Visitors to Charleston County School of the Arts are greeted by a dancer.
She’s sculpted from steel and balanced on one toe among swords of ornamental grass. Even though she’s immobile, she personifies grace. The statue honors the recent passing of Cecilia Slowinsky, a beloved instructor.
The school’s memorial plans do not end there.
The steel dancer rests in a large courtyard to the left of the front office. The area is visible from several vantage points but, currently, it’s mostly grass and often wet.
A significant amount of rainfall is dumped into the courtyard via downspouts that makes it difficult to grow plants and limits its functionality.
The school has recognized the potential of this area and would like to expand upon it. With the help of LEED certified, local landscape architect J.R. Kramer, they have developed a plan called the Pegasus Garden to celebrate native plants, environmental responsibility, and, as J.R. puts it, “aesthetic ecology.”
The design focuses on water management by means of several interconnected rain gardens.
In recent years, urban planning has focused on low impact design to minimize waste water. Impermeable surfaces such as parking lots and driveways contribute a significant amount of runoff that carries pollutants to waste water management plants.
Rain gardens are just one of many ways to capture and retain water, allowing it to percolate into the ground. This helps naturally filter pollutants while also reducing demands on waste water treatment and increasing groundwater recharge.
Rain gardens should be located in an area that intercepts runoff before reaching a drain.
A small berm, or mound, can be shaped to contain the water. Rain garden soil should be well-drained with adequate compost. The Pegasus Garden will feature dry river stone areas that will direct water to rain gardens. During heavy storms, excess water will overflow to the drain.
The name “rain” garden implies that plants should be tolerant of wet conditions, which is true. However, a rain garden is different than a bog in that it frequently dries out. While rain barrels will be incorporated to help offset drought, rain garden plants should be drought tolerant as well.
With help from the Native Plant Society (scnps.org), the Pegasus Garden is planning to feature all native plants, such as bushy bluestem, soft rush and tussock sedge. Native plants tend to be low maintenance, having adapted to the Lowcountry climate. They also significantly contribute to the environment, drawing in wildlife such as birds and butterflies in addition to a variety of insects, including bees.
In the Pegasus Garden, there is no shortage of water introduction from downspouts.
In fact, for every 1 inch of rainfall, every square foot of roof will contribute 0.6 of a gallon. Given the size of the buildings, the area is inundated during a storm.
It will take more than just rain gardens to manage water. Permeability, therefore, is critical.
The paths wandering throughout the garden will be covered with recycled tumbled glass donated from Fisher Recycling (www.fisherrecycling.com).
This aggregate glass is smooth and colorful, creating a firm, yet permeable, surface. The granules range in size, from 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch.
The plans also include space for outdoor classroom activities, which will require hard surfaces. Often times, concrete or a similarly non-permeable surface would be used for these purposes.
Instead, permeable pavers will allow water to infiltrate between the wider-than-normal gaps and reduce runoff.
Flagstone, donated by Fieldstone Center (fieldstonecentersc.com) will also be incorporated with generous seams for permeability.
The end result of this project will create usable space where dance and musical performances can be enjoyed outdoors. Science classes can observe ecology. The horticulture club students can install and care for plantings.
It will become a space for inspiration and the senses.
A fitting memorial at the Charleston School of the Arts indeed.
Watch the student-produced Kickstarter project at www.smarturl.it/j6lpbh, or contact Beth Warner firstname.lastname@example.org to find out all the ways you can support this project.
Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College.