Gateway landscaping lacks quality in design, installation

Susan G. Avent | 8/1/2014, 6:02 a.m.
I am so glad you published the article “Unkempt Stonecrest landscaping a ‘thorn’” in your July 12, 2014, issue.
Weeds are thriving at the Turner Hill Road/I-20 ramp while mounds of mulch add to the unkempt look. The landscaping project is part of the county’s $1.02 million gateway beautification initiative. Photo by Jennifer Ffrench-Parker

I am so glad you published the article “Unkempt Stonecrest landscaping a ‘thorn’” in your July 12, 2014, issue. As a professional landscape architect, I am insulted with the lack of quality in the design and the installation of every single “gateway” project that has been installed. I live off of LaVista Road and have had to endure the sight of that planting every day.

The design totally disregards the existing trees or topography and is a lost opportunity at beautification.

In the construction bid package, one of the contractors bidding on the job asked if they could provide an alternative design that would complement the existing trees. The arrogance committee dismissed the remark and said “we did that.”

Unfortunately for the public, they had not.

I’ve seen the Bouldercrest and I-285 plantings, one of the first to go in, completely overrun with crab grass before they even began the ones on LaVista Road, Turner Hill Road and, sadly now, Memorial Drive. It is ridiculous that DeKalb County, which can barely maintain the existing streets and rights of way, had the audacity to add 28 new “gardens” to maintain – seven intersections with four corners each and additional areas to boot.

Typically, a bed area is prepared prior to planting. The area should be defined, the existing grasses and weeds sprayed to ensure removal of all existing vegetation and reduce the need to treat grass and weeds around the newly planted materials. This critical step apparently was not implemented, evidenced by the tremendous amount of regrowth of crab grass and weeds.

I could go on about the plant selection and the color of the mulch. The American Society of Landscape Architects recently published an article on expressway planting and the need for trees to help with removing CO2. Trees do remove CO2 – not high-maintenance shrubs and ground covers.

Ground cover is one of the most expensive plants to install and maintain. With only four mowings a year, as per the contract, the grass will be taller than the shrubs.

The planting beds they obviously tried to emulate on I-85 are surrounded by Bermuda grass that is on a turf care program. They are edged and weeded on a routine basis, probably weekly.

Take a look at Ashford Dunwoody Road. They just removed all the high-maintenance shrubs and replaced them with trees only.

We have beautiful shade trees on the LaVista exchange. If they had simply just pruned them, created a mulch bed under them to enhance their health and protect their trunks from mowers, the impact would have been stunning. Then they could have added a few large-scale shrubs. The entire process, from design to bed preparation and installation, has been poor.

So in DeKalb County, the issue is not a lack of funding, it is a lack of insight and management.

I wrote to the Department of Transportation before the Memorial Drive installation began and begged them to just stop it – to no avail. How much more of our money will they waste just because they can get the dollars? Enough is enough!

Susan G. Avent lives in Tucker.