Ackert Plaza, a contemporary green space on the Loop.
Five years after the installation of the eight feet tall bronze statue of the world’s most influential rock and roller Chuck Berry, Ackert Plaza finally has trees and a garden. U City in Bloom staff and volunteers put the finishing touches on the garden a few weeks ago. Celebrating the first inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a garden in the heart of our city was an honor but when first asked to do it, I had my doubts.
Ackert plaza is surrounded by brick, concrete and asphalt and is located on one of the busiest pedestrian walks in Saint Louis so plant selection would be critical. Basically the plants would need to be drought tolerant, love the sun and handle a bit of heat. The main considerations for any garden are water, soil and sun exposure. In a hot urban pocket, plants can be very unforgiving if one of these elements is even a little off of their demands. U City in Bloom staff regularly waters the containers on the Loop with a utility vehicle so water, at least to establish the plantings, would not be an issue.
The pedestrian usage on the Loop also needs to be considered when designing and choosing plants. Trees would need to provide not only beauty and structure but also allow people to walk safely and unimpeded. In the beds, the selected plants would need to tolerate some light foot traffic and abuse and not hold on to blowing trash.
My doubts didn’t last long. U City in Bloom specializes in putting gardens in hard environments. Actually, I was really excited when I saw how the plaza was to be rebuilt. There would be lines and right angles and patterns in the hardscape and those lines would be repeated with the lighted stainless steel walls as a backdrop. This would be a fun opportunity and challenge to compliment this contemporary and highly visible and visited space.
Now that the installation is complete, visitors can see that the design is very simple; there are only two different perennials in the beds, five trees and some shrubs as a backdrop. But this simplicity is what makes the space work. “Less is more” as the old saying goes. Minimalistic design is often more challenging than a garden with many different plants.
Here is a list of the plant selections we used:
Trees and shrubs
- Sweetgum “Slender Spire” – Yes, sweetgum. Now my sanity and qualifications will be questioned as everyone knows that the gumballs are a nightmare for many a homeowner. But this variety really doesn’t bear much if any fruit and after five or more years, if we do we see some, a simple treatment can eliminate them. They also handle drought and heat really well and produce awesome fall color. So after much consideration, I selected these trees because they provide a vertical structural element that creates sightlines into the garden, and they also compliment and repeat the lines and angles of the hardscape and help to ground Mr. Berry’s statue.
- Blackgum “Wildfire” – This tree is not typically a tree planted in a tree well, but the bed in which this tree is planted has a little more space for this tree to root out into. It provides a nice backdrop for the interpretive sign and will screen the nearby parking lot as it grows. The evergreen groundcover underneath is a Juniper that will repeat the evergreen color of the nearby arborvitae.
- Arborvitae “Degroot’s Emerald Spire” – Situated in a row behind the back wall, this evergreen screen stops the eye and as a hedge which repeats the horizontal lines of the wall.
Carex flacca (Sedge) “Blue Zinger” – I love this groundcover. The blue color draws the eye and compliments the colors in the pavers and the wall. It handles sun and shade, a little foot traffic and will tolerate drought and heat once established. I knew I wanted to use this right away and would be able to plant it in a pattern repeating the stone elements of the plaza.
- Salvia officianalis “Purpurescens” – This was the hardest plant to choose. I needed a plant that wouldn’t be too tall and would provide a textural contrast to the blue sedge. It also needed to have a simple consistent look and habit. When I saw a couple flats of it at the nursery, it was like a light bulb coming on. As an added bonus, the purple and silver of the foliage play well with the surrounding blue sedge. The next time you are in the Loop, check it out!