Digginí In: Special demands of landscaping a public waterfront area

June 8, 2015

Landscaping a popular waterfront public space like Riverwalk Landing in historic Yorktown, Va., is a delicate balancing act.

Just ask Joanne Chapman, landscape superintendent for Yorktown.

"Plant choice is key for sure," she says.

"The common thread with all the plants selected is that they are aesthetically attractive and reliable, yet require little maintenance."

Sounds like a plan good for the home garden, too. It is because the right plants for the right place for the right use works in most spaces. When it doesnít, you assess the situation, make changes and improve the looks and results. Thatís what any good gardening expert will tell you, and that is what Chapman has slowly but surely done at the Yorktown waterfront since Riverwalk Landing formally opened in 2005.

In 2014, the landscape at Yorktown was substantially renovated to make some sensible changes, especially along the walkway that overlooks the scenic York River.

"The esthetic in Yorktown is not a manicured appearance, as you might find in historic Williamsburg, Va., but a natural yet organized and maintained appearance," says Chapman.

"Initially and for several years the native grasses were attractive and fairly manageable. Over the past few years, however, that bed had lost the organized appearance and became increasingly more difficult to manage because the River Oats had become very invasive, and a number of other invasive volunteers had started to take over. Also many of the native grasses had either died or were in decline."

New plants installed included Pink Muhly Grass, St. Johnís Wort, variegated Japanese sedge, Radrazz Knock Out rose, Catmint Nepeta and Tifway hybrid Bermuda sod. With the overgrown grasses and river oats mostly gone, the native Virginia Sweetspire and Summer Sweet could better show off their spring blooms.

"Pink Muhly grass has become one of my favorite grasses along with Switchgrass," says Chapman of the native plant.

"The Pink Muhly has the beautiful pink plumes and when used en masse has great impact. There is very little debris to remove when they are cut back one time per year in late winter, and only if needed. The crew used to remove literally tons and tons of debris and it took a couple of days of work to cut back all the other grasses that were previously there. Anytime I can reduce the maintenance for the York County grounds maintenance crew without a negative impact, I will.

"My other favorite plant is Hypericum Hidcote. It gets the beautiful yellow flower and is a very versatile plant that does well in either sun or shade and requires little to no maintenance. Once established, it is a very durable and reliable plant.

"And the Knockout roses are another favorite. Pruning in later winter and, again, only if needed and some fertilization during the summer is all thatís required. Talk about show for the dough ó it is right up there along with Little Lamb Hydrangea paniculata, which I have a lot of at Riverwalk."

In addition to shrubs and grasses, Riverwalk Landing gardens consist of other perennials that are Virginia natives. Seasonal color with annuals changes from time to time, but the look is always festive. For instance, last yearís lime green look changed to patriotic red, white and blue annuals in hanging baskets, containers and landscape beds to honor the French ship Hermioneís June visit and Riverwalk Landingís 10th anniversary.

"Riverwalk Landing is a popular destination for tourists and local citizens alike, and the Freight Shed is a very popular venue for weddings and events," says Chapman.

"Itís important to make the area as welcoming as possible, and flowers are very welcoming. I try to select plants that will have different leaf and flower size, shape and textures for added interest, with one or two main colors running throughout for consistency. The plants need to perform well with little maintenance ó no deadheading or frequent pruning. They are watered almost daily and fertilized as needed, and thatís about it."

To keep visitors from playing guessing games on plant names, the area along Riverwalk from the Archers Cottage parking lot to the Victory Center and all around Riverwalk Landing contains more than 250 plant identification labels with botanical and common names of approximately 90 different plants.

Chapman and her crew ó five full-time employees and one seasonal mow, mulch, plant, beach rake, prune and water Yorktown Village, Riverwalk Landing, as well as the beachfront and picnic area ó have been recognized for their efforts to keep the area park-like and environmentally healthy. Initially, the area was recognized with an exceptional award by the Professional Grounds Management Society, and last year the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries certified Riverwalk Landing and Yorktown waterfront as a Virginia Habitat Partner.

"It takes a lot of attention to detail to keep this type of landscape maintained," she says.



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