Ecology + Design

Landscaping a Slope – Turning a Grading and Drainage Problem into an Erosion Proof Composition – Westchester County

Professional landscape design is both a scientific and artistic endeavor. I find this process of developing a vision for a property, site or client exhilarating! What can be more exciting than looking at an ugly, non-functional landscape environment and creating a plan to make it better both visually as well as physically. In the design chair we consider how the spacial elements work or don’t work, while in the construction chair we consider the components and cost required to execute a plan to produce a vision. In a perfect marriage of skillsets we engage our intuition to inform us which direction naturally feels right. Trusting oneself can certainly make a difference in the results.

This project is a perfect example. On a moderate slope the obvious solution to beautification while controlling and stabilizing soil etc. would be terracing or retaining. In form this suggests a linear construction of retaining walls etc. How boring… been there… done that! Instead we start by amending the soil along the lines of structural soil ( see Cornell Structural Soil). By incorporating different grades/sizes of stone and gravel with native (on site existing soil) we produced a medium which would enable optimum root to shoot bio-mass for plant growth while acting as a subgrade stabilizing/retaining feature. This enabled us to build a more natural surface contour (see terraforming or Earth-shaping) for appearance, while serving double duty as a storm water controlor BMP (Best Management Practices). With an uneven grade and excellent porosity and infiltration we eliminated the need for a complicated and expensive conventional drainage system.

Implementing and adapting bio-engineering techniques to residential landscape projects we are able to increase our creative possibilities for design. Strategically placing boulders in a seeming random pattern, we construct bio-cells (basically vertical infiltration voids filled with stone and gravel), which add depth of field as well as stabilization and drainage. Biology is King! Just as in construction of water features, use of stone to provide a surface for culturing and colonizing bacteria in biofilm (see Center for Biofilm Engineering) is helpful if not essential to optimizing establishment of planting.

It really doesn’t hurt to select plant material particularly adapted to hot dry conditions. These plants i.e. juniper, warm season grasses, prairie perennial (natives) all produce extensive deep root systems to help form a underground network of soil stabilizers, plus they are gorgeous! Visit our Facebook page and YouTube channel for more interesting ideas. Creative landscape design benefits our human, plant and animal communities while improving our health and well-being.

Live long and prosper! Oh and…holler for help before you really need it.

Jay Archer, President


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