Parking Lots Become Parking Gardens

Form might follow function.  But too often in designing parking lots, many important functions get ignored.

In parking lots, nothing but parking and getting customers in the door seems to matter.  Whatever happened to the very important functions of pedestrian safety, rainwater run off,  shading cars and providing beauty?

And whatever happend to the function of doing no harm.  That’s more than an idea.  It’s something we should do.  And no parking lot planting should need energy and water guzzling plants nor design styles that require annual mulching, massive synthetic herbicide and fertilizer use.

This week we got to tackle two challenging projects; thousands of feet of middle of the street medians and a turning a parking lot into a parking garden.

Challenges.  Easily solved with simple design ideas, appropriate plants and inspired by private business owners who wanted to changed a massive slab of asphalt into a space that considers people, cars and environmental issues.  With the help of the crew at S.L. Munson, an industrial building in an industrial area (ie; blocks and blocks of massive asphalt parking lots), we designed the parking, removed about 30% of the pavement and planted cool plants in way that addresses lots of functions.

Now, instead of shunting tons of run off water away, planted retention areas catch water.

Instead of making people walk behind cars, they have defined walking routes.

Instead of broiling sun, a shady entry (well, with time.)

Instead of glaring white wall,  fruit trees, grasses and perennials and of course bulbs.

Here’s a little video of the transformation.



As the parking garden grows in this summer, I’ll post more pictures.   Later, I add a list of plants that tolerate these conditions.  (Some of them overlap with another Columbia, South Carolina project; plant list here.)

Thank goodness for a business owner who takes the lead to start a change.  And for the guys who put muscle into making the change.  For the people who taught me about great plants.  The transition from parking lot to parking garden has just started and the start was fun for all.

So why, why don’t we get to park, every time we go to the store, in a parking lot where form really does follow function?

(End Note: By the way, one of the plants we use is grass. These days I feel I have to defend it. Listen, grass is not bad nor good.  Grass is a plant. Grass is grass.  How some people treat grass can causes problems of high energy use of noise, water and air pollution.  In this case, the slow, low growing grass is using it’s massive root system to help capture water, to block the sheet flow that carries mulch, water and trash into the street gutters.  It will not be sprayed, fertilized, watered nor even mowed.    Here is a link to an article I wrote for Horticulture magazine about uncut zoysia.)


Frog Fruit & Yucca rostrata --- 1 year, no irrigation.

Frog Fruit & Yucca rostrata in a different place where we turned asphalt into a parking garden.


  1. Bill Underwood on January 18, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    I need information on creating a garden (with several different plants, watering system, etc) above an existing parking lot about 300 car parking slots on 1/2 acre. I understand there are some cities that have created that. Can you give me info, please? Bill Underwood

    • Jenks Farmer on January 19, 2019 at 6:54 am

      Hey Bill, I”m not sure exactly what you are looking for. If you’re building a parking lot, you should start with hiring a designer who can make sure it meets code for curves, etc.

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