April 2017 Park of the Month: Colonial Lake
Colonial Lake has been through it all this past year. Last June, the park reopened after an extension renovation. Crowds gathered to celebrate the beautiful new space filled with flower gardens, grassy lawns and added seating around the iconic lake. Everyone was ready to bask in the newly crafted beauty of the park.
Mother Nature, well, she had other plans. In October, the park was underwater after Hurricane Matthew’s storm surge flooded the lake and surrounding streets, covering plants with seawater. And while to the public it looked as if the hard work of the renovation was ruined, the Parks Conservancy’s team of horticulturists knew parks and plants are resilient.
They used the time after the hurricane as a learning experience to see which plants would thrive and which ones would succumb to the saltwater damage. Aside from some initial debris clean up, the Conservancy simply left the plants alone. They needed time to recover from the shock and a chance to come back to life.
The soil – saturated with saltwater – was flushed and mushroom compost was added to replenish much-needed nutrients and help lower the salt content.
Once the first freeze of winter hit in January, the staff and volunteers started the normal winter pruning, while continuing to add compost to the soil. In the late fall and January, volunteers helped plant more than 5,000 daffodil bulbs in the park.
At the same time, the staff began to look at the plants that simply didn’t recover from the hurricane damage, including some of the podocarpus hedge, azaleas, camellias and tea olive, explains Conservancy horticulturist Kellen Goodell, who oversees Colonial Lake.
The plants at Colonial Lake really had a tough year, he says, they were newly planted in the spring, survived a brutally hot summer, and then faced a tropical storm and then hurricane in the fall. So the plants that survived are definitely strong.
As with any garden, it’s always a work in progress, learning what plants work and adjusting in areas that didn’t thrive as expected, Goodell says.
This spring, volunteer Park Angels are helping install the replacement plants as well as adding new plants to the park. By summer, most of the work will be maintenance – weeding, summer pruning to control the size and height of certain plants, and plenty of watering.
With a small full-time staff, the Conservancy relies on its regular Park Angels as well as volunteer groups who will give up a morning or a full day to help at Colonial Lake. Goodell says volunteers provide anywhere from 100 to 350 hours of volunteer labor each month.
Keeping Colonial Lake looking its best is truly a full-time job – and a critical one as this park remains continually busy with people jogging, fishing or walking their dogs.
“I’m there every day and at any given time, there can be 90-100 people in the park, for hours on end” Goodell says. “It’s definitely one of the most high traffic parks, along with Marion Square and Hampton Park.”