New Parkland landscape links patients, staff to nature’s healing hand
As the massive new Parkland hospital construction project nears completion, a small forest of trees and more than 16,000 shrubs and 120,000 groundcover plants have sprouted on the grounds, anchoring the state-of-the-art medical campus in a sea of restful greenery. Although the effect is lush, the use of budget-friendly native and adaptive plants selected for drought tolerance and low maintenance makes sense for the long-term.
“One of the key goals for the new hospital was to put the ‘park’ back in Parkland,” explained Lou Saksen, senior vice president of New Parkland Construction. “The first Parkland campus, built 120 years ago, was located on city park land. We wanted to make nature a part of the healing experience again.”
When the hospital moved to its present site in 1954, it was also bounded by a leafy park, but over the years much of the open space made way for expansions.
“When we sat down to plan the new hospital for Dallas County in 2008, we envisioned a restorative, nature-centered campus that would offer patients, visitors and staff direct access to a tranquil, park-like setting,” Saksen said. “It’s one of the many healing concepts incorporated into the overall hospital design.”
Led by landscape architect Paul Freeland of Studio Outside, a Dallas-based firm, in collaboration with Christy Ten Eyck of Ten Eyck Landscape Architects based in Austin, the landscape design team created a plan focused on two major elements. The first is a large centrally located Wellness Park adjoining the front entry. The tree-shaded park features a courtyard with large elliptical-shaped fountain, outdoor seating and walking paths. The adjoining chapel garden, created with a donation made by Dr. Kevin Johnson, offers a more private outdoor room for reflection and special ceremonies.
Six multi-trunk live oaks in the Wellness Park, each at least 25 years old and purchased several years ago for the project, reflect the emblematic tree of life etched in glass on the massive glass wall overlooking the park. Here, the names of all employees at Parkland in 2009 when building began, along with thousands of donors who contributed to the construction of new Parkland, form leaves of a symbolic oak spreading its branches in welcome.
A total of 10 large specimen trees, 340 canopy trees and 312 ornamental trees have been planted, with varieties including live oaks, burr and red oaks, bald cypress, cedar elm, Texas ash, redbud, Mexican plum, holly and wax myrtle. More than 30 varieties of shrubs and groundcover were used, ranging from Asian jasmine to Virginia creeper, American beautybush to Mexican sage.
Standing like a sentry at the hospital’s main entrance will be a magnificent 50-year-old multi-trunk live oak that will serve as the “legacy tree” for the project.
The 30-foot tall specimen, crowned by a 36-foot spreading canopy, has found its way back home to the medical district where it first sprouted as a sapling decades ago. Freeland discovered the giant live oak a few weeks ago at Tree Source tree farm in Prosper while scouting for replacements for a pair of smaller live oaks planted by the front entry that didn’t survive.
“It’s an iconic tree, and it seemed destined for this place,” Freeland said. “We were told by the tree farm it had been removed three years ago from UT Southwestern on Inwood Road, less than a mile from the new Parkland hospital. It was the last remaining tree from that effort and it was a perfect addition to complete the story of what we are trying to achieve here on this campus.”
It took three days to prepare the mammoth tree for its move to Parkland on August 6. An 18-wheeler will transport it and a giant crane will gently hoist it into the 4-foot deep hole prepared for its 160-inch diameter root ball.
Another major landscape design feature is a long linear park that links the perimeter parking lots, DART station and main entrances of the hospital and forms the backbone of the campus. “Bands of bald cypress trees and native plants create a sense of drama but also soften the strong architectural lines of the buildings,” Freeland said.
Site hardscape materials include native Texas materials like Lueders limestone and Cordova cream shellstone with fossil imprints, integral colored concrete and a warm color palette of concrete pavers. Plants were selected for year-round interest with attention to texture, color and pattern, but were also chosen for drought-tolerance, minimum maintenance requirements and cost. Irrigation and water use strategies were rigorously planned for conservation and use of turf was limited due to its high water demand.
Contemplating the completed campus, Freeland stated, “We’ve tried to create a place of hope for patients, staff and visitors who need inspiration or solace. Our hope is this connection to the natural environment will give them comfort and help them heal, both physically and spiritually.”