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The Winter Garden

One of the largest and most difficult interior landscapes ever attempted uses a grove of palm trees to enhance the architecture and create a “living sculpture” This was the idea behind the design of the Winter Garden in New York’s Battery City Park. Being that acclimatizing palm trees to a cold climate interior was once thought impossible, this project may just revolutionize interiorscapes.

The 130-foot glass-vaulted Winter Garden Pavilion connecting the four towers of the new World Financial Center (designed by Cesar Pelli) in New York City needed a design that would be impressive in the distinctive architecture of the glasshouse but not impede the flow of pedestrian traffic through the space. The predictions by one study (Vollmer Associates, 1979), sites pedestrian use for the 18,000-square-foot space to be greater than 35,000 people during peak hours. With this set of stringent requirements, the space was designed to create a grove of palm trees architecturally to emphasize their form in a “living sculpture.”

Parker Interior Plantscapes ofScott Plains, New Jersey, wasselected to design the planting and selection of the plants. Diana Balmori, an architect and horticultural expert, was in charge of the project. M. Paul Friedberg and Associates was chosen as Landscape Architects of Record to design and supervise the landscape. Stamatios P. Lykos, an archi-tect and Landscape Architect with a j: master’s of science in horticulture from the School of Geoponics in Athens, Greece, was responsible for planting and evaluating the feasibility of the project.

The Winter Garden Pavilion is in Manhattan’s Battery City Park, which is on 14 acres of choice Manhattan real estate. This development consists of over 280,000 square feet of retail and commercial space and 150,000 square feet of public space in a 35 acre public plaza. At street level, the Winter Garden is be lined with restaurants, specialty shops and cafes.

The palms being acclimatized in the shade house at Ellis Farms in Borrego Springs, California.

Thomas Everett, of the New York Botanic Garden, and others wereconsulted by Balmori and Lykos to find the appropriate plant materials. The Washingtonia robusta, a native : American palm, was chosen from 2,790 species for its ability to thrive in an arid atmosphere. Finding mature Washingtonia robusta specimens in good condition led Balmori and Lykos to Ellis Farms in Borrego Springs, California, where they selected twenty 30-foot specimens.

A New Concept

Lykos then set up a process to acclimatize the palms. Although the practice to transplant palms outdoors is to cut the root system completely to the trunk, we did not follow it. We specified that the root pruning be done in two stages and cut two-thirds of the roots about two feet away from the trunk at the first stage. After three months, we cut the remaining one-third of the roots at the time of transplanting in the containers where they will stay through the acclimatization period. This process has a dual purpose. We wanted to maintain part of the existing root system in the root ball and allow it to grow new roots from the old ones. This was proven to be true, contrary to belief, that the roots die completely all the way to the trunk when they are cut. The remaining one-third of the root system would act as an anchor to keep the trees in place and to feed the plant until new roots will grow. Then the palms were to stay outdoors in the containers for another three months prior to placement in a shade house for light acclimatization.”

Finally, the trees stayed in a shade house for one year where the trees were acclimatized to low light condition of 800 footcandles. “The natural lighting conditions in the Winter Garden vary from a low (average) of 100-150 footcandles in the winter to about 350 footcandles in the summer. Therefore, additional lighting was required. We made provisions to provide in addition at least 650 footcandles of artificial lighting to bring the lighting conditions between 800 to 1000 footcandles.”

Installation of the palms in the Winter Garden after their 3,000 mile journey.

The palms were to be planted in the Winter Garden in mid-May 1986, but they were not planted until October 1987 due to on-going construction on the site. This provided for a longer acclimatization period on one hand, but on the other, they were planted in the Winter Garden at the beginning of the low natural lighting period for New York.

A Solution

Lykos encountered a special problem because the Winter Garden floor is over a platform spanning about 50 feet. “The platform is over water, therefore, the palms were planted in large planter compartments (15 feet by 30 feet and about 6-feet deep) below the floor of the Winter Garden, however, always above the water. The platforms were rebuilt to accommodate the depth of the planters. On the floor of the Winter Garden, there are only the openings for the tree grates which are five feet by five feet. We also used a special soil mix, medium to lightweight, of the following composition: 20 percent topsoil, 25 percent peat, 5 percent bark, 10 percent perlite, 20 percent brick chips and 15 percent sand.”

The temperature beneath the floor was maintained through the use of four-inch closed-cell insulation. A drip irrigation system was installed with additional hose bibs in the event the irrigation system malfunctions.

Transportation and installation of the palms was undertaken by Wm. Young & Sons, a company with extensive experience in transplanting large palms. The palms were transported a distance of over 3,000 miles in September of 1987 in a closed truck with temperature and humidity controls.

Time will tell if this experiment is a success, but the exceptional team effort by Olympia & York, Stamatios P. Lykos & Associates, Parker Interior Plantscapes, Ellis Farms, Inc. and Wm. Young & Sons has opened a new frontier for innovative interior landscaping.

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June 27, 2019, 2:05 am PDT

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