Colgate senior Cassie Ferrante joined the parking lot pollinator project this fall with academic interests in sustainability and permaculture.

Together with Arts at the Palace executive director, Elizabeth Douglas, Cassie completed a comprehensive evaluation of the proposed parking lot pollinator garden. The following information is a summary of their findings:

Location

The urban garden site is adjacent to the tall brick building wall that is the southwest side of the Palace Theater. It is 30′ long and 6′ wide. The site faces a southwest direction and bordered by a curb and asphalt parking lot.

Sun and wind

The site receives full-sun exposure. There are no prevailing winds, and the site is somewhat protected from wind due to the surrounding buildings.

Water and drainage

The site seems well-drained, and the planting bed slopes slightly from the street toward the back of the parking lot, where there is a storm drain. Roof run-off seems generally handled by a gutter system, although it is possible that in strong storms, water falls onto the planting bed. There is enough rain water now to sustain butterfly weed and wild carrot plants, as well as nearby red maple trees. Snow is ploughed on top of the garden in winter.

Soil

The first 7″ of the planting bed are decorative gravel. Next, there is a layer of heavy-duty landscape fabric/weed membrane. Cassie and Elizabeth dug out a section of gravel, cut the landscape fabric, and excavated a soil sample that was then sent to the Cornell Extension lab for analysis. Those results showed there is very low percentage of organic material in the soil, which can be observed on-site. The soil is sandy and rocky such as one would find around a building after construction. The lab results also showed normal salinity, indicating that winter road salt is not an issue for the site.

Elizabeth met with a local contractor who agreed the best way forward will be to remove the gravel layer and landscape fabric, and replace with topsoil. Our naturalist Morgan Elmore has requested topsoil that is not amended in any way, so as to reduce weed growth and more closely match what is typically found in an urban setting.

Deer

There is no evidence of deer browsing at the downtown site, however there is a grassy lot behind the Palace theater shed in the parking lot which might support deer, who do browse occasionally in the Village Green, which is not far away. We will have to study this further and ask the community for input.

USDA plant hardiness zone

Hamilton lies generally in zone 5a, meaning our average annual extreme minimum temperature is -20 to -15 degrees F. However those of us who have gardened here for any length of time know that sometimes our area acts more like zone 4 in terms of the plants that can be supported. Lately, however, Hamilton gardeners often worry more about damage from warm winters, rather than cold ones. We’ll have to wait and see how our parking lot site plays out.