It takes vision to create Eden on a parking lot.
Greg Bookhultz has the vision -- and a green thumb. Thanks to him, the Robert's Field Shopping Center is an oasis of colorful flowers.
"I wanted to have a meadow effect, lots of flowers that bring in butterflies and insects and birds," Mr. Bookhultz says. "My feeling is, just because it's a shopping center doesn't mean it has to be harsh and ugly. Why not make it nice? [A garden] enhances the whole area."
Mr. Bookhultz was maintaining landscapes as an employee of McGill Development Corp. when McGill designed the Robert's Field Shopping Center, which opened in October 1991. At Belair Tollgate Town Center, Columbia Business Center and Columbia Corporate Park, he managed day-to-day needs of the permanent plantings for the corporation.
He was asked to look at the McGill landscape plan for the new Robert's Field shopping center. "I worked with Joe Medved from Outside Unlimited. We went over the plan -- the town had approved it -- then worked with . . . the town. We asked if we could make some changes."
Mr. Bookhultz said he wanted to reach beyond the standard parking lot landscape of junipers, tall grasses and pine trees.
"I call it the 'new American landscaping' because, for the longest time, you'd notice contractors would throw in a bunch of yew bushes. . . . I thought it would be nice to show people something different and inspire them to do it. That's the idea behind my gardening. I'd like to change the way people garden."
The McGill team decided upon changes in plant material. Mr. Bookhultz suggested plants and Mr. Medved wove them into the design. And Mr. Bookhultz was granted his wish: a bank of flowering perennials in front of the Ace Hardware store. The Town of Hampstead approved the new look. There were no hasty decisions.
"I worked it out on paper," Mr. Bookhultz said. "I had to choose the hardiest and longest blooming. You don't know how the plants will react to the salt off the pavement. Parking lots are terrible to work with."
He suggested using ornamental grasses, purple cone flowers, black-eyed Susans, and leatherleaf viburnum throughout the mall to unify the design.
"I chose each plant not only for color and the butterflies and interesting insects it would bring in but for the lasting bloom, for just about all summer. That's a big part of having a nice perennial garden. There are some plants you can chose that will last about two or three months."
Drought resistance was a key issue, because parking lots get very hot. The pink roses were chosen carefully. They are flourishing now in front of the Weis market. The leatherleaf
viburnum was chosen for its manner of growth, berries, and flowers that attract insects.
At Ace Hardware, the flowers Mr. Bookhultz planted seem to beg for heat; they're unfazed by thermometer readings over 100 degrees. It's a feast of yellow, red and blue. Immense plumes of fountain and switch grasses provide a lush, feathery foil.
"Solid colors tend not to confuse the eye," he says. He chose tall coronation gold yarrow, Cambridge scarlet Monarda and purple coneflowers (Echinacia). Lavender, like most herbs, enjoys a dry sunny climate. It forms a border of blue flowers and gray foliage.
Mr. Bookhultz said that Ann Summers, owner of the Ace Hardware store, "has been a particular fan of that garden. She put the bird feeder out there."
The flowers are in abundant bloom for the second summer.
"I was down there just [two weeks ago] waiting for full bloom," Mr. Bookhultz said.
At his home in Fairfield, Pa., Mr. Bookhultz gardens extensively using organic methods. He offers private garden consultation now and works for a mill that manufactures wooden stairs.