Restoring the Home Landscape

Outdoor fire pit and seating area made from repurposed stone photo by Margot Taylor

Outdoor fire pit and seating area made from repurposed stone
image: Margot Taylor

A budding spring day was a welcome setting for the recent ceremony on May 2, 2013 to honor the Taylor Residence, a newly-certified SITES™ pilot, and the first residential project in the country to earn 3 star certification as part of the SITES Pilot Program. Located in the horticultural epicenter known as the Brandywine Valley and Delaware River watershed, the 1.69 acre residential property and former dairy farm in Kennett Township, Pennsylvania, earned recognition from SITES for its successful application of sustainable strategies including preserving native woodlands and hillside vegetation, designing innovative stormwater management and conveyance systems, and the creative reuse of soils, plants, and construction materials.

The labyrinth serves as a space for reflection and gathering  image:  Margot Taylor

The labyrinth serves as a space for reflection and gathering
image: Margot Taylor

The site’s owner, landscape architect Margot Taylor, ASLA, cited a deep personal interest in evolving her own sustainable land management skills as one of her primary reasons for participating in the SITES Pilot Program. Examples of Taylor’s creative design applications include reusing handrails from the house’s former porch as a garden fence, repurposing porch timbers into a potting shed, and salvaging twenty-five tons of stone unearthed during construction for use as steps, terraces, roadways, and retaining walls. A walking meditation labyrinth designed with stones from a local quarry provides a respite for mental restoration and gatherings. Other notable features of the property include a straw bale hut and green roof with ornamental rain chain, an outdoor fire pit and culinary planting beds, and integration of whimsical sculptures along walking paths.

Artful conveyance of stormwater and green roof detail on straw bale hut image:  Margot Taylor

Artful conveyance of stormwater and green roof detail on straw bale hut
image: Margot Taylor

Perhaps most notable in Taylor’s work and less visible to the untrained eye, are the areas off the beaten path. Within these less obvious spaces are carefully-calculated and well-executed demonstrations of stormwater capture and reuse, and restoration strategies in the soil and vegetation. Because of the project’s steep slopes, the existing conditions posed particular challenges for water management. However, these challenges became opportunities for Ms. Taylor’s design team to test and apply a series of integrated improvements including stone and vegetation lined swales, below grade cisterns, Hugelkultur devices, soil berms, green roofs, holding wet ponds, and rain gardens. In December 2012, after Hurricane Sandy ravaged much the mid-Atlantic coastline, Taylor reported that there were no signs of soil erosion on-site for the first time since 1993. While the immediate impact of these management practices is already apparent, this is just the first step in the site’s long term maintenance plan, as Taylor’s goal is to maintain a garden that only requires 55 hours of management annually, and estimates the site’s ecosystem functions to be fully restored within the next three to five years.

The former pasture transformed into a woodland glade with septic system beneath   image: Margot Taylor

The former pasture transformed into a woodland glade with septic system beneath  image: Margot Taylor

Come and see for yourself. Ms. Taylor leads tours of her residence and conducts presentations about her site. To learn more about the Taylor Residence’s SITES features and practices, please visit Land Ethics or the SITES Pilot Program.

By Liz Guthrie, ASLA, LEED Green Associate

Liz Guthrie, ASLA, LEED Green Associate, serves as ASLA’s Manager of Professional Practice Programs and Staff Liaison to the Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™).

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