health care to capital improvements to the property. Our recommendations are based upon horticultural needs, age/lifespan on the existing plantings, and direct feedback from the property on what they like/did not like.”

The planting palette is a crucial feature of the landscape, as seasonal plantings are installed for three seasons to add bursts of color alongside the trees and shrubs. For perennials, heavy consideration is given to Illinois natives and plants with blue or silver foliage. The beds surrounding the turf areas are comprised of River birch and short perennials, like ornamental alliums, grasses, and yarrow.

Photo: Balanced Environments, Inc.

The property has a green initiative that has reduced the square footage of annual beds in the last few years, replacing those plants with greenery or repeat blooming plants. Hedges are routinely pruned to retain the plant’s natural form while not interfering with nearby pedestrian traffic.

For the team at Balanced Environments Inc., winning a 2022 Gold Award of Excellence is special.

“We are thrilled to have achieved this award for both BEI and the River Point Property,” she says. “It solidifies our place in the landscape industry on a national level. Awards of this nature are utilized as motivation in-house, and assists with recruiting efforts within our business development marketing program. It takes a team to achieve success on this level.”  

Interested in participating in the Awards of Excellence? Be sure to enter your projects when entries open in February 2024.

Matt Olson

Matt Olson is a freelancer for NALP.