landscaping project 18 years later

this is part of the process of getting ready to do a public art project in iceland next year.  it shows that i have done something similar in the past, so that people know i’m not going off completely at random.  in fact, almost 20 years ago i was responsible for the design of a school courtyard, and thought up something similar to what i came up with for iceland, the site or which is also at a school.

has the time gone by that fast? today i stopped by the school where i designed the inner courtyard back in 1995. way back when i lived in fayetteville, georgia, and they were growing fast, so they built a new elementary school. and i’m curious, so i poked my nose in while they were doing construction, and found out that there was no plan for the inner courtyard. so i volunteered, and was given the okay, and a $20k budget. whee hah. it was that simple. no approval process, no committees, just a sacred architecture design, and we’re good to go.

3 courtyard plan

it’s hard to see this tiny little picture, but i don’t have the original, or a larger one, so please bear with me. it shows the courtyard only, never minding the school that is built around it. it’s a very long courtyard, something like 300 feet, about the size of a football field, but only about 30 feet wide. i’m just guessing here, it’s been too long. the main feature is the pathway, which meanders, opening out into a large area for an outdoor classroom, and further along going over a bridge and pond. what you can’t see is the specifications for plants, grading, and all those technical things.

1 courtyard - spring hill north

and this is what they made of it. this is from the first year, when they opened the school. you’ll notice that the trim and roof and doors are painted green. that’s the only way i know it was the first year. it was designed to be a delightful view from all the inner classrooms, to be used as an outdoor classroom, and to have separate habitats for teaching. like a farm plot, a compost pile, swampy places and rocky places, shady places and sunny places. there’s even a fountain, tho the contractors stuck that in completely contrary to the bridge and pond idea. this is looking from the gym (or south) end of the school. all that grass is contrary to my design, it seems they went thru altering the design as it suited them, which i was upset about at the time, but at that point it was out of my hands and the contractor’s responsibility. these things happen.

2 courtyard - spring hill south

the view from the roof is instructive. you can see the garden (the superintendent put in a vegetable garden, and said everything tasted horrible because of the dirt). the faint green beyond the garden is a selection of grasses for a small meadow, and see all the nice trees going back.

and i just noticed, omg, that someone painted the green roof and gutters and doors red. how bizarre. it’s still the same school, just a year’s difference. so, the red school is the second year, when instead of grass they’ve got some trees and a meadow going, apparently. i’m afraid i can’t explain this at all. or really the chronology, except that the roof is red today. so i don’t know.

after the design and execution of the courtyard, and a year when i was still in fayetteville to do alternative projects with the school, and to shepherd the courtyard, it was left to whatever they could do with it. and poor dears, the weather hasn’t cooperated for awhile. one year it’s too hot and everything in there bakes because it’s a suntrap (which is bad in the south). i didn’t account for that. the next year it’s too rainy and growth explodes. eventually all the perennials died and there was just weeds, so they ripped the weeds out and covered the ground with plastic and mulch.

the courtyard is still being used. the installed some benches and a board to use as a teaching station, and there are benches in the shade where the teachers can eat. so it’s useful. but it’s fairly barren, and can be made better by various means. the first and most important being to amend that soil. i had a conversation with the principal after my tour, and suggested that each classroom be given a spot, and that the kids research what should go there, and they should do projects. and he nodded as if everyone had suggested that already. another thing could be to throw a bunch of money at it and get a landscaping company in there to make everything better. seriously, we had some lovely native trees and a bunch of great plants in there, but all that’s left is the crape myrtle (which admittedly looks lovely a dozen years later).


so a million years later, everything is mulched, the only trees are crape myrtles, with a few bushes, and some grass coming up between the mulch. at the library (or north) end, they’ve put in benches and a covered board, so they’re still using the outdoor classroom idea. and further on there are benches under the trees so that the teachers can hang out in the fresh air.


from the other side you can see where the bridge and pond were. the bridge and pond were actually the idea and work of another school family, and they did their addition the year after the courtyard was put in. it failed, but so did my fountain idea. and since i didn’t specify drainage, or get the construction guys to put in the pond area, it will probably always fail. which is just to say something else will grow, and it’ll continue to work fine. as long as somebody’s tending it and trying new things. that’s how it works at my own house. i grow a lot of anything i can get to grow at all.

one of the problems with my design is that i made no allowances for heavy rain runoff, and there were several places where recent rains had spread mulch over the pathway. but the worst problem was that the soil was not amended, and was the same heavy clay churned up when they build the school. this turned out to be a horrible problem. also, i should have had sprinklers put in.


one thing that was a great hit at the time was the idea of family trees. we did a fund raiser, and got seedlings of all sorts of hardwoods, and sold them to families, who then planted them in selected spots in the front of the school. and then we had the cement truck come by (i remember this, i wish i still had the pictures), and pour all these 12″ square markers, that the families then drew their marks or initials or inscriptions in. and they’re still there, and some of the trees are getting enormous now.

btw i think i’m way off as to the date of the school construction. i had thought it was 2005, but that was just yesterday. it was more likely 1996, which makes the school a million years old. no, let me count. still almost 20 years old.


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