A kinder, gentler parking lot by Elizabeth Licata

overhead“Where are you going?”

“I’m driving to Hamburg to look at a parking lot.”

“Is it OK if I don’t go with you?”

This marital exchange took place on a beautiful Saturday morning a couple weeks ago, before I set off for a suburban village about twenty miles south of Buffalo. My friend Dave Majewski had been urging me via email to take a look at his latest project, and I knew that, as prosaic as it sounded, I was probably in for a surprise.

IMG_2599It was worth the trip. Dave is creating a parking lot for a dentist, whose business has increased to the point that she’s giving up most of her back yard to accommodate her patients’ vehicles. However, she has conditions. She refuses to give up several mature trees, including a huge old maple right in the middle. There can be no storm water runoff directed toward the street. The lot has to support the wildlife that had already been thriving in the yard, and, of course, it needs to be surrounded by gardens with native plants.

IMG_2611When I arrived, Dave and his crew were installing the bioretention system (above) that would sustain the gardens and keep water from flowing into an already overtaxed storm sewer system. The concrete of the lot had made detours around the trees, which were treated with compost tea and other natural amendments. The surrounding gardens were ready to be planted with viburnum, chokeberry, dogwood, spicebush, Joe Pye weed, switchgrass, coneflower, vernonia and other selections chosen for their ability to provide root mass, support insects and other animals, accommodate pollinators, and look good. Micro clover will be used in any area where turfgrass might ordinarily be planted.

Dave likes concrete for the lot because it doesn’t contain petroleum byproducts, requires less light, is less of a heat island, requires no sealing, and will last longer with the help of a recycled synthetic fiber mesh he’s using rather than steel mesh.

IMG_2602What strikes me about the project is that already, even before plants, it looks as much like a landscape as a parking lot can ever look. It’s dominated by the trees and I can only imagine what it will look like when all the shrubs and perennials are in. The lot is being registered as Pollinator Conservation Site, Urban Wildlife Habitat, Certified Rain Garden/Bioretention Project, and Monarch Butterfly Waystation—for starters.

If you have to pave paradise, this is the way to go.

A kinder, gentler parking lot originally appeared on Garden Rant on November 5, 2015.

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