Northeast Florida has long been the undiscovered gem of the state. Dubbed the “first coast,” it is home to a myriad of historical sites, towering pines and grand southern live oaks that create a landscape more akin to the Deep South than tropical South Florida. This “Old Florida” ambiance, coupled with a growing economy and a desirable climate, has resulted in a building boom that makes Duval and St. Johns counties the 13th and 14th fastest-growing in the country. Rural and agricultural landscapes are being replaced by neighborhoods and sleepy country roads by four-lane boulevards. During this transformation, our challenge as landscape architects is to preserve and interpret the native landscape in an increasingly urbanized setting because plants have stories too.
An Urban Cypress Dome at Jax Chamber
Located at the base of the Main Street Bridge in downtown Jacksonville, the Chamber of Commerce headquarters is in a highly urban setting surrounded by paved surfaces and buildings. The site required innovative solutions to accommodate storm water. ML+H worked with the Chamber on developing a sustainable solution utilizing bio-retention swales to hold and percolate water. ML+H chose to flank the entrance with bald cypress trees as a nod to the native cypress swamps. Spartina grass, the iconic species of North Florida marshes, is used throughout the sunnier areas. This resilient landscape, designed to mimic our native systems, survived the severe flooding brought by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Poking the British since 1565
Marquis Latimer + Halback, Inc. provided planning and design services to improve the visitor connections to the historic Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, FL. A part of the design called for a partial reconstruction of the historic defensive works, the Cubo line. The original 16th century Cubo line consisted of a wall constructed with palm logs that was heavily planted with Spanish bayonet (Yucca aloifolia), a ferocious plant with foot-long needlelike leaves. ML+H wanted to reconstruct the feeling and appearance of the wall without creating a public hazard. After much research, the design team selected spineless yucca (Yucca elephantipes) as a substitute for Spanish bayonet. It has the fierce appearance with out the dangerous bite! This creative use of plant material allows visitors to appreciate the wall as it may have appeared in the colonial era and helps tell the 450-year history of the Castillo de San Marcos.
ML+H always strives to tell the story of a place, and this narrative thread carries through in the careful selection of species and arrangements of plants. Use of native and historically accurate landscape materials is not only sustainable, it helps create an environment that feels authentic.