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American Society of Landscape Architects


February 2005 Issue

Big Dots, Little Dumpsters

By Allen Freeman

"Welcome to Canalfest," said Mayor Alice Roth of Tonawanda, New York. "You might not be able to see the park very well."

Big Dots, Little Dumpsters
Paul Warchol

From the elevated tracks in the Corona section of Queens, passengers on Number 7 trains bound for Flushing peer down into the schoolyard of P.S. 19, New York City’s largest elementary school. Moored to the asphalt are four temporary classroom buildings, painted a background off-white with large, random dots of red, yellow, blue, green, purple, and orange. The pavement, too, is painted in colorful circles, some with planting beds in their centers. Here and there are dumpsters the size of small school desks, about waist high to a 10-year-old; the dumpsters are painted solid colors and planted in petunias. Along the back side of the largest and longest metal classroom, just inside the perimeter fence, a path zigzags through a line of Bradford pear trees and leads to a little flower garden near a corner of the schoolyard.

This land of the big dots and little dumpsters is called a learning garden. It is the design of landscape architect Ken Smith, asla, whose client, the Robin Hood Foundation of New York City, focuses on the city’s public schools. Among those who helped Smith and the foundation bring the learning garden to maturity were 80 Timberland clothing company volunteers, down from New Hampshire for planting on Earth Day 2003; volunteers from Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project; members of the Audubon Society, which contributed birdhouses; and the staff of Smith’s office in Manhattan. During three days of soil preparation in the spring of 2003, Smith himself got his share of sore muscles.

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