Performing the work and duties of a landscape architect in coastal communities can be difficult for a number of reasons, chief among them being the possibility - or probability - of sea level rise coupled with infrequent but potentially devastating hurricane activity. In designing the new Sea Scout Base in Galveston, Texas, Studio Outside designers faced the challenge of selecting trees for the site that would be able to withstand not only hard, straight-line winds, but would be adapted to the sandy soils and salty air permeating the beachfront property.
The site plan called for canopy trees to be planted throughout the property to provide shade, screening from traffic from nearby roads, and to act as a buffer from high winds as well. The challenge was finding a tree that could take all the abuse that the Gulf of Mexico could throw at it, while still performing those essential duties. None of the standard options would work. Most inland canopy tree species were not salt-tolerant enough, and tended to break apart in high level winds.
Turns out the solution was located right next door the whole time.
During a visit to the site, the team heard of a local grove of trees that had survived multiple hurricanes and decided to check it out. In Lafitte's Cove Nature Preserve, a small marshy plot of land in the middle of a neighborhood, the team found a dense copse of coastal live oaks, or sand live oaks, that had withstood the test of time. Quickly, they gathered over a thousand acorns underneath the thick canopy, intent on planting the eventual seedlings on the project site.
From Studio Outside's Paul Freeland:
After a little bit of research, I found that the statistics (pdf) seem to back up the anecdotal evidence of Galveston Island's most hardy tree species. After Hurricane Ivan destroyed much of the tree canopy around Florida's coast, it was the Sand Live Oak (along with the Live Oak) that fared the best, with 99 and 96 percent of the trees surviving the storm, respectively, while pine trees and the tulip poplar fall to the bottom of the list, attaining a less than 50% survival rate.
As designers, we often want to work with materials and methods that we are familiar with, regardless of the location of the project. We strive to be sensitive to the individual needs of the site, but we also carry with us inherent biases towards certain plant types, materials, or design rules depending on where we come from. Galveston's family trees show us that sometimes the answer is right under our noses, on the site itself.
The Sea Scouts, with their new resilient trees, will have a property populated by the most native tree species possible, right from their own backyard. It's what we as landscape architects strive for: to enhance the natural elements of a site, to bring its best qualities front and center. The Sea Scout Base in scheduled for completion in October of this year, and we hope to see those trees standing tall for decades to come.