Waterloo Park, part of the Waterloo Greenway, will receive nearly 100,000 new plants (92,428 to be precise) next spring – more than 95 percent of them are local. The ambitious project envisions a public space that honors the natural beauty of central Texas and serves as a respite from the hustle and bustle of downtown Austin.
The local landscape architecture firm dwg, the architects from Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates Inc., and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center worked together on this unique project and selected specific plants for their shape and function.
“We wanted to celebrate the wonder and beauty of our native plants with different design approaches in different areas,” says Cassie Bergstrom Gowan, a dwg landscape architect on the project. “We have included some things that you don’t see that often in a park landscape in order to achieve more botanical richness and variety.”
Creating beautiful moments
The overall goal was to create a public space that was great for both people and nature, two things that can be at odds, says Michelle Bertelson, an ecologist at the Wildflower Center. She mainly worked on wetlands created in the park near Waller Creek to treat runoff from the construction site.
“The area had to be something people could see and experience in addition to that function,” she says. “Many of the plants were picked to filter water and create habitat, but others offer moments of experience. These are hard-working plants, but also pretty ones. “
For example, water lilies provide habitat and a great experience for humans, and serve as perches for dragonflies, frogs, and other creatures where visitors can see them. “Lilies are more work in that they will take over when you leave them,” says Bertelson. “The wetland is not being built and left to its own devices. It is retained. But it’s worth it for the empirical value. We harmonize functional needs and experience needs such as color, movement and wildlife. “
Most of the plants in the wetland come from the Blackland Prairie or Edwards Plateau ecoregions. Overall, the wetlands slow the flow of water into the creek, Gowan explains, but instead of creating something that does its job but isn’t visually interesting, these are also a botanical feature.
“One of my favorite things about the park is that it’s so layered,” says Peter Mullan, CEO of Waterloo Greenway. “Every curve and every path you take leads you to a new and inviting outdoor experience. This park is a celebration of Austin, and the plants chosen are a big part of it. “
Bring the Hill Country to downtown Austin
In addition to selecting plants to perform a specific function, another consideration was elasticity, including water requirements. Gowan also points out the significant diversity of tree, shrub, and plant species and notes that some of the species used are difficult to find in a typical nursery. A number of traditional live oak trees have also been planted in the grounds, including one from the Capitol grounds and one from the University of Texas campus.
“This gives a real sense of conservation and also creates a canopy out of these beautiful living oaks,” she says.
The Hill Country Garden area under construction is a meandering botanical experience rich in native perennials for pollinators and hummingbirds.
“Since the room is relatively small, everything is reinforced a bit,” says Gowan. “The planting is layered, with a base of creeping, spreading plants like sedges, pony foot and horse weed for a resilient base, then a layer of more structural plants, and finally the flowery pieces. It’s a broad mix, so we’re getting a long flower season. Cacti and succulents are treated as sculptural elements to define spaces. “
“It’s going to be very authentic and a little bit funky, a little bit wild and woolly and not this perfectly manicured place,” says Gowan.
Waterloo Greenway is an ambitious public construction project and is funded by a combination of public and private funds. The parking phase is now scheduled to open in spring 2021. See construction progress in a virtual tour scheduled for October 29th.