For nearly 50 years, the Friends of Rittenhouse Square has had a mission to preserve, protect and beautify Rittenhouse Square Park in Center City. At our annual membership meeting in January, the Friends of Rittenhouse Square (FRS) announced a new multiyear lawn restoration project. This large undertaking, which has been in the planning stages for over a year, is designed to create new, lush, resilient grass throughout the entire Square, marking the first major lawn restoration in more than 20 years.
Sadly, in the decades since this last restoration, along with increased visitation since the start of COVID, the lawns have become especially barren, and thus their health has been a particular concern for FRS. Board member and Vice President of Landscaping and Operations Doug Blonsky and Operations Director June Armstrong have been leading this project.
As the retired President and CEO of New York’s Central Park Conservancy, Blonsky has particular expertise in this area. “To grow healthy lawns,” Blonsky said, “you need to start with healthy roots.” Over the years, the foot, paw, and equipment traffic throughout the park have caused the soils in Rittenhouse Square to become extremely compacted, preventing proper penetration of water, nutrients, and oxygen—all necessary for robust root growth.
In a healthy lawn, grass roots can be found as deep as 12 inches below the surface, allowing them to store and access more reserves. These deep root systems then allow grass to quickly regrow and expand after being mowed or disturbed. In poor soil conditions, where oxygen and nutrients reach only a few inches below the surface, grass is not able to fully establish its roots and is thus easily damaged and destroyed—leading to dirt patches where nothing grows. The major focus of this project is to address and remediate the compacted soils throughout the park.
FRS is excited to continue our partnership with BrightView Landscapes to complete the work. BrightView Landscapes notably worked with the National Park Service to execute the lawn restoration project at Independence Mall in 2019, and has also been helping manage Rittenhouse Square’s lawns for over f ive years.
Crews from BrightView Landscapes will use their expertise to rebuild the soils in Rittenhouse Square, including aerating 10 to 12 inches below the surface, and adding soil amendments to improve quality and prevent future compaction. Their team will then re-grade the space to prevent water pooling and runoff before planting new grass. Armstrong is working with BrightView Landscapes to research and identify proper grass species to plant. Her goal is to “select species that are able to not just survive, but actually thrive in Rittenhouse,” she said, “given the heavy use of the space and the challenges of our changing world. We are looking at heat- and shade-tolerant grass species that are more prevalent in lawns further south, such as Virginia.”
FRS will be working to complete repairs and upgrades to the lawn-irrigation system, and restoring protective mulch rings around our large trees to help preserve and protect them. Work will start in April with a test plot on the south end of the Square, and will then expand to include all lawns over the next couple of years. While sections are being remediated, they will be closed to the public, to allow the new lawns to fully establish, but we will work to ensure there is always ample open space for the public to enjoy, and that everyone is kept informed about the progress.
As a member-supported nonprofit organization, the Friends of Rittenhouse Square has worked tirelessly to champion our beloved Square and to raise the funds and support necessary for the maintenance of, and improvements to, the space. Rittenhouse Square is celebrated for its beautiful landscaping, clean environment, and thoughtful stewardship of historic trees and statues, all of which are made possible through the generosity of neighbors, friends, and members. Recently, the group has overseen the installation of 160 new custom benches, providing comfortable and clean seating throughout the Square; the addition of more than 90 hanging planters, adding flowers and beauty all summer long; and the replacement of uneven and deteriorating perimeter sidewalks, helping to ensure everyone’s safety.
Rittenhouse Square has many fans but can always use more Friends! While this work is overseen by Friends of Rittenhouse Square, it is only made possible by the support of our members and donors. To learn more about the Friends of Rittenhouse Square, and how to support our efforts, go to www.friendsofrittenhouse.org. We look forward to seeing you around the Square and on the lawns!