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Bluebird Park Gets a Facelift, Olmsted Style


December 07, 2021

The GC of Norfolk and Community Partners Reestablish a Native Habitat

Inspired by The Garden Club of America’s (GCA) challenge to celebrate the 200th birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted, The Garden Club of Norfolk (GCN) partnered with The Elizabeth River Trail Foundation, the City of Norfolk’s Park and Forestry Operations, and Virginia Tech Extension service as well as many other community partners, to reclaim a barren parcel of land along the Elizabeth River. Olmsted’s vision of beautifying public spaces to restore the spirit has guided the group’s planning from the outset. The opportunity to fulfill that vision using native plants and trees to support birds and pollinators is aligned with the pressing need to address climate change and conservation on many levels by putting more roots in the ground to absorb excess water, capture carbon, and support wildlife through specific plant choices. 

With this goal in mind, GCN is re-establishing native habitat along the 400-foot western boundary of Jeff Robertson Park (also known as Bluebird Park) in two phases. Phase 1, which occurred in November, consisted of planting a diverse grove of fifteen native trees. Phase 2 will involve planting the remaining swale along the boundary. This area is suitable for a mix of native trees, shrubs, and pollinator plants and will be implemented in late 2022. Upon completion, the site, adjacent to the existing Weyanoke Bird Sanctuary, will exponentially increase wildlife support in the area.

Because not all trees are created equal when it comes to sustaining pollinators and carbon sequestration, GCN carefully picked a variety of power-packed trees. The oak species, for example, turns out to be one of the most effective trees for both sustaining wildlife and storing carbon. Oaks (species Quercus) support over 534 species of butterflies and moths. Their caterpillars are “keystone” insects, a critical food source for over ninety-six percent of the songbirds. As the oak tree can live for hundreds of years, it is also a top choice for storing carbon. 

In addition to two mighty oaks (one Live Oak and one Chinkapin Oak), GCN has also planted Longleaf Pines that sustain twenty six federally threatened species as well as help to reduce flooding and improve water; American Pawpaws, important for supporting larger mammals and birds; Tupelo trees, host to twenty six caterpillar species; Fringe trees that produce fruit for wildlife; and a Persimmon that supports forty six caterpillar species. Just as these new trees enhance the biodiversity and community of insects and wildlife, the project to create this tribute garden to Olmsted has fostered tremendous cooperation among community partners in Norfolk. In addition to the original vision from GNC as part of the Olmsted challenge, trees were donated by the city, the labor to install them was donated by Bartlett Trees, and additional support came from many other community organizations.

The Garden Club of America is a proud founding partner of the Olmsted 200 bicentennial campaign.


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