Last week I found out that Luther Ely Smith Park was removed in preparation for the new Arch-grounds redevelopment project in downtown St. Louis. I’ve known for some time that this garden was to be destroyed to make way for the new pedestrian connection to the Arch, but knowing that it is actually now just a part of history has motivated me to publish this account of when it was designed and installed. This project was awarded an ALSA design award, and will always be a project that I am very proud of. I hope you visited it during its time, I know there are many pictures that include the garden, including wedding shoots and family vacation photos. What follows is the original submission I used for the ASLA award, along with several photos from 2003 and 2004.
Ely Luther Smith Square National Parks Garden
Located in front of the Old Courthouse on 4th Street, adjacent to the Gateway Arch.
Installed Spring 2003
Overall Project Summary – This project is located on National Park Service
Grounds as part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and consisted of a planting and border design for 5 existing planting beds. The intention of this project was to create a relatively low maintenance garden with low continuing costs (perennials vs. annuals), while creating a highly dramatic and colorful urban garden to act as a centerpiece greenspace complimenting the importance of the Gateway Arch and historic St. Louis Riverfront.
Special Factors and Significance – This is a highly visible and prominent garden area adjacent to the Gateway Arch, which is seen by almost 4 million visitors to our city each year, and is very significant to the visual appeal and perception of the City by visitors and residents alike. In the past, the St. Louis City Government partially funded the popular yearly planting of Tulips and Cannas in the garden, but, do to budget constraints, they were no longer able to participate in funding or maintenance of the garden. The responsibility then fell solely to the National Park Service. With budgets tight, the National Park Service was interested in finding a solution that was both cost-effective, and beautiful. The park service had an initial budget to buy plant materials, which they received in part from a special grant titled “The 2003 National Parks Volunteerism Enhancement Program” sponsored by Allegra and the National Parks Foundation. The answer to the rest of the garden’s expenses was to involve the community in a volunteer effort to minimize cost. The park was designed, planted, and is maintained by volunteers from Acorn Landscapes, The East Central District of the Garden Clubs of Missouri and the National Park Service. Another special factor was the desire to use mainly perennials in order to reduce the ongoing yearly cost of the garden. The challenge was to make a perennial garden as colorful and eye-catching as the more costly annuals had been in the past.
Role of the Landscape Architect – As a member of one of the volunteer organizations, Mary Francois Deweese was asked to volunteer as both the Landscape Architect and co-leader of the volunteer effort. Over 40 individual volunteers have participated in the project to date. The LA not only designed the project, but also participated in the coordination of the volunteers and supervised the initial planting and installation of the beds, in addition to taking part in numerous maintenance efforts as well.
Project Concept – The LA’s concept for the design was to apply a bold modern approach to historical French gardens, which would respect the heritage of the site (originally a sunken French garden constructed in the 1920′s), while incorporating the modern geometry of the Arch and a contemporary plant selection with a creative flair. With this approach, the garden itself becomes a piece of contemporary living art. The geometry of the Gateway Arch is reflected in the beds as asymmetrical intersecting arched bed edges, creating patterns on the ground that can be seen from the surrounding buildings and from the observation deck of the Arch as well. From the street level, the gardens assert a vivid color scheme, largely reliant on foliage, for three-season vegetative appeal.
The garden is themed in vibrant monochromatic beds of yellow, red and blue/purple. During the winter, the bed edges themselves hold visual interest. In addition, linear beds along 4th street were planted with ever blooming roses to add both aroma and bright color. The plant materials were chosen to completely fill each border layout to out-compete weeds and lower the maintenance chores. The borders were designed to be poured-in-place concrete, which will keep the plant materials from spreading into adjacent areas. At this time, the borders are concrete stepping stones, and the proposed second phase was to install the permanent concrete will commence when funds permit.
So, back to today…I’ll miss seeing this garden and feeling the connection to this park that I had when the garden was there. I have fond memories of going down there on Saturday mornings with my garden club friends and weeding and caring for that garden. We not only grew plants in that garden, we grew friendships. Sometimes, when we make room for progress, we lose a little of what we once had. Farewell Luther Ely Smith Garden!