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American Society of Landscape Architects


February 2007 Issue

Collegial Landscapes
Grasses abound in the public realm.

By Rick Darke

Collegial Landscapes Rick Darke

Looking beyond the proverbial garden border, what further roles can grasses play in our shared spaces: our parks, public gardens, corporate and college campuses, community open space, streetscapes, highways, byways, greenfields, and brownfields? Livable landscapes most often result from a collegial approach to their design and evolution, in which both authority and responsibility are shared among colleagues dedicated to continuous observation and the exploration of possibilities.

When thinking about grasses and our modern shared landscape, there’s perhaps no better place to begin than the parking lot. If parking lots are here to stay, then we might as well treat them as gardens. Grasses offer myriad solutions to the typical challenges of parking lot landscapes, since they can withstand compacted, nutrient-poor, droughty soils, winter winds, and summer heat intensified by reflection from paved surfaces.

A parking lot on the Bard College campus in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, demonstrates the appealing practicality of a mixed planting of local and exotic species that includes Miscanthus sinensis, Schizachyrium scoparium, Panicum virgatum, and Pennisetum species. Although the Miscanthus and Pennisetum species are not native New Yorkers, the growing season in this part of the Hudson River Valley is too short for either to produce viable seed that might pose a risk of invasive behavior in local habitats.

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