Maria von BrinckenFrom parking lot to park paradise

Let me tell you the story of a plot of land in Carlisle, Massachusetts. Mostly a parking lot, there was some open grass, miscellaneous woodland, a fence to prevent you from driving in, and a trash barrel. It wasn’t a place you were likely to hang out. Nothing to draw you in – it was basically a parking lot. The process of transforming it to a park was the vision of a woman named Sabrina Perry as a memorial project inspired by her late husband. She gathered a coalition of people dedicated to creating a beautiful public park in 2006.


Come hear the story of a Garden Park AT THIS EVENT:

‘TRANSFORMATION: Through the Eyes of a Designer’ will be held on Friday, November 15, 6-8pm, at the historic Lexington Depot, 13 Depot Square, Lexington. $10 advance, $15 at the door. Light appetizers. Music by LHS Jazz Septet.
The story telling event will be in PHOTO FLASH format or, A Design Showcase in Rapid Images! This year, COG showcases the work of landscape designers, contractors, and artists who have rejuvenated abandoned and tired spaces into public places which inspire hope and delight! Maria von Brincken, APLD, of Maria von Brincken Landscape Garden Design will participate by telling the story of her community project. It’s the story of how a parking lot became the Carlisle Center Park, located in Carlisle, MA.

Meanwhile, back to the story.

The parking lot that became Carlisle Center Park

The parking lot that became Carlisle Center Park

Lowell Robinson and Pliny Jewell III, landscape architects, created the preliminary design. It was a lovely, basic green space with perimeter screening, a granite curbed parking lot, the low fence, granite post marking handicap and non-handicap entries, and a shaped lawn with three memorial granite benches. The vision was a simple green space.

Then I entered the scene and my vision enlarged that to a garden park. Inspired by the work of Lyndon Miller, a Public Garden Designer in New York City, I knew that this place could be really special.

2-l1160643_6624_edited-1Asked to design the island and perennial border entry gardens indicated on the park plan, I expanded the idea of a perennial border to a mixed border. I added shrubs to anchor the gardens for winter interest, create structure, and abundant flowering masses. I envisioned a conversation grouping in the middle of the flower border – essential so that people can sit within the garden, hold conversations looking at each other, or a family could picnic.

Carlisle Center Park in fall 2008

Carlisle Center Park in fall 2008

I choose wooden benches with backs. Unlike the lovely granite you can sit comfortably on wood benches in the late fall and early spring on a cool, but sunny day. It’s a perfect place to perch to listen to the rustle of leaves, the song of birds, and smell the flowers. Then the rocks were found. I placed them in the perfect little lawn nook – I personally call them the sentient rocks.

The 'sentient' rocks of Carlisle Center Park

The ‘sentient’ rocks of Carlisle Center Park

During the installation process of the original gardens, I suggested to Sabrina that the flowering plantings could expand to flank the parking area and to embrace the open lawn space. The beds could be filled with flowering shrubs and massed perennials to create a feeling of peace and abundance. Massed plantings would also cut down on weeding and mulch applications once the plants grew in. Sabrina then proposed the ‘5 year Plan’ to accomplish this.

Carlisle Center Park in spring

Carlisle Center Park in early spring showing timber benches ready for conversation

Each year, on Carlisle’s ‘Old Home Day’, the Friends of Carlisle Center Park host birthday party to celebrate the park and spread the word about its existence. They serve ice cream and cake, and a live band plays. Last June was its sixth birthday celebration.

The town of Carlisle celebrates its park's birthday each year

The town of Carlisle celebrates its park’s birthday each year

Carlisle Center Park is a special place. A parking lot becomes a paradise. I think of it as a public back yard – a flowering and a peaceful oasis available to all. Visit it when you’re in the old town center.

Like this post? Why not share it with a friend?

Maria von Brincken

About Maria von Brincken

Award-winning landscape designer, garden journalist and lecturer, certified practising designer with the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD), former contributing editor to Landshapes magazine. Sudbury, Massachusetts. Read Maria's full blog at A Garden Maker's Notes

2 thoughts on “From parking lot to park paradise

  1. It seems a no-brainer to me that a memorial park should have an abundance of plants and flowers. But maybe there’s a male-female designer divide apparent here, between the original, sterile design and what you very politely call ‘enlarging the concept’, but I’d say was more like ‘rescuing’ the concept? Or maybe a landscape architect – landscape designer difference? All-green parks (or gardens for that matter) you might look at, or walk through, but I doubt anyone sits in them for preference. And how wonderful to have a whole town celebrate its park’s birthday. It’s obviously highly valued.

  2. I think a garden designer sees, well, a garden complemented by hard features, whereas a landscape architect sees hard features complemented by greenery. A landscape architect student recently told me that her entire course has just ONE topic about plants! That’s identification, growth, placement, cultivation – everything!

    I’m no designer of either type, but recently revamped a small courtyard at a city office building. The original brief was to tidy it up a bit with more plantings so it LOOKED nice from inside the building, but I immediately saw its potential as a lovely USEABLE space for employees. A few large existing deciduous trees created shade in summer, while the southern end would capture precious winter sunshine.

    I designed two seating areas each with one coffee table and two benches. The benches are almost identical to yours, Maria. Two are placed the same, the other pair is at right angles.

    A weekend working bee saw pruning done, irrigation and bark laid, as well as plain concrete pavers to define two small seating areas.

    The removal of dead limbs, yellowing leaves, old irrigation lines, rubbish, plus the rearrangement of plants to create defined open areas within the jungle of growth, made a huge difference and, within days of the benches’ arrival, employees were already having meetings and lunching in there.

    I also suggested some wall art, a small water feature for ambient sound, and several potted citrus for scent and fresh fruit, and these will be added as the budget allows.

    This was the first time I’d designed this kind of space so I was thrilled with its success. And because I’m a gardener, not a hard landscaper, the plants will do well in the long term because of selection, placement, soil preparation and irrigation.

Leave a Reply (no need to register)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.