• Mike Brown

Laying the Groundwork for a Great Outdoors

The Landscaping team began meeting in October 2020, with the goal of designing outdoor spaces as inviting as our indoor spaces. Plants are the first thing you might think of to create an inviting space, but the ongoing construction and limited access to the property has kept the community's gardeners from actually planting anything!


There's still plenty of work to be done, though. Landscaping's members have been steadily researching, interviewing, planning, and (literally) laying the groundwork for the day when they can get their hands in the soil to turn a mud-packed, barren-looking construction site into an alluring, green extra room of our new home.


In the following Q&A, Landscaping Subcircle members Kate and Jackie discuss what a survey of the BCC community revealed, why they want everyone's cardboard boxes after Move-In Day, and taking the long view.


Zoom screenshot of subcircle members
Stalwart members of the Landscaping Subcircle


The Subcircle started up in October 2020 and surveyed the community on its desires for the green spaces. What did people say they wanted?


Kate: The surveys provided a wealth of information; we're using them as a guidepost for the elements that the majority of people said they were interested in.

  • People are looking for an outdoor space to promote mental health, relaxation, and inspiration. They talked about having little seating areas with shade, where they can have a lovely conversation with someone or just have quiet time.

  • We'll have a fire pit with seating; we'll also have something recreational on the flat gravel path leading to the back. There will be space for a large group of folks along with the smaller spaces.

raised garden beds
Raised beds = less stooping and bending over
  • People wanted vegetable gardens, so we're looking at creating raised beds. For a number of our folks, that whole bending over thing is going to be a struggle soon, so we want to plan for that. And a place to collect compost, too.

  • People also want to protect the environment and natural ecosystems. They expressed a real interest in water conservation and water management, particularly the rainwater coming off of the roof.


Jackie: We decided we really needed to get this right, especially with all the wishes we have from the community. You need to plan that; it doesn't just happen.



With the survey results as a starting point, what has the subcircle been working on?

Kate: We've researched things like which landscape company or individual do we want to work with, what fencing do we want, what kind of shed to get to hold our tools.


We've researched different types of gravel to go on the 10-foot gravel path; that path is required by code so the utility trucks can get to the transformer at the back of the property.


Assortment of small photos of native plants
Examples of native plants

We've made field trips to botanical gardens and private gardens all over the place. The Subcircle consented to using 75 percent native plants, and no invasive plants, to ensure pollinator and bird habitat; so we've been really studying which plants we want to put into the property.



900-gallon cistern
If you've ever wondered how much 900 gallons is

Talking about the rainwater: we spent a lot of time looking at cisterns and working with RESOLUTE [Building Company] on understanding where the downspouts will be going: which will go to the culvert (and eventually, our cistern), which will go to the city's water system. We've also spoken to two different experts on how to capture this water.


Given the size of our roof, and the amount of water coming down the two downspouts -- I think the formula is 1 gallon per square foot -- it'll be a little over 900 gallons of water coming off of there. The cistern will be huge so it's going to need a pump, because we want to use that water for the vegetables and new plants.


So Landscaping is not just a couple of old ladies saying, "Where am I gonna put my gardenias?" (laughing) You know, this is science, this is engineering. It's been an education, a huge education.






What is the property like right now, and what are the plans for developing it?


Kate: RESOLUTE had to bring in what's called structural fill to support the weight of the cranes and all the heavy equipment going on back there. And they're not going to remove that structural fill.


construction site, at ground level
Structural fill covering the property

Trying to plant something in that structural fill would be like shoveling through a cement sidewalk. So we would like for them to churn up and aerate the compacted structural fill at the front of the property. Then we can put topsoil and mulch on top of the aerated, broken-up structural fill.


As people move in, we want to take everyone's moving boxes and break down the cardboard to cover the whole bloody lot; the cardboard will help suppress the weeds. And then we'll take free mulch from the city and cover the cardboard.


On the bright side, we can plant trees even before the permit for occupancy is issued. So once we get our landscaper's plan, we can work with him on what trees will be best and we're looking for medium size: 35, 40, 45 feet high. I would love to see three or four trees go in before move-in day just so people have a sense of hope about how good the place will eventually look.



Gardens are all about planting not just for now but for the future. What are some aspects of the property and that process that you are thinking about right now?


Jackie: I was recently at Durham Central Park Cohousing for a meeting and we looked at their yard. They are now in Year 6 and they shared with us that it had taken five years for the garden to look like it does now. And that makes sense, right? Any garden that you're starting from scratch is a minimum of five years. If we're starting to think of things we want -- seating areas, shaded areas -- that's all going to take at least three years, if not five years. Some things may not be a priority now, but maybe they will be in a year or two.


The choices we make have to be pretty and wise because we're only going to get older -- bending down and weeding is going to be harder. But we also want beauty and visual interest. We want to attract pollinators and we want to make very sure that maintaining the plants is not backbreaking.


Therefore, we’d like to avoid plants that need regular pruning or more than average watering. We are focusing on drought-tolerant, native, and pretty plants that thrive in the space. That way we also reduce the amount of mulching and weeding, although we will be mulching for a while because we will need it for the added nutrition it gives the ground


Kate: We’re also thinking about adding little winding paths running through the property; they need to be ADA-compliant, 36-inch wide paths. Those paths would wind around the garden beds, the sitting areas: We don't move in and -- boom -- everything is perfect. We’re going to let this evolve quite naturally and it'll be beautiful in the end.


a bench at the end of garden path
Dreaming of the future