Eco-Landscaping at 2 Libraries – a Hit and a Miss


In my quest for examples of low-maintenance, more eco-friendly civic landscapes, two libraries near me were recommended by Scott Aker, head of gardens at the National Arboretum and a former resident of my neighborhood.

So in mid-August I toured the two sites, starting with a library in Laurel, Maryland with a landscape so prominent, it has its own name – Emancipation Park.

Here’s what’s in the park:

Like the library building, the site offers a variety of settings for reading, learning, gathering and meeting. Its numerous sustainable design features make the site itself a teaching tool. Bioretention areas with native plants showcase innovative stormwater management techniques and attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Pervious pavement systems and dark sky-rated lights contribute to sustainability.

Amenities on the park and library grounds include a dog park, a small amphitheater and lawns for performances and the annual Emancipation Day festivities. The amphitheater plaza becomes a splash pad on summer days, activating the space throughout the season. The water park, playground, play mound and basketball court provide a dynamic set of recreational facilities.


More views of the front above and below.

Secondary entrance

I admire this landscape for performing a variety of eco-services – sure. But I love it because it’s stunning, and so people-friendly.

Rain garden along main road

In researching who designed this landscape, I was pleased to discover it was Sharon Bradley, head of her own local firm and a neighbor of mine. So kudos to Sharon and her team!

Don’t be shocked by the turfgrass – artificial, at that. This is the play area just outside the kids section of the library, and I bet it’s heavily used.

Now for what I’m calling a “miss,” sadly, in nearby in Savage, Maryland.

Fortunately for this rant, I don’t know who designed it. I could only find this information about the renovated library, but there’s no mention of the grounds. Even the architect’s project page says nothing about them.

Wonder why.

Now for the photos. Above, the very large rain garden along the main road looks great, and I’ll assume it functions as it should.

My complaint is with the entrances and walkways.

So many of these plants are just the wrong ones for such tight, highly visible places.

The furniture and shade are nice, though the grasses are falling on one of the unmovable chairs.

Wrong plant/wrong place example close-up.

And more.

This landscape looks like a ecological restoration got planted around a public building by mistake. Better maintenance would help, but staking and more frequent pruning would increase costs without solving the basic mistakes in design and plant choice.

This last photo illustrates something I’m vocal about in my neighborhood, as an advocate for safe, accessible sidewalks. Plants don’t have to be obstructions like these clearly are.

And if you’ve been following the news, you know there are probably ticks hanging on those branches and grasses, just waiting for large mammals like us to pass by and attach to. Sad, but true.


  1. As you say, first one is really great. Second one’s biggest problem is poorly chosen plants, followed by what appears to be zero maintenance. There are a few plants that might be salvageable, but many overgrown ones need to be taken away. Hope someone does that.
    bonnie in provence

  2. These native plantings seem to do much better in cut-out areas like the rain-garden is in.They look better when they are contrasted with a formal area like a lawn. David Culp has a lecture on native plants, and unfortunately there were hardly any photos to recommend them: they all looked like a hot, weedy mess, growing too close to sitting areas where you would worry about ticks traveling. There are some good front of the border perennials like Lady’s Mantle which could be used on a front edge. A challenge is in jobs like these is the client wants instantaneous perfection, and a properly planted perennial garden will not look full grown for 3 years if planted for mature growth, which they should be to cut down on maintenance.

  3. I use to have turfgrass in my office. But when we started the daycare, and kids play on it, it’s not a beautiful sight when they fall down.

    Anyways, I like picture 1, 2, 3, and 4. 🙂

  4. I wish more architects would opt for better and more eco friendly design. Also, I wish native plants were more readily available at local hardware stores for the general public to have easy access to. We can save so much on water, cut down on pests and pesticides, and increase the native fauna of our cities if we were to focus and promote the use of native plant species. The first garden is amazing. Simple, streamlined, and, as stated, people friendly. The second one can be salvaged by removing a few plants, cutting back others, and maintenance! I don’t believe in ripping out a whole garden completely unless absolutely necessary. Otherwise, it’s a sad waste to just toss all the other well grown plants. Great article!

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