Friday, October 21, 2011

Concepts for Vacant Lot Projects

Vacant lots are just vacant space - sure there is sometimes trash in them, they have the leftover rubble from the buildings that once stood on site, there are tall grasses and weeds. But imagine if all of that were gone and you had a blank slate, a vacant lot, to put in whatever you could dream up! Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing. All of these suggestions have been created in vacant lot spaces, and they are just the beginning of what can be done. What are your ideas?

A Rain Garden is a garden that is designed to catch the water from stormwater runoff and manipulate it so that it is absorbed into the ground rather than redirected to stormdrains. Plants and flowers may be planted around the rain garden so that all water redirected to this area will be nourishment for water-needy plants. On vacant lots the soil is oftentimes so compacted that water simply runs off the surface as if it were concrete. This reduces the amount of pervious - or absorbable - surfaces in an area. The more pervious surfaces you have, the more water is absorbed into the ground, filtering out chemicals and pollutants and replenishing our healthy groundwater source. The more water runs off into storm drains and the street the more likely it is to catch trash and pollutants en route to our greater body of water - the Chesapeake Bay. 

A Sedum Berm (or Sedum Rock, or Berm Rock Garden) is essentially a rock garden. The "berm" implies that it is raised above the rest of the garden - for sedums, or plants that are drought-resistant (do not like wet soil), and for improved drainage throughout your garden. Rocks are placed among the soil in the raised mound with vegetation planted betwixt and between; the rocks are both decorative and practical additions to a garden. The interspersed rocks help water drain into the soil, as well as provide decorative places for people to sit! Check out How to Build a Rock Garden and How to Design a Berm.

A very popular item - the vegetable garden! Vacant lot soil often has poisonous lead in it. We don't want to plant our fruits and vegetable plants in lead contaminated soil as it will transmit the lead into the food we eat! In order to bypass this toxic salad, we make a raised bed. Raised beds, as you can see in the above image, are literally on top of the ground soil. You can make a raised bed out of repurposed weather-resistant wood, or any kind of wood that you weatherize in some way so it lasts longer from the elements. Put some nutrient-rich top soil in your raised bed and ta-da! You have a mini soil plot with absolutely no lead in it, ready to hold delicious vegetable-bearing plants in it. Tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, okra, peppers, radishes, squash, cucumbers, spinach, kale, lettuce, onions, lima beans, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, you name it!

Usually less desirable because they take a few years to bear the fruit of your labor - fruit orchards are nevertheless a beautiful contribution to a neighborhood as well as a wonderful source of fresh fruit! Trees are very fragile in the first two years of their life - they need a lot of water as they plant their roots. After the first few years they begin to show that fruit for which they were planted...but they aren't truly safe until the 5-year mark. (Check out some tree planting tips Here.) After 5 years if the tree is still healthy you will start getting tons of apples, or pears, or peaches, oh my! People often don't think to plant fruit trees because they can take so long to give you fruit, but think of how wonderful it will be in a couple of years to have fresh apples every day, or be able to make batches of peach preserves for christmas presents, or bake apple pies! Not to mention they are beautiful, and provide wonderful hot summer shade. And, you can often get free trees from our very own Tree Baltimore.

Butterfly gardens have plants and flowers planted in them that attract butterflies. The butterflies are attracted by the particular nectars of the plant or flower that feeds them. Did you know that the monarch butterfly species migrates as far as Mexico? These gardens give them some delicious food on their path! Asters, Black-Eyed Susans, Daylilies, Lavendar, Hibiscus, and Lilac are just some of the (also gorgeous) flowers that butterflies enjoy feasting on. Check out other butterfly garden plants Here

So, what are your ideas? Let us know!


Power in Dirt is a Baltimore City Mayoral Initiative empowering Baltimore City communities and residents to adopt city-owned vacant lots and turn them into community managed green and open spaces. to look at a list of city-owned vacant lots listed by neighborhood as well as applications for adopting a vacant lot or getting access to water for a lot you already maintain.  


  1. Hey I am sorry if this comment seems irrelevant here. My name is Ryan and I am a Goucher College student. I am (as well as my friends Hugh and Scott) in a class called the International Scholars Program. During this semester our class is focusing on looking at our local city through a global lens. Therefore our class split up into groups and are all doing different projects. My groups project is to help green Baltimore. We have already adopted a lot on Ready Street and we are collecting samples from the lot to send them to a lab to be tested to see if anything can grow there. What I am trying to do is to spread the word about what we are doing and to ask to see if anyone is willing to help or can help point me and my group in the right direction so we can start to turn this lot into something my group and the lot's community can be proud of. Here is our blogs URL:

    Please feel free to stop by and leave a comment. Thanks again for your time.

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