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Avalon Park and Preserve

Landscape Performance Benefits

Environmental

  • Increased the biodiversity of the site as evidenced by a 35% increase in identified bird species, including 11 species on the Audubon High Priority Watch List, and 7 species with populations of regional significance.
  • Increased the ecological integrity of plant communities by more than doubling Avalon’s Plant Stewardship Index to achieve a score of 54, reflecting a high diversity of native plants and sustained removal of invasive species.

Social

  • Provides garden therapy and attention restoration to an estimated 129,600 annual visitors. 93% of those surveyed described Avalon’s effect on their mood in positive terms, with 51% of all responses identifying some form of stress reduction.
  • Provides an outdoor classroom for 135 school-age children and teens annually, using Avalon’s seven distinct plant communities to lead programs in local ecology and environmental stewardship. Annually, approximately 1,500 local residents attend educational events hosted at Avalon.
  • Supplements the physical health of visitors with 77% of interviewees reporting spending most of their time walking, hiking, running or jogging, and approximately 20% of visits involving running as the principle activity

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Andropogon Associates, Ltd.

  • Project Type

    Garden/Arboretum
    Nature preserve

  • Former Land Use

    Agriculture

  • Location

    200 Harbor Road
    Stony Brook, New York 11790

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  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    7 acres - Memorial Garden; 76 acres - Preserve

  • Budget

    $3.5 million - Landscape installation; $3.96 million - Total

  • Completion Date

    2001

This highly disturbed, former residential site was designed as a 7-acre memorial dedicated to Paul Simons, son of local resident Jim and Marilyn Simons. The surrounding preserve is designed as a sequential journey through a series of “natural gardens” that reflect the changing character of the native northern Long Island landscape, from a rich lowland swamp adjacent to the Mill Pond to the Beech Forest, labyrinth and wildflower meadow at the top of the hill. The varied paths, bridges, and overlooks, encourage many different uses, from contemplation to jogging. Almost instantly, Avalon was embraced as a sacred space, hosting candlelight vigils following the attacks of September 11, and providing garden therapy to its many visitors over the following years.

  • All pre-existing invasive plants including Japanese Knotweed, Oriental Bittersweet, Norway Maple and Multiflora Rose were completely removed from the site.
  • More than 6,900 native trees and shrubs, as well as 54,500 native ferns, grasses, and wildflowers were planted in six unique communities.
  • 18 acres of agricultural land was converted to tall grass and wildflower meadows to encourage populations of birds and small mammals.
  • A vegetated swale, stepped channel and round pool aerate and filter water in a 7,500 sf, previously eutrophied inlet of the Stony Brook Mill Pond.
  • A small, constructed, woodland pool provides amphibian habitat and is fed by pumping water from the Mill Pond where it is filtered and aerated.
  • A wooden footpath wraps around the Mill Pond protecting the fragile wetlands from visitors and providing a safe pedestrian zone along the road and through the preserve.
  • A pavilion on the bank of the Mill Pond is sheltered by a “green” roof of suspension cables with native vines.
  • A Labyrinth and memorial sculpture form a therapeutic garden for park visitors that was instantly viewed as a sacred space following September 11.

Challenge

Designers were challenged to transform a derelict, weed infested site into an indigenous garden of compelling experiences for a wide range of people. With full commitment from the Simons, there were enough financial resources to test the actual cost of a full-scale, scientifically accurate restoration of a wide variety of individual, local plant communities. Designers also wanted to create striking and beautiful features and landscapes from the fundamental organizing principles of native plant communities, integrating the artistic character of a plant community and its habitat with the journeys and destinations provided for the visitor.

Solution

For Avalon, the solution involved not only understanding the basic processes that created Long Island plant communities, but also how to create an unfolding garden for the adjacent social communities. This involved close cooperation with a native plant ecologist and other scientists, as well as key members of the local community. The design depended on this fundamental approach: understand the site as it was when relatively undisturbed (in relatively recent history), understand the site as it is before intervention, and tell the story of the site as it will be. The final design has a strong master plan with clear intellectual themes, as well as sensual experiences from form, texture, color, and contrast.

  • Only the most skilled and highest performing construction and nursery companies were hired. This quality of workmanship approximately tripled the cost of labor. Avalon is atypical in that it has an on-going maintenance program. Site management is, in fact, closer to an arboretum or special garden than to a typical restoration area.
  • Far more plants were used at Avalon as compared to a typical project because this restoration was to be complete from ground layer to canopy. Plants were often difficult to find, both because of the size desired and because they were rare or not commonly available native species. All the plants were located and tagged by the landscape architects. This combination of factors increased the cost of plants by approximately 2.5 times.
  • The entire exercise was in part a test to see what it really costs to re-create or restore an entire plant community, such as beech-oak forest or andropogon field. Innovations in installation techniques, such as “plugging” the meadows, or buying very large canopy trees to give the landscape a sense of instant establishment resulted in a 5-fold increase in costs for plant materials, as compared to a standard restoration project for a public entity or non-profit. 
  • While many projects incorporate native plants, Avalon was designed based on appropriate plant-to-plant and plant-to-place relationships, demonstrating that these patterns can be the inspiration for an organized, healthy and dramatic visitor experience that provides wide-ranging mental health benefits.
  • Accurately filling all plant niches with the appropriate species is not sufficient to prevent new infestations of invasives, which are carried in from neighboring properties by birds, wind, and the visitors themselves. Although the restoration was complete and successfully established within 2 months of planting, a highly urbanized area like Long Island, New York requires a strong long-term management program to prevent takeover by weeds.
  • While community members initially requested that the pergola be hidden behind a vine roof, the boardwalk proved to be so popular that many wanted the area to be visible, so the central “ship’s mast” column that formed the trellis was removed.
  • The unexpectedly high visitorship, required specific, small design changes: (1) Maintenance of the moss meadow proved difficult, and this area was eventually replaced with lawn to allow visitor access to areas just below the house. (2) Path borders needed to be clearly delineated with edges to keep the large numbers of people from moving off-trail and damaging the fragile natural habitats.

Project Team

Client: Paul Simons Foundation
Landscape Architect: Andropogon Associates, Ltd.
Inventory of Natural Resources: Louise W. Harrison Conservation and Natural Areas Planning
Landscape Contractor: Douglas Maclise

Role of the Landscape Architect

Provided the master plan for the entire park and the site design for the memorial gardens, overseeing the project through construction.

Case Study Prepared By

Research Fellow: Kristina Hill, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Virginia
Research Assistant: Michael Geffel, MLA Candidate, University of Virginia
Aug 2011

Topics

Habitat quality, Populations & species richness, Recreational & social value, Health & well-being, Educational value, Bioretention, Native Plants, Trail, Trees, Wetland, Active living, Mental wellness

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