Arnold Rutkis has an MFA in sculpture but ended up becoming a landscaper to make ends meet. He currently works on garden projects in and around Birmingham, Alabama, that are more like sculptural interactions with the land. His most recent projects include what are termed “Eco-Scapes” that he designs and installs for The Southern Environmental Center in Birmingham. These gardens are experiential educational spaces that teach visitors about smart water use, organic gardening methods, edible landscaping and creating habitat for a variety of wildlife.

In addition, he has lectured on many gardening topics including the use of native plants in residential landscapes, rain gardening, creating eco-friendly garden structures through the use of twigs, bamboo and hypertufa, as well as lecturing on Eco-Scapes at native plant conferences. When not out and about, he works his garden plot experimenting with organic techniques, vegetable gardening, propagation and the artistic elements of working with the land.

“The purpose of these Eco-Scape gardens is to heal the land, taking misused or abandoned city lots and reinvesting them with purpose and vitality. In so doing, I choose to incorporate a wide variety of native plants, herbs and edibles suited to the conditions of the site, and that can illustrate a variety of natural situations. This dual purpose of healing and educating through the form and aesthetics of the landscape are at the core of each Eco-Scape.” - Arnold Rutkis

Visit his website at


Unpaving the parking lot - part 2
by Arnie Rutkis - posted 12/07/11

The story continues.  The next steps were to put those materials on the site to use.  The granite curbing inspired me to create a series of benches,

some 9 feet in length around the site. Each base was a new problem to solve.


Gravel is important to this site as we wanted a permeable layer of material that would be workable yet yet pack down when we needed it to.  A base layer of  crushed limestone then a topcoat of crush and run will pack down firmly and still crunch under foot as its walked upon.  The paths all drain into the bio-swale as well so the gravel can help to filter storm water runoff.  The gravel drains well but also herbs and many other plants like the fast drainage and mineral content of the stone.  Vulcan materials up the street kindly donated our gravel.

The pond is near complete and a surround of recycled brick has been installed by Martha Parson and her crew.    In the background an artistic fence created by Fonde Tyalor will act as a partial screen and backdrop for the rose garden, a border of antique and heirloom roses purchased from Petals from the past.  A floral mosaic was installed within the water feature and the sounds of water help soften the urban character of the location.


I had held off planting as long as i could as the weather was particularly hot.  Care was taken to mix soils with a rich organic compost to help sustain plantings.  This garden functions as a garden with beautiful flowering perennials herb shrubs and trees but the main purpose is to help increase awareness for visitors of a variety of topics. With that in mind distinct garden areas were created.  I already mentioned the rose garden which has many more rose companions throughout the scape.  Roses have a long history with the majority being from Asia though we have some native to the U.S.  Rosa palustris or swamp rose is planted in the bioswale.  It is tolerant of wet conditions grows to approximately 8 feet tall in a well formed vase shape and produces fragrant pink blooms in late spring through early summer.  Mayor Tuck is very fond of roses and wanted to share her interest with garden visitors.  A native medicinal herb garden greets visitors at the back entrance.  Plants like wild quinine, Parthenium integrifolium which have a history of use as a medicinal druing World war I when supplies of quinine were low also have an attractive white bloom which brings a variety of insect visitors to the garden as well.  Echinacea purperea is widely used as a general tonic and immune builder.  Purple coneflower is one of the longest lasting bloomers in the perennial border.  As you may be noticing the native medicinals also have other benefits as habitat plants for nectar loving bees, wasps and beetles not to mention the flying artworks of butterflies and moths.  

The butterfly garden is across the path and i tried to focus on some differnet plants here.  Hyssop leaved boneset, eupatorium hyssopifilium is a clump forming perennial that is a great meadow plant or specimen for the back of a border.  Large flower heads made up of many smaller florets grows from 1-3 feet tall and is drought tolerant once estsablished.  Have been growing this at my nursery and was amzed at the long lasting blooms.  Asters, liatris and Asclepias tuberosa or butterfly weed fill out this area.  Nearby oak trees lead you into the woodland garden where mounds of earth are populated by the plants of Alabama forests, plants such as american beautyberry, Heuchera americans, native azaleas phloxes, scarlet buckeyes and one of my favorite native grasses, Chasmanthium sessiliflorum or simply, wood oats.



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