03 May 2012

The Gardens at Crystal Bridges Museum

The 120-acre site of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is a habitat for hundreds of thousands of native trees and plants.
Named for the Crystal Spring that originates on the family home site, Alice Walton’s
accomplishment in the Bentonville hills earned her a listing in Time Magazine’s
100 Most Influential People.
Since 2008, Scott Eccleston, Director of Trails and Grounds, has worked with the Walton family, Tulsa landscape architects Howell & Vancuren, Frank Sharum Landscape Design of Ft. Smith, the board and the foundation to make a vision into reality.
Eccleston said the passion of everyone involved is the reason it has all come together so spectacularly. Even though they started with beautiful Arkansas wooded hills, the site presented many challenges.
For example, the design plan for the grounds included 270,000 native plants.

“We put out feelers all over the country,” Eccleston said.
“The result was that we could purchase only 5% of the plant material we
needed.”

That was not the only challenge.
The first year of the six year project was spent blasting out the area for the museum buildings. The creeks on the site had to be diverted underground. To help protect the natural environment, museum construction workers were brought to the site by bus.
The hillside soil had to be removed, put back into place and amended with the soil stabilizer FiberSoils, and cottonseed meal before planting. Hillside plants had to be put in place by boom and carried in by hand.

“We did not take the easy road,” said Eccleston. “It was a challenging site and we chose overlooked plants. The landscape architect said this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to set the tone for this size project. The result is a marriage between art, the buildings and the landscape.”

The plantings were installed during last summer’s drought.

Seventeen miles of irrigation including drip, rotors and popup sprinklers, plus Gator Bags for the young trees, helped sustain them. The irrigation company, Rain Bird, has trained 15-20 landscape architects in how to work with large, difficult installations.

The green roof on top of the museum store is uniquely 12 to 14-inches deep. It is planted with serviceberry trees, coneflower, sumac, and ferns.

“We wanted to create art by how the plants were displayed,” said Eccleston. “The plants’ texture, shape and color help the art, museum and nature to coexist.”

For plant lovers, walking the 3.5 miles of trails is quite an experience. Each of the six trails
reveals a wide variety of native plants, views of the museum, or works of art.

“The grounds are designed through the eyes of the forest,” said Eccleston. “Everything had to be seen from the forest.”

- The Rock Ledge Trail is a 1/2 mile crushed granite pedestrian trail, the previous site of an early railroad. The Rock Ledge Shelter provides a place to sit and enjoy the surroundings.

- Dogwood Trail is a one-mile pedestrian trail with steps. There is seating along the trail where visitors can enjoy 500 dogwood trees.

- The half-mile Orchard Trail gently slopes through an evergreen forest, and connects with the Tulip Tree and Dogwood Trails.
- On the Tulip Tree Trail, walkers cross a rock bridge at the base of Crystal Spring, where the original steps into the spring remain. The trail ends at the Great Hall and the South Lobby of the Museum. The Tulip Tree Trail Shelter is a perfect spot to sit and enjoy being surrounded by forest.
- The 1/3 mile, hard-surface Art Trail is open for walking and biking. Along the Art Trail, families can enjoy several works of art.
Look for plant identifying signage as well as Eco-boxes for information along the way.

 
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR
www.CrystalBridges.org and 479-418-5731
Free admission to gardens and museum.
Closed Tuesdays
Master Gardener docent tours of the grounds Sat and Sun

No comments: