1 May 2024

The success of green infrastructure elements relies on careful construction detailing, ensuring the efficient integration of features like green roofs, permeable pavements, and rain gardens into our urban environments.

Even seemingly ordinary elements like planter beds require a thorough understanding of drainage function, soil volume, and growing medium profiles. Understanding factors like climate, seasonal change, microclimate, and maintenance needs is essential in ensuring the health of these systems.

Construction detailing of green infrastructure elements involves selecting appropriate materials, preparing robust specifications, and implementing techniques that prioritise ecological benefit. While the finished design outcome may look effortless, and critical design elements may be hidden from view, the time and care invested in detailing these elements is crucial in achieving the desired outcome.

Drainage Strategies and Stormwater Harvesting in Urban Environments

In urban environments, effective rainwater management is vital to prevent issues like seasonal flooding. This is particularly challenging in our cities with many impermeable surfaces hindering water absorption. Implementing landscape drainage strategies can be beneficial in managing stormwater efficiently, minimising negative impacts on infrastructure, and providing environmental benefits while maintaining the integrity of landscape design.

Features like permeable pavements and bioswales enable water infiltration, reduce runoff, and supporting groundwater recharge. Additionally, swales and detention basins store stormwater temporarily, preventing downstream flooding and ensuring a gradual release.

To address water shortage in a drying climate, stormwater harvesting provides a solution by capturing winter rainfall that would otherwise end up in drains. During summer, the collected stormwater serves as an alternative water source, alleviating water shortages and reducing reliance on mains supply.

The integration of green infrastructure elements, such as green roofs and permeable pavements, enhances stormwater capture and reuse. Green roofs can absorb and temporarily store rainfall, mitigating runoff and providing insulation benefits, with the captured rainwater available for irrigation. Permeable pavements, designed for water infiltration, reduce surface runoff, prevent waterlogging and erosion, and support groundwater recharge.

Soil and Mulch Specifications 

Creating an environment conducive to plant growth involves thoughtful consideration of soil composition and mulch application. The appropriate soil composition should promote efficient drainage to prevent water-logging, while also retaining enough moisture during dryer periods. A blend of sand, silt, and clay fosters an ideal environment, with sand promoting soil aeration and drainage, silt enhancing nutrient retention, and clay ensuring effective water retention and nutrient availability. Achieving the right balance among these components results in loamy soil, offering both efficient drainage and substantial water retention.

Soil testing is crucial to understand soil acidity levels, as every plant thrives within specific pH ranges. Adjustments can be made using powdered limestone to raise pH levels or sulfur to lower them, ensuring optimal conditions for plant growth.

Incorporating organic matter like soil conditioner, compost, and decomposed plant material enhances soil structure, increasing aeration, water holding capacity, and nutrient availability, thereby promoting healthy plant growth.

Additionally, mulch serves as a natural insulator, moderating temperature fluctuations to create a stable environment for plant roots. Its weed-suppressing properties enhance the aesthetic appearance of planter beds while minimising competition for nutrients, water, and sunlight, allowing desired plants to flourish. As mulch decomposes over time, it enriches the soil with organic matter, further improving soil health and creating a favourable environment for plant growth.

City Greening assists us with the reduction of emissions two-fold. It supports us with carbon sequestration, whilst driving down the local heat factor.

Brenton Reynolds — Director, Net Zero & Decarbonisation

Structural Soils and Soil Cells

Ensuring the health and longevity of street trees in urban environments is a key priority for our design team who often face challenges associated with limited space and structural constraints. The key challenge is providing sufficient space for tree root development, particularly in confined urban settings created by structures like roads.

Structural soils contain a blend of crushed stone or gravel and soil and are engineered to bear pavement and traffic weight while offering the opportunity for trees growth within these hardstand environments. While cost-effective and supportive, the soil compaction required for structural stability can limit the development of a tree’s root system.

An alternative solution comes in the form of soil cells, modular plastic units filled with soil, providing optimal soil conditions for tree growth while supporting pavement. These cells prevent soil compaction, ensuring healthy root growth, and supporting tree stability and allowing space for suitable soil to support robust tree root expansion. Both opportunities present a suitable approach to nurturing street tree growth while preserving the surrounding infrastructure.