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Jefferson Community Center native landscaping 2017
The Jefferson Project is an example of hope. The Jefferson Community Center (JCC) used to be the Jefferson Elementary School, but it has become a safe haven for the community, young and old, in Eureka, California, thanks to the community volunteers from the Westside Community Improvement Association (WCIA).
The first goal of the project is to redevelop a small patch of land at JCC that has become swampy and saturated with water. Since 100% of the rainwater that is collected by the community center is maintained onsite and drains to one area, the flat swampy area needs to be redesigned to allow better water drainage. Since the Community Center is geared towards community involvement of Westside Eureka, the community center came forward with the idea for a project that would not only make the area look nicer, it would educate the community and provide natural fruits.
The project, taking place from January to May 2017, is located at 1000 B Street, Eureka, California, and our team will be collaborating with Heidi Benzonelli-Burden of the Jefferson Community Center, Monty Caid from Lost Foods, Bill Rodstrom and Pete Haggard of the California Native Plant Society, and Lonny Grafman of HSU. The team consists of Humboldt State University’s Engineering 305 Appropriate Technology students Richard Moog and Kathrine Sanguinetti.
The objective of this project was to improve the landscape at Jefferson Community Center, specifically focusing on the small strip of land adjacent to the events field against the retaining wall. Before any work was done, it was swampy and over-saturated with water, which was a problem for many reasons: it had anaerobic conditions, it was a safety hazard, it was visually unappealing; simply it could be used for something better. The goal of this project was to address that problem by designing a new landscape that best met the needs of the community center. Their vision was to have a native landscape that can be used to educate the community on local plants, as well as provide fruits and herbs that could be used by community members.
Here is a summary of the needs of the community center that must be met. The first of these needs is cost-effectiveness; the project needs to meet the community center's budget limitations while still fulfilling its purpose. Second, the project must be completed in a timely manner, as the community center wishes to have the area planted before the May 5th-7th wildflower sale of 2017. It is also important design the site so that it requires little maintenance over the years. Perhaps the most important of these needs is safety; to make sure that the site is safe for all who use the community center.
The following Criteria was be used to assess the success of the project. These criteria were chosen with the help of Director Heidi Benzonelli and the students designing the Native Landscaping Project. The scale (1-10) represents the importance of each constraint meeting the criteria where 1 is the lowest and 10 is the highest.
|Criteria||Constraints|| Weight |
|Durability||Plants/land forms must be able to withstand people walking on them, and also sports balls that might fly in from adjacent events field.|| |
|Safety||Must be designed to minimize risk of injury to those who use the area.|| |
|Accessibility||Community must be able to harvest fruit bearing and medicinal plants with ease.|
|Availability of plants||Plants must be available from local nurseries and be in stock.|
|Size||Must be able desired variety of plants in the provided work area.|
|Design||Design must promote healthy plant growth for all plants.|| |
|Maintenance||Minimal upkeep from year to year.|| |
|Budget||Must not exceed budget of $5000 for the community center.|
This is a review of the available literature relevant to the native landscaping project at Jefferson Community Center. The review consists of the basics for understanding native landscaping, the benefits and advantages, planting and maintenance, and its design. This reviews also explains key elements for the mounds that will be necessary to plant on, and gives an understanding of the local regional climate and soil type. Lastly, the review explains important components to consider when using educational signage in a community area.
This subsection includes relevant knowledge of preparing landscapes.
First, it is important to define the term native and what is considered a natural range for a species to ensure there is proper understanding and selection of plants during the native landscaping. Native refers to the specific origin or region of a particular species. A native species is one that occurs naturally in a specific region, is a product of natural forces without human interference, and, for North American plants, has been growing in the wild before European settlement began around 300 years ago. Determining the natural range is not always as straightforward as it may seem; it is defined by the area that a species naturally grows in, which can be interrupted by humans.
Benefits and Advantages
Native landscaping and planting with natives comes with many benefits and advantages. Native plants often have a natural defense system against disease and insects in the area they grow, taking away the need for pesticides that can pollute waterways. Once the plants are established, they need only minimal irrigation, keeping water usage at a low. Wildlife also uses native plant communities as a habitat when it meets their needs. These plants can also be used to attract pollinators and preserve the balance of natural ecosystems.
Planting and Maintenance
Fall or winter is the prime time to plant because the soil is softer and rain is more frequent, and planting after March requires extra supplemental watering in order to establish a healthy root system.  Adding 3-4 in. of compost to the top soil before planting is beneficial for nutrient intake. In terms of spacing, it is suggested to place trees 10-15 ft. apart, shrubs 5-10 ft. apart, and ground covers 1-3 ft. apart. To maintain plants that have recently been transplanted, it is important to water them deeply and frequently for the first two summers to support healthy growth. Once established though, native plants only require watering during the driest parts of summer. Plants may be moved to a different location if they do not appear to be thriving well to where they will do better. It is also important to pull weeds by hand so the weeds do not rob the native plants of any nutrients, especially in the beginning.
The goal of landscape design is to use natural features of the area blended with foreign elements to create a landscape that is both ecologically sustainable and aesthetically pleasing. The three main factors to consider when designing an ecologically sustainable garden are the climatic, cultural, and ecological conditions of an area. To reach sustainability, resources have to be treated not as expendable commodities, but rather as a system that should balance inputs and outputs. For design purposes, small plants should be placed where they will not be blocked out by sun and where they will not be blocked out of vision by larger shrubs.
To look natural and serve their drainage function, mounds (or berms) should be large enough (in surface area) and gently sloped so that they have a more natural appearance. They are particularly useful in drainage. To be effective, they must be gently sloped enough to support plants and not erode with rainfall and other natural conditions. They should not be taller than about 24 inches and should be 4-6 times as long as they are wide. A diversion ditch may also be advisable, with at least a minor downward grade leading away from the site to be drained.
One thing to consider when preparing a site for landscaping is soil quality. It is important to watch out for poor water drainage and compaction. Properly drained soil should be an even mix of solid material and surrounding space, which can be either water or air. An excessive water table can be problematic because it promotes anaerobic conditions. Soil quality can be diminished if topsoil is removed and not replenished. Many parts of the Klamath region of California have a high density of igneous rocks, which has a high impact on ecosystem growth. Trees under these conditions are often more spread out and fail to be very productive.
Dry Stream Beds
A dry stream bed is a stone-lined channel that mimics a natural stream. Small boulders and cobble are placed along the meanders as if a water force placed them there. Natural stream beds will widen on the bends at erosion points. Erosion is the removal of soil from the impacts of water, wind, and ice. Over time, these forces will wear away the soil. One of the factors of stream erosion is the change in stream flow, causing boulders that are too large for the current to remain in the middle of the stream or along deposition points (where stream flow is slowest), while smaller ones are washed to the sides. This information is key for understanding where to place boulders and cobble along the dry stream bed and how to shape it.
“Geographic features such as topography, altitude, proximity to the coast, and latitude to a certain extent define a local area’s weather patterns.” Eureka is known to be a very coastal environment, with very low altitude in the area we will be working. The specific site we are working in, due to the water collection and drainage system in place, resembles and mimics a riparian habitat. In general, the temperature of the region fluctuates very little from season to season and the rain season is very long and almost persists throughout the year, though it drops in the middle of summer. Fog and low clouds are prevalent and so it might be unwise to use plants that have high sun needs. Based on evapotranspiration patterns, there will generally be soil moisture until July in the Humboldt coastal region. The North Coast subregion of the NW California region supports marsh, coastal scrub and fir forests.
Signage will be a key component of the project, so it is important to understand what makes signs effective and favorable. Signs are important to give an outdoor learning center an identity. They can be simple or complex, they just need to be clear and are best when they represent the character of the community. Most of the attention to signs is from first time visitors, though repeat visitors are known to reread signs when the signs have desirable information, aesthetics and location. Motivators for reading signs are the signs’ location (if they are easily visible and in a natural stopping point), interest in the topic, and relevance to the area they are representing. An ideal sign should have a three-dimensional image of what it is representing, a large title, should show something that cannot easily be seen (such as something underground), and should be located at a natural stopping point.
|Various Construction phases|
The Construction can be divided into three different phases. First there is the reshaping of the land, then there is the planting phase, and finally there is educational signage creation. This process took place over five separate work days, not including the prep-work of the Appropriate technology team.
The process of creating the dry stream bed went smoothly. Digging out the stream bed was a fairly straightforward process, although there were often areas along the length of the trench that were especially compacted and/or rocky, making it hard to dig. Occasional rain along with the already high water level of the soil often made it difficult to dig as well. Because of the large volunteer turnout, this wasn't a significant problem. The next step was laying down five foot wide strips of erosion mat along the length of the stream bed, held in place with anchoring pins along. This was a fairly seamless process that followed close behind the digging phase. Once stretches of erosion mat were hammered in, volunteers used wheelbarrows to fill the trench with large gravel. Finally, the dry stream bed was lined with boulders (ranging approximately 3"-10" diameter) to cover the edges of the erosion mat and define the edge of the stream bed.
While the stream bed was being dug out, the mounds that would surround the stream bed were being built up, much of the dirt coming from the stream bed itself. Some supplementary soil was purchased and brought in with wheelbarrows where there wasn't enough from the stream bed. To compact the soil and give the mounds a smoother shape, a large piece of plywood (probably 5'x10') was laid on top of the mounds and volunteers walked around on it.
After the groundwork was done, the next step of the project was to add plants. Since the purpose of the project is to educate local community members on native plants and support community growth, all of the plants are native plants chosen from local Eureka plant nursery Lost Foods.
With the help of volunteers, plants were brought in from Lost Foods and the area was prepped for planting. The only prep work that needed to be done was removing weeds from the mounds, since weeds take nutrients from the young plants and make it difficult for them to grow. This was done by digging them out with small shovels. Next, the plants were placed on the mounds based on their water drainage needs and how much space they needed to grow to full size. The holes were dug and the plants were planted. To deter weeds from coming back, mulch was placed on the ground around the plants.
Originally, the plan was for the Native Landscaping project to include five educational signs that would be painted on the wall behind the project site, providing historical use information about some of the native plants we used. Due to time delays, Heidi decided that it wasn't neccesary for the purpose of this project to paint the signs, as that could be contributed later and planting was more time sensitive. However, we were asked to make sample signs so that they could be used by whoever took on the role of painting.
Five sample sign templates were made in powerpoint, shown below:
A proposed timeline for the JCC Native Landscaping Project:
|Week of semester (date)||Task||Description|
|1 (January 16 2017)||Project options pitched||Lonny gave option projects.|
|2 (Jan. 23)||Project chosen||Jefferson Community Center Native Landscaping Project was chosen.|
|3(Jan. 30)||Explore site, meet clients, begin researching||Toured the site with project overseer, begin preliminary research.|
|4 (Feb. 6)||More research, more meetings, brainstorming||Met with client and native plant specialists from North Coast Plant Society and Lost Foods, sketched out initial plans.|
|5 (Feb. 13)||Pitch initial design proposal, prototyping, obtain materials, begin landscaping||We present the design proposal to Heidi, get feedback. Obtain materials. Start building meandering dry creek bed.|
|6 (Feb. 20)||More Research, plan for planting phase||Do more research (specifically on plants), meet with Lost Coast Plant Society and Lost Foods and come up with plant list.|
|7 (Feb. 27)||Continue designing||Design plant layout, oversee volunteer planting date following weekend.|
|8 (Mar. 6)||Get feedback, view site||At this phase, most of the work has been done due to seasonal limitations on planting.|
|9 (Mar. 20)||Start work on signage||Use information about plants used to create educational signage for the site, perhaps more research will be necessary.|
|10 (Mar. 27)||Prepare for 2nd planting date (if necessary)||Possible 2nd planting date if more work is needed. Continue reviewing signage.|
|11 (Apr. 3)||Continue work on signage, prototype signs||Find ways to prototype signs on-site.|
|12 (Apr. 10)||Check on plants, make final changes if necessary||Make sure the landscape is holding up and not flooding, check in with clients.|
|13 (Apr. 17)||Work on project reports||Keep checking on site, start working on project report.|
|14 (Apr. 24)||Start preparing for showcase.||Most everything has been done, wait for presentation.|
|15 (May 1)||Complete work, showcase project||Work should be completed, showcase project at Wildflower Show and Native Plant Sale.|
This is an initial materials and costs list for the native landscaping project. Due to the nature of the project, this section will be added to and revised as the project continues. At this point in time, we are in the first phase of building the meandering dry creek bed. Examples of items which will be added are each of the native plants, and materials for creating educational signage.
|150 cubic feet||Cobble Stones||Eureka Ready Mix||$250|
|500 square feet||Erosion Mat||Piersons||$130|
|500 square feet||Dirt||Wes Green Landscaping Materials||$150|
|50 (assorted)||Plants||Lost Foods||$300|
Arrive at the Jefferson Community Center on the West side, then once at the garden, enjoy becoming familiar with the different native plants. During the garden's initial phases the plants will look small and many of the mounds may seem bare, but as the years continue the garden will fill out and the food bearing and medicinal plants will be ready to be harvested. Once painted, images highlighting four specific shrubs and information on pollinator can later be observed on the back wall. Soon there will also be an informational brochure with the common name, scientific name, and historical uses about each plant to use as an educational tool available.
Things to maintain:
- Check the garden for weeds and weeding the gardening.
- Make sure the mounds do not have any damage from human activity or weather.
- Make sure the stream bed does not have any damage from human activity or weather.
- Ensure people are enjoying the native plant garden and are able to educate themselves.
The tasks for maintenance will not happen on a regular schedule. It is important to consistently be checking for potential issues and adjust accordingly.
|Before and after|
The primary goal of the native landscaping project at Jefferson Community Center was to develop a site that had become unusable and undesirable to the community center into a usable landscape with edible and medicinal plants.
The design for the stream bed (its course) follows the curves of the adjacent sidewalk, and was slightly altered once the actual digging took place. A number of factors were considered when the course was being plotted. First, it must travel through the extra-saturated soil areas to facilitate drainage most effectively. Additionally, it must avoid the large storm drain at the north end of the site. Finally, it meanders for aesthetic purposes as well as for separating the mounds, instead of having larger continuous mounds that would require more soil to make.
The plant choices were based on recommendations from Lost Food's Monty Caid. With his vast knowledge of native plants, he provided the team with information about soil drainage requirements and spacing guidelines that were used to determine the location of the plants. A variety of shrubs and flowering plants were chosen and brought to the site and planted with no difficulties.
The draft layout for mounds and plant placement had to be revised when it actually got to digging, as there were small roadblocks that had been unforeseen. For example, there were pipes that ran perpendicularly across the stream bed, which meant we had to dig more shallow in certain areas. Additionally, when it came to planting, a lot of the spacing that we had planned for didn't quite match up well when it came to actually planting, and it turned out that it was best just to determine placement when the plants were in front of us and they could be moved around as needed.
Throughout the course of the project, we had help from many volunteer groups coordinated by Jefferson Community Center, which often made our job a lot easier. Still, there was a lot of work that had to be done, and we spent approximately 15 hours in the field for scheduled work days, not to mention all of the preliminary testing and prototyping that needed to be done.
The main thing we learned throughout the course of this project is that when working with an unknown client, it's almost impossible to know their expectations and plans right away. It turned out that we didn't reach out to the client as soon as we should have to get going with the project, expecting that they would reach out to us. This left a gap in communication early on that slowed the pace of the project. This meant that once we finally realized what pace the project actually demanded, we had to rush to make sure we were keeping up. Often we realized while working with our client that we had made plans for things they had already made plans for, as in the case of the dry creek bed; we did a lot of research trying to figure out how we were going to fix the drainage problem when our client already had knew what she wanted a dry creek bed design. The moral of all of this is that strong communication with the client is necessary for the project to work out as planned.
The final phase of the project design is the signs that will be painted on the wall, using the templates we made (section 5.3). This will be coordinated by Heidi Benzonelli and is expected to be completed by the end of May 2017. For more info, contact info can be found on the Jefferson Project website.
|Plants appear ill or dying||Contact native plant specialists at Lost Foods or Native Plant Society|
|Stream bed appears damaged||Replacemeant cobble can be bought from Eureka Ready Mix. Also contact Heidi Benzonelli about repairs.|
|Mounds appear damaged||Replacement dirt can be bought from Wes Green landscaping Materials. Also contact Heidi Benzonelli about repairs.|
|Stream bed still has water in it after several sunny days||Contact Heidi Benzonelli with inquiries about water levels underground|
Update October 2017
October 2017, Kathrine Sanguinetti and Norman Campos took a day to visit Jefferson Community Center to check in on the standing and its goals of maintaining a native landscape form its previous swampy conditions and did it give access to educational native medicinal and edible plants, to the community. They were greeted and informed by Heidi Benezenolli on the project, on its well-being and shared the successes, updates, improvements, and issues on this young native landscape.
It was great to see the plants were doing well and not many weed infestation to deal with. So far the shape of the landscape stayed intact and its swampy conditions in the past were not shown. It showed durability to the weather and the community. People, especially the young, were not stepping all over it and showed no sign of over-saturation of water.
The community added mulch. Its purpose was to be a weed barrier, but one can see that the mulch brought it a brighter aesthetic.
One of the objectives initially was to have the plants displayed and labeled for educational purposes. Unfortunately the signage for plants and pollinators was not completed, hindering the community’s understanding of the landscape; reason being the labels for the plants fell off from weathering. Also the number of plants were underestimated, a future improvement that was mentioned is to order and add more native plants, ground covers, and big trees.
Update September 2019
In September 2019, a few days after a torrential downpour in Humboldt county, we went to visit the Jefferson Community Center. We were greeted by Bill Rodstrom, who tends to the gardens on site and is a wealth of information when it comes to native plants, pollinators and their importance. Even after the extreme weather conditions the dry stream bed did its job, the native landscape looked great!
Successes: The plants seemed to be thriving while attracting a variety of insects. The landscape is durable and safe for walking on. The mounds and a dry stream bed are effectively used for drainage.
Updates: The landscape requires frequent maintenance, mainly weeding.The entirety of the Jefferson Community Center has grown over the course of two years. Other native landscapes are being incorporated, along with rainwater catchment systems, a standing garden bed and public restrooms. It should also be noted that the outreach of the center has grown tremendously. There are English language classes, a family resource center, and free clothes among many other things.
Improvements: It remains without signage to inform community members of the functions and aspects of the space.
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