A Surprise Urban Prairie Restoration

Services|Design & Install
  • The Site

    A full-sun, new construction site with a parking lot buried below the surface.

  • The Task

    Create a green, restful space with trees.

Sarah and Jared Klueber live in a new-construction house in Holy Cross with their young son and a dog. The entire property is full, hot sun without a scrap of shade. But the Kluebers are both tree people; they wanted to be able to sit on the back porch and feel enclosed by trees.

Unfortunately, the Klueber’s backyard didn’t want to be a woodland. A parking lot from the previous construction lies about 8” below the surface of the ground. To plant the trees that the Kluebers wanted, we would have had to jackhammer out and remove tons of concrete and rubble, then bring in truckloads of clean soil, which would have been exorbitantly costly.

Before
Before
After
After

So we went back to our guiding principle: work with the earth, not against it. We decided to mimic the process of ecological succession, when each plant community improves the conditions for the next. We planted a shortgrass prairie using plugs, which didn’t require us to drill into the parking lot. We used an auger to drill large holes in a few spots so we could plant small tree saplings that can handle the highly alkaline, compacted soil. Over time, the prairie plants’ roots will break the concrete below, allowing the trees to spread their roots further.

Baptisia australis
Baptisia australis
Cercis canadensis
Cercis canadensis
Cercis canadensis
Cercis canadensis
Tilia americana
Tilia americana
Juniperus virginiana
Juniperus virginiana
Coreopsis lanceolata
Coreopsis lanceolata
Viburnum lentago
Viburnum lentago
Previous
Next

While about half of the garden is now prairie, we left enough turfgrass to make a good play space and a restful green border to contrast the new plantings. Planted in June 2018, these thin saplings and tiny seedlings are already well on their way. It’s hard to believe they’ll soon grow into a mature prairie, but we’re looking forward to tracking their progress!