RAS receives inaugural Trumbauer Award

Photos courtesy of ICAA

The Philadelphia Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA) announced the winners of the inaugural Trumbauer Awards on Wednesday, November 9th, at a festive awards ceremony at The Union League of Philadelphia. The new awards program recognizes the work of individuals and firms to preserve and advance the classical tradition in the greater Philadelphia area. RAS was honored to receive recognition for our work on the historic landscape restoration of Nemours Mansion and Gardens in Wilmington, DE.

Named for internationally renowned, native Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer (1868-1938), the Trumbauer Awards celebrate contemporary classical projects that express the breadth and inclusiveness present in Trumbauer’s expansive work. Trumbauer achieved extraordinary success despite modest professional and social beginnings, and was unrivaled in the early 20th century in American architecture for the number and magnificence of his projects.Thank you to the ICAA for supporting our work.

Wilmington Hospital Healing Garden

Christiana Care CCHS Wilmington Hospital Atrium Courtyard Garden

Photo by CCHS, originally published in InTRUST Magazine Vol. 4 Issue 1 Winter 2015

“Patients and visitors at Wilmington Hospital are enjoying the lush, green space of the Junior Board of Christiana Care Healing Garden. The garden is the gift of the Junior Board, which donated $1 million to design and develop the large, open courtyard at the center of the hospital’s four interconnected buildings. Patients at the Center for Rehabilitation use the garden’s varied walkways as they work to regain skills lost to brain injury. The pathways curve and slope, and include expanses of cobblestones, brick, slate, concrete and cement.”

RRLA, Inc. designed the indoor/outdoor healing garden occupying the new atrium and courtyard of the recently expanded Christana Care Health Systems Wilmington Hospital. 


Exposed: The Secret Life of Roots

Photograph by Jim Richardson

RRLA, Inc. provided exhibit design services for the upcoming “Exposed: The Secret Life of Roots” exhibition at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. From The Architect of the Capitol’s website:

Plant roots are vital components of the earth’s ecosystem. They are necessary for plant growth, including the production of food and nutrients for humans and many other organisms. However, as root systems are out of sight, their beauty and importance often go unnoticed. This exhibit uses the work of Agricultural Ecologist Dr. Jerry Glover and photographer Jim Richardson to showcase the importance of roots through visually stunning root representations. Date: February 21 through October 31, 2015 Location: U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory – East Gallery The Conservatory is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, including all weekends and holidays, free of charge. For a complete list of exhibits at the U.S. Botanic Garden, visit:

Snapshots of the exhibit from USBG’s Facebook page:  

Lewes Unleashed Dog Park

From Lewes Unleashed website:

Where’s it gonna be?
The number one question we get when we talk about the dog park in Lewes is, “Where’s it going to be?” Well, now that we have an agreement with the City of Lewes, we can tell you officially it will be in the area known as the University Research Park to the north-west of the city. When we say, “back by the wind turbine” people seem to know. To get there from New Road, take Park Road then make the first right. There are some Jersey barriers back there now, but that road leads to a cul-de-sac where cars will park for the dog park.

A lot of work to do!!
Surveying the property to lay out where the park will be exactly has been done, and Rodney Robinson Landscape Architects, our design firm, has done their work. We are creating budgets and getting estimates from suppliers and trades. We are also looking for trades willing to contribute their services to this valuable community effort. Donations from area residents and businesses are also being taken to help us fund the construction. See our donate page for information on how to do that.

Thank you for your continued support, and your patience while we sorted out the details of getting this going.


Wilmington University files Concord Pike plans

Excerpt from article by Xerxes Wilson for The News Journal:

The plans represent an eight to 10 year project that will likely be built in three phases. The timing of those phases will be dictated by the university’s growth, according to Wilmington University spokesman Laurie Bick.

The full designs dictate that buildings, parking lots, roadways and sidewalks will ultimately occupy about 12 acres of the property with open space remaining on 29 acres of the 41-acre tract.

The plans call for three separate three-story buildings totaling about 200,000 square feet of space to be used primarily for classrooms and faculty office space. This will be the largest capital improvement program in the university’s 46-year history.

Pending approvals, construction on the first building, representing the first of three phases, could begin in a year to 18 months, Bick said.

The full plans call for three buildings framing an existing wooded area and pond. The university wants to maintain that wooded and wet area as something pleasant for students to look at, Bick said.

“We are going to do the best we can to blend a welcoming presence and not detracting from the natural beauty of the location,” Bick said. “By the time it is completed, it will be a lovely gateway but will not stick out like a sore thumb.”

The buildings will be designed to combine the university’s traditional aesthetic of brick with more modern elements like an extensive use of glass. Homsey Architects and Rodney Robinson Landscape Architects have been charged with the facility’s design.

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Mt. Cuba Center releases Heuchera trial report

From Mt. Cuba Center’s Press Release:

The results are in!

Mt. Cuba Center announces the results of three years of plant trial research in the 2014 Heuchera Research Report.

Heuchera, commonly called coral bells or alum root, are one of the most popular native perennials on the market today.

Research staff evaluated 83 Heuchera cultivars, assessing them for vigor, fullness, and uniformity. They identified top selections for mid-Atlantic gardens. The report is free to the public and can be accessed below.

Congratulations, George Coombs and the Research team at Mt. Cuba Center’s Trial Garden, on a job well done.

Rodney Robinson Landscape Architects led the design of the state-of-the-art Trial Garden at Mt. Cuba Center, completed in 2012. The Heuchera trial is the first to be entirely conducted using the new shade structure.

Rodney Robinson Joins Delaware Botanic Gardens Advisory Council

From the Delaware Botanic Gardens website:

Renowned landscape architect, Rodney Robinson, has accepted the invitation to be a member of the Delaware Botanic Gardens (DBG) Advisory Council. The Advisory Council is a group of distinguished public and private sector leaders who are assisting in the creation of the Delaware Botanic Gardens. The Advisory Council is chaired by Delaware’s First Lady, Carla Markell. “Rodney is a Delaware treasure. His designs have enhanced gardens across the state and throughout the country. His recent work to renovate the Gardens at Woodburn, the Governor’s official residence, is a prime example of his landscape creativity and dedication to natural beauty. Having Rodney join our efforts to create the Delaware Botanic Gardens is a major addition to the Advisory Council,” said Mrs. Markell.

Michael Zajic, President of DBG, said, “Rodney Robinson is a creative and inspirational landscape leader who has worked on many of the most beautiful public and private gardens in our country, including Chanticleer, Lewis Ginter Botanic Garden, Mount Cuba Center, the U.S. Botanic Garden at the Nation’s Capital and most recently the ongoing restoration of Nemours Mansion and Gardens. Having Rodney join our Advisory Council brings a respected landscape designer to our organization whose advice and guidance will be invaluable.”Rodney Robinson said, “It is a great honor to have this opportunity to work again with Carla Markell and Holly Schimizu to help create the Delaware Botanic Gardens. Public gardens are important elements of our community. They are places of inspiration and renewal. This project will be a great addition to our State and entire region.”

The Advisory Council led by Mrs. Markell is a group of distinguished leaders which includes Holly Shimizu, emerita Executive Director of the United States Botanic Garden; Collin O’Mara, Director of the National Wildlife Federation; Hugh Leahy, former Senior Vice President of the Delaware Community Foundation; and Nelson Shaffer, Executive Vice President/Chief Administrative Officer of Pennoni Associates.

The Delaware Botanic Gardens is a ten-year, multi-phase plan to bring a sense of place to Delmarva with a major public garden that reflects southern Delaware’s unique coastal plain. Its mission is to create inspirational, educational, and sustainable gardens in Delaware for the benefit and enjoyment of residents and visitors alike. The gardens will be located on 37 acres along Piney Neck Road, near Dagsboro in Sussex County. The parcel has an ideal mix of farmland, woodland and over 1000 feet of tidal waterfront on Pepper Creek.

Ground breaking is planned for early spring 2015, with an opening of the first phase of the garden in 2017.



Flowering partnership

Article by Robert Kalesse for the University of Delaware’s UDaily

Governor Jack Markell (navy suit and pink tie) and his wife Carla Markell (blonde hair, light grayish cream colored sweater) worked together to install a public garden for the community in the back of their home in Dover, DE. CANR donated a small tree called a gordlinia, which was planted right beside the house. Ken Darsney (gray fleece, khaki pants, glasses), state horticulturist, Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs ; and John Frett (gray sweater, glasses, gray hair, dark greenish brown pants), director of UDBG and professor of landscape horticulture both helped secure the process for the tree donation.

Nov. 21, 2014 — Nearly a year after University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG) partnered with the Woodburn Garden Project in Dover, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and first lady Carla Markell held an official public opening of the gardens adjacent to the governor’s mansion.

While major donors and dignitaries like former Delaware Gov. Mike Castle were on hand for the event, the focus fell on the garden’s diverse flora, including several plants and trees donated by UDBG. Carla Markell, beaming with pride over the new design, praised the collaborative effort between her staff and members of UDBG and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“To me, it is essential to create the partnerships between the private and public sector,” Markell said. “That’s when great things can happen and the whole community has an opportunity to get involved.”

Mark Rieger, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, shared the first lady’s sentiment, saying, “We are thrilled to be part of this garden restoration project. The real strength of our horticulture faculty is in landscape design, so I’m glad they reached out to us for a project as important as this.”

The relationship began when landscape artist (sic) Rodney Robinson, a UD alumnus who hails from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, learned that the gordlinia tree, a cross between the franklinia and its relative, the gordonia, was being featured at the UDBG’s 2013 Spring Plant Sale. Robinson knew immediately that the flowering tree would make for a great addition to the project.

“I was immediately anxious to get it for the Woodburn Garden Project, because I was aware of its rarity,” Robinson said of the gordlinia, which features large “fried egg” white flowers surrounded by deep maroon fall foliage. “But I also wanted a small tree up by the house – one that would flower and also tell an interesting story that would help to compliment the house itself.”

After discussing the addition of the gordlinia with Markell and Ken Darsney, state horticulturist for Delaware’s Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, Robinson reached out to UDBG Director John Frett and Assistant Director Melinda Zoehrer.

“They came to us looking for partners in the project and the possibilities of what the Botanic Gardens could offer,” Frett said. “Although the gordlinia was the most notable plant we supplied, there were several other donations that totaled about $500.”

Darsney, who manages outdoor care and upkeep for all of Delaware’s state-owned historic properties, said the Snowflake hydrangea, the Let’s Dance hydrangea, the Declaration lilac and the Shasta viburnum were also donated by UDBG. However, the gordlinia served as the centerpiece, due to its ability to withstand changes in climate and its historical significance.

“The gordlinia handles heat extremes, has fewer root issues and pest problems, and is more suitable to grow without needing extra fertilizer or pesticide,” Darsney said. “But it also derives from the Franklinia alatamaha, which is a native tree with deep historical significance.”

A tree with history

According to Robinson, the franklinia was discovered in the mid-1700s by John Bartram, a Colonial era botanist who named the plant after his “good buddy,” Benjamin Franklin. Though the franklinia is currently extinct in the wild, its offspring, the gordlinia, is quite the vigorous tree and shares a similar historical significance with the governor’s residence, which was erected around 1798 by Charles Hillyard III.

“We wanted to create a new garden that takes its lead from the style and history of the house,” Robinson said. “The gordlinia, with its franklinia bloodline, has that attribute. When you add the fact that it’s a tremendously vigorous tree, it’s quite the fit for this period piece.”

After planting the gordlinia in late 2013, Robinson and Darsney, though confident in the plant’s ability to survive extreme conditions, were understandably concerned as the winter season of 2013-14 featured plenty of snowfall and cold temperatures.

“We thought we might lose it over the harsh winter, but the gordlinia is incredibly resilient,” Robinson said. “Neither of its parents are particularly strong, but you get them together and they produce a very robust plant.”

Frett added that the gordlinia has made a great addition to UDBG’s diverse collection of “woody plants,” and that seeing the gordlinia placed in a public garden is a boon for the University.

“Hopefully it brings recognition to the institution, the college and the Botanic Gardens,” Frett said. “That way, people visiting Woodburn Garden are more aware of what we’re involved in and that we have a firm place in the state’s horticultural makeup.”

Darsney, as he begins work on other statewide projects, is optimistic about the future of working with UDBG and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“I would be absolutely welcome to a partnership with UD in future projects,” Darsney said. “Any time you can take a public space and partner with the University, where they are able to get a product in front of the public for enjoyment and make that connection, it’s a win-win.”



Nemours Hospital Rooftop Healing Garden

Article by Moira Sheridan for the News Journal

At some point near the end of the construction design process for the expansion of the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital, planners realized something was amiss.

A long, narrow strip between the old and new buildings would mean patients would look out on a flat, black rooftop spanning the two sections. Creating a more inspiring view, as it happened, was something only a garden could do.

“This needed to be a healing place; it’s not a playground or a place to be super loud. It’s really a meditative garden,” says Kay Holbrook, an associate administrator at Nemours who led the expansion project. “We wanted to keep spirits up and bring nature in.”

To do that, they consulted with families, staff members and architects about the best way to adapt the space. Rodney Robinson Landscape Architects, a Delaware firm with experience designing not only public and private spaces, but also those related to health care and healing, was tapped to take on the challenge.

The recently completed Japanese-style garden marries the space beautifully, allowing a peaceful view and a private getaway for patients, families and staff.

Unusual in that it is a garden within the hospital, located off the pediatric intensive care unit on the second floor, it beckons through every glass door and window. Two entrances allow access for patients and families, as well as hospital staff and visitors. Patients’ rooms on the second floor look directly out, while those on upper floors look down from above.

Some were initially skeptical about the plan, recalls Geoff Anderson, an associate with Rodney Robinson Landscape Architects.

“You’re creating a garden where there’s no soil, no water and very little sun?” he remembers one of the planners asking. Working between two buildings meant adapting to the confined space and low light levels created by both exterior walls, a space made trickier by its second-floor location.

The pathway is a pre-cast, concrete paving system on pedestals, and rocks from the construction process were placed amid the planting beds. An irrigation system, which was extensively tested for soundness, ties into the drainage system.

From the bubbling water feature at one end to the three-piece sculptural ceramic wall at the other runs a serpentine path with alcoves veering off at intervals.

“Because one of the main concerns for the staff was to create privacy, we started using vegetation to create veils between ‘rooms,'” says Anderson.

In order to maintain privacy, yet avoid creating an opaque green wall that would obstruct views, they focused on shrubs that will eventually grow up to manageable heights. The path has a lovely, swooping flow, and even though the plantings are young, it’s easy to imagine abundant greenery before too long.

Flowering trees like dogwood, redbud and magnolia will enliven the garden in spring, but color isn’t meant to be the focus. A calmer, green theme prevails, using masses of ferns, hostas and Solomon’s seal as groundcovers for the shady areas.

Evergreen woody plants such as rhododendron, cherry laurel, yew and aucuba will provide winter interest, along with nighttime lighting. Tactile elements appear in the various tree barks, particularly Stewartias with their mottling and paperbark maples with their curling, cinnamon-colored bark. Even the sculpted wall invites visitors to touch its rolling surface.

A millstone fountain makes a soft noise, and the borrowed view of the mansion grounds beyond with their spectacular sunsets promise a healthy start to this unique garden.