Ecology + Design

Designing a Bird Sanctuary | PART ONE: Site Development & Storm Water | Darien, CT

Sometimes you really do get your dream client and dream job. For Green Jay Landscape Design, that dream job manifested itself this fall in the form of an entire property designed as a BIRD. SANCTUARY.

This project, dubbed ‘Their Place’ is part of our 2019 Green Jay Landscape Design Design Highlights series (#1!).  Check back for a discussion of the rest of our favorite projects of 2019! Read about projects 2, 34 and 5

The Site

A true nature lover, this client bought a 75’ x 150’ lot and set out to create a private bird sanctuary and natural habitat. The client wanted the project to be fully ecologically responsible, with the goals of attracting many kinds of bird species into a tranquil landscape where they could be seamlessly observed and enjoyed. Neighboring a busy road, the design also needed screening to create private intimacy.

There were some challenges from the get-go. GJL joined the picture after initial work had been done: the creation of a naturalistic, disappearing waterfall, some border tree planting, and a few gravel paths that were roughly installed. The bare soil that remained on much of the lot suffered serious erosion during several storm events, causing the gravel to migrate as well.


Large ruts of eroded soil tore through the property. Furthermore, the fence installed by the previous contractor started about a foot above soil level, allowing the storm water / sediment mix to runoff into the street.

The storms were particularly damaging to this property because the topography to the north slopes up, meaning the client’s property would collect sheet flow (surface rainwater runoff) from all of the upslope neighbors. One such neighbor was in the process of building a new patio and pool… a huge increase in impervious space and, you guessed it, sheet flow!  Positioned as the “drain” of the neighborhood, we felt extra-extra impetus to collect, filter and infiltrate storm water in as many ways possible, to benefit the local watershed and aquifer.

It was evident that a Storm Water Management Plan had to be implemented for any design to be sustainable. We incorporated gravel bioswales into the design, stylizing them as faux streams crossed by stone bridges, while their pitch and placement conducts stormwater from the hillside and allows it to percolate through the gravel.  At the base of the bioswales, we installed a Cultec 280HD Storm Chamber. This essentially allows storm water to collect in a large perforated chamber underground, and slowly infiltrate out into gravel that surrounds it.  The storm chamber has a surface armored forebay for ease of maintenance.

We also designed several rain gardens as part of the Storm Water Management Plan.  Check out our pervious blog post Rain Gardens for Storm Water Management to learn all about the benefits and beauty of a native plant rain garden.

Above: Before Photo.

With the bare soil, it was evident that we needed to develop and install a design with immediacy to both stabilize the soil and to beat the inevitable migration of weeds and invasive species.

Above: Process Photo 

We’ll dive deep into our design choices in the next blog, Part Two of the Designing a Bird Sanctuary series!

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