No, this isn’t about money (at least not directly). Today’s About Town topic focuses on Trees. Used to being part of the backdrop, these stalwarts of the environment have been front page news here in Richmond this week. Site development for the controversial Redskins training camp center ended up clear-cutting a stand of trees that neighbors and parts of the City Administration expected to remain. The apparent lack of communication in City Hall shows that everyone needs to understand the importance of trees and green spaces to Richmond’s quality of life.
How ironic that one of the country’s premier advocates of proper urban plantings happened to be visiting Richmond during this uproar. Lynden Miller, a primary catalyst in the regreening of New York City over the past almost 30 years, has been a guest of Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens and the four local GCV Garden Clubs this week. LGBG’s President and CEO, Frank Robinson, described Ms. Miller as a “living national treasure” who has proven how one person can make a tremendous impact.
Ms. Miller told a joint meeting of the four local clubs that serendipity caused her evolution from a landscape painter to a landscape restorer and designer who transformed the Conservatory Garden in Central Park and changed her life along the way. She followed the inspiring revival of the Conservative Garden with similar daunting creations in the then crime-infested Bryant Park, as well as a private Redhook waterfront park and the 97th Street Pocket Park. Since then Ms. Miller has left her mark on other green spaces along the Hudson River and throughout all five boroughs. Her brilliant restorations and designs have increased adjoining property values, investments surrounding these spaces and tourism. The tremendous popularity of her parks and gardens proves her passionate belief that beautiful public spaces give a city its soul while benefiting its wallet.
To create thriving oases in urban jungles and in our own backyards, Ms. Miller teaches that all projects must start with good soil. Compost has been a key basic component of her projects. Once you get the soil right, then you’ve got to put the right plant in the right place. She has actually taken advantage of global warming to plant varieties that 25 years ago would not have survived the winters in NYC. By the time the plants are in the ground, a maintenance plan has to be in place.
Clearly frustrated by the way government works on its own to establish a public space that it then fails to maintain until it falls into such ruin that the locality must spend more taxpayer money to rip it out and start over, she advocates the public-private nature of maintenance. For her Conservatory Garden in Central Park, Ms. Miller established an endowment whose investment income supports the upkeep and salaries of the professional landscapers who care for it. In addition to the professionals, there is a devoted group of volunteers who work together weekly to keep up what she admits is a high maintenance space, but such are the needs of a formal garden with four season appeal.
Make it gorgeous, and they will come. Keep it that way, and they will help.
– Lynden B. Miller
Private help for public spaces is being offered here in Richmond by the Capital Trees, a non-profit venture of the four local GCV Garden Clubs: Boxwood, James River, Three Chopt and Tuckahoe.
The group’s first project has been the installation of trees, a rain garden and other appropriate plantings along 14th Street, one of the major entrances to downtown Richmond from I-95 and I-64. In the past, visitors to our historic city have been greeted by a concrete no-man’s land along this thoroughfare. Gradually this project will expand all the way to Broad Street. Though this may seem like a small step, this project has begun a real partnership with the City of Richmond and other strategic partners who now want Capital Trees to help develop a Jefferson Greenway from the state’s Capitol grounds down 10th Street toward the Kanawha Canal, as well as the Great Shiplock Park down by the beautiful James River that not many of our city residents ever get to see except when they are driving over a bridge.
Through this Redskins tree debacle, Richmond’s mayor, Dwight Jones, has reiterated his commitment to plant at least 2,000 trees each year that he is in office. If he sticks to his commitment and continues to encourage the Capital Trees projects, we will have cleaner air and less water runoff. If the City of Richmond embraces Ms. Miller’s urban landscape model, which she has detailed in her book Parks, Plants, and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape, the transforming power of plants will also make our city more gracious and welcoming to all of her citizens and visitors (not just the Redskins and their fans) while increasing property values, investments and tourism. Seems like an inspired plan to us.Gratefully, Alison & Ellen
January 18, 2013