HABS NO. MD-1216 Page 13
Donovan firm’s responsibility was limited to developing a scheme for plantings throughout the phases of Springhill Lake. 36
Donovan and Associates had a good deal of experience working with garden apartment complexes, as that form had become the preferred product for the expanding rental market in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Garden apartments owed much of their popularity to the combination of their affordability and the suburban – sylvan, even – setting that they offered. The proliferation of garden apartments, though bringing T.D. Donovan a great deal of business, offered the firm an ongoing challenge in their designs. That challenge was to do their design work as cheaply as possible, providing affordable housing for residents and profit for the developers. Donovan’s landscape architects could rarely inspire delight in the client or promote ecological sensitivity in the community, but repeatedly had to demonstrate that they could design comfortable and functional landscaping on a modest budget. Springhill Lake was no different.
Because of these budget constraints and the predominance of young families among the development’s residents, the Donovan landscape architects emphasized the use of durable trees and shrubs to shade and set the scene in Springhill Lake. Soft wooded trees were scraped from the architects’ palette, as was the rhododendron; branches of the former would break in heavy wind while children could trample the latter. In addition, the firm anticipated that there would be no future budget to provide replacement plantings necessitated by wear and tear, accidents, or inclement weather. Given these constraints, the project required more than a little creativity to provide a landscape that was neither monotonous, repetitive, nor vulnerable to the elements.
For landscape architects, the nation’s climate is divided into ten different zones that roughly separate the types of plants and trees that can survive there, known as “hardiness zones.” These zones, delineated by the United States Department of Agriculture, are defined by gradations of low temperatures in the winter. The Washington, DC, area is located at the transition between two climate zones representing regions of minimum winter temperature. Zone 6b, representing winter lows of 0 to -5 degrees Fahrenheit, runs from southwest to northeast in a band roughly 150 miles wide, including Montgomery County and much of the District of Columbia. Zone 7a, including Prince George’s County, runs parallel to 7a immediately south of Zone 6b, but is wider and warmer, representing winter lows of 0 to 5 degrees F. (figure) As a result, Donovan altered the palette for Springhill Lake further, excluding several trees and plants that were not suitable for Zone 7a, like azaleas and rhododendrons, though they were popular landscaping shrubs in the region. 37
Thurman Donovan, the firm’s principal and chief designer, advocated the arrangement of greenery using native species or native varieties where possible. In so doing, the Donovan landscape architects turned to a palette of trees and vegetation shaped by their previous experience designing for garden apartments. Crabapples (Malus), maple varieties (Aceraceae), pin oaks (Quercus palustris), and white pines (Pinus strobes) all figured prominently into the design for Springhill Lake. Each was inexpensive and native to the region, meaning that they were suited to the climate as well as the soil. For shrubs and more human-scaled plantings,
Feola, interview. Richard Feola. Personal Interview. Gaithersburg, MD. 23 June 2005.