Work by Valerie Forth

D. W. Daniel High School
Remembering Life Lost Through Life Renewed
Memorial Garden - Central, Sc
23 April 2002

D. W. Daniel High School students have shown beyond doubt that every person is precious, and that we all play a vital role in connecting the community and setting examples of leadership and love. With the tragic passing of several high school students over the past two decades, classmates were inspired to recreate a run-down interior courtyard into a sacred place to remember and memorialize deceased students.


The rectangular courtyard is enclosed on three sides by classroom space and the remaining side by a hallway. Dimensions of the site are 114'6" x 54'0". Along the northern border, the students already have placed a marble stone under a Bradford pear tree bearing the inscription: "This courtyard is a living memorial to students who have lost their lives while attending D. W. Daniel High School".


Issues to be dealt with on the site include sustainability, designing to portray the theme of the life cycle, and reintroducing wildlife to the site. The existing plant material includes dogwoods, butterfly bushes, red maples, daffodils, and azaleas. The border with the marble memorial and Bradford pear also includes a row of Burford hollies and dwarf yaupon hollies. This border is in good condition and will remain as is. The students have designed and begun the installation of a raised circular flowerbed in the center of the courtyard. This bed is edged with concrete retaining wall blocks, and in the center of this will be set a three-tiered fountain, previously in the courtyard.


With the concept drawings from the students, a new design was developed to incorporate these concepts as well as introduce solutions to the issues listed above. The basic design and structure is a spiral, which celebrates the circle in a more unique way and makes a statement about the cycle of life, a cycle clearly related to the circle and the spiral. The spiral also allows for a more interesting sequence of spaces through the garden. The gravel paths leading from two of the three doors wind slightly to apex in a circular plaza area, the focus of which is the fountain and flowerbed. Benches lining the path and the colored paving pattern in the plaza echo the arches of the spiral and provide a sense of place. The benches double as a potential project for an art class: learning to mold and pour concrete as an art exhibition.


To attract butterflies and birds a new habitat was created with the vegetation scheme. Sweeping bands of color and textures were included to enhance the spiral pattern and to create a visual attraction for butterflies. A variety of plants, hardscape, and water also add human and animal interest, creating a variety of niches and openness, with all degrees of shade and sun, wet and dry.
The plant materials in the courtyard are from a selection proven to attract and aid the growth and development of caterpillars and butterflies. These range from groundcovers and small flowers (phlox, lantana, beebalm, verbena, Black-Eyed Susan, and azalea), to larger plants (vitex, butterfly bush, and river birch). A strip of wildflowers also adds variety in color, texture, and blooming season. These plants present bloom interest throughout the school year, while the garden will be most occupied.


These plants also present a certain amount of sustainability. They are all adapted to sun and dry conditions, which will be ever-present in this school courtyard. Existing plants that are not suitable, such as dogwood, will be scheduled for removal. Their replacements, the river birches, will provide greater shade and last longer and better. The dogwood will be recycled into an arbor scheduled to be built over the doorway on the central axis. This use of the wood also represents another turn in the life cycle, the major theme of this garden.
The reintroduction of wildlife into the space will enhance the current ecosystem. Native plants are included, such as river birch, phlox, rudbeckia, and beebalm. These plants are adapted to the climate and help support native animal species. With the exception of the annual bed and some pruning, all plants should last so that they are not in need of major maintenance every year.


This plan addresses the clients' need for a high school memorial courtyard by dealing with several issues. All plant material should be available in nursery stock so the students can install this plan within a month. There are no exotic or specialty plants on the schedule, and so the cost should also be quite reasonable, about $2900. Naming opportunities are presented in a few places: the benches, the vitex, the annual bed, the wildflower bed, the arbor, and the fountain. The students wish to use this space to remember past students and to also use for an outdoor classroom. There are plenty of spaces provided for a large group to come, but with the versatility of accommodating a single visitor. All of these things will attribute to the success of the design.


A wonderful sense of place can be created with the use of a simple circle, articulated and accented by a spiral. The issues of remembrance, life cycles, and sustainability inform the design and come through with a sense of liveliness and also serenity. A new sense of place is given to this forlorn courtyard, and the space will come alive as it reveres and honors those students who have lost their lives.