Monday, October 08, 2007

Cerulean Afternoon

Shortly after arriving at my first Florida Panhandle destination last Monday afternoon, I did what I always do at a new place if I can -- take a walk. It was about an hour before sunset and an hour and a half before we were slated to meet for dinner. I had already been impressed, driving in, by the town's design and its subtropical landscaping. I wanted to see more.

Practically outside my front door was Cerulean Park, a long strip of land, intensely landscaped, running most of the way through phase one of the town. I don't know landscaping, but I know what I like, and I was immediately taken with the park. I'd describe it further, but Landscape Architecture, the magazine of the American Society of Landscape Architects, has already done so, in its December 2003 issue. The Byrd quoted in the article is Warren Byrd, a principal of Susan Nelson-Warren Byrd Landscape Architects of Charlottesville, Virginia, who designed the park.

"A narrow canal, 340 feet long, extends almost the entire length of the park's west side. It runs parallel to an 8-foot-wide, crushed-shell walking path... Flanking the canal are gardens planted with flowering annuals and perennials. 'One place we have allowed introduction of nonnatives is in Cerulean Park, because we are trying to make it more of a botanic garden and give it color,' Byrd notes. 'Some of the annuals and perennials are not necessarily native, but they are not invasive. And they're great because they not only provide color but also really draw the wildlife—the butterflies, birds, and bees.'

"The narrow canal, or runnel, originates in a small basin where a large granite cup gently overflows like the natural springs found in the region. Its water cascades through a series of shallow falls down the gradual slope into a large oval pond. Embracing one side of the pond is an arc of native water plants, and slicing across it off center is a wooden footbridge that provides an ideal vantage point for watching the variety of koi that move hypnotically beneath it. The pond serves more than a decorative function: It doubles as a catchment and storage area for stormwater.

"East of the canal, an expanse of lawn is planted with a drought-resistant, salt-tolerant 'seashore paspalum' grass. Oval-shaped islands of native vegetation are scattered throughout the lawn, allowing the preservation of significant native trees and masses of ground... Indeed, the contrast of the grassy plane against the sculptural forms of the sand live oaks and vertical spires of slash pines makes a special event out of the native species. Woody shrubs, masses of saw palmettos, and beds of grayish reindeer lichen form a textured carpet beneath the trees...."

At one time, the dream of landscapers was to reach worldwide for exotic plantings, the bigger the variety the better. Now the thing must be local sourcing. As the article mentioned, friendly expat plants dwell in the park, but mostly Cerulean flora are a greatest hits collection of the Florida Panhandle. Also, to update the article, there were no koi in the water. Maybe they didn't thrive.

Follow the park path for a distance, and you arrive at a footbridge across a small lake. I managed not to take any decent pictures of the park, but I did stand on the bridge and shot the following.

The shapes jutting upward are made of glass, and I think they're supposed to evoke cattails. There were more of them in the upscale restaurant in which we had our first dinner that night.

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