The Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Greater Albuquerque, founded in 2000, is a non-profit organization, open to all regardless of religious affiliation. The JCC 10-acre campus has fitness and athletic facilities, an outdoor aquatics center, early childhood education center. It provides a wide variety of cultural, educational, and recreational programs that serve people of all ages. The JCC in partnership with the Foundation for Building (FFB) engaged Groundwork Studio (GWS) to assist in designing and visioning a new garden for the Center. The project entails repurposing an unused 3,400 square foot gravel landscape buffer into a multi-purpose garden that builds and reinforces the Center’s overall goals and visions. Originally intended as a project that would provide food for those in need, through the creation and tending of a therapeutic edible landscape, the garden is now more essential than ever as a response to the uncertainty of the current COVID-19 reality.
“The idea of the Garden is founded on the belief in the lasting value of Tikkun Olam [which means healing & repairing the World and is one of the tenants of Judaism]. It is envisioned to be a place of sustainable planting principals; an active and productive garden to provide food to the less fortunate; a focal point for educating our youth on the principals of cultivation, in addition to sustainability principals such as composting and water harvesting; and finally, a peaceful space for quiet meditation. However, it has taken on a much more significant and important meaning. It is becoming a metaphor for our future, for the resilience that lies in all of us, and to provide a place of peace and sustenance in challenging times and in a challenging world.” – Jim Folkman (FFB)
The triangular garden site is situated along the southern face of the JCC building and is bordered by an asphalt service drive to the south and east, with another gravel landscape buffer to the west. The JCC has a large turf field across the service drive where they host soccer games and activities throughout the year. Additionally, several existing trees were designated to remain, which added another layer of consideration in the design process. The site plan was developed with review and feedback (including two virtual interactive design sessions) from a steering committee of JCC members, who emphasized the concept of water, which symbolizes health, vibrancy and giving of life, while softening and cooling the space, providing pleasant sounds, and attracting birds & other pollinators, as a guiding force for the design. Major programming goals for the project include food production (community outreach), meditative/tranquility space, outdoor education space, extended gardening season, shade & seating, sustainability & security.
“Using the theme of water, the garden is organized much like a stream or creek with pools and eddies where the main circulation path represents the stream and the eddies are nodes where various activities occur, such as meditative spaces, work areas, garden beds and seating areas. This approach allows the JCC to keep the existing trees that are on site, while providing a flexible framework where we were able to incorporate the steering committee’s many amazing ideas into the garden.” – Mike Pace (GWS)
The list of program goals included providing a meditative, tranquil space large enough for social distancing guidelines as well as gatherings and classes of 5-10+ people, ADA access throughout the garden, extended growing season, vertical gardening elements, capacity for enough food production for local community outreach, a water feature, shading & seating areas. The eastern corner of the site was selected by the steering committee as the first phase of the project and features several semi-dwarf fruit trees. The design utilizes elevated planter beds with steel growing screens along the southern edge of the garden to create an aesthetic barrier for the garden. The garden is bounded on the west by a chain link fence, giving the garden another opportunity for vertical growing. Additionally, the JCC building’s relationship to the garden, along with the locations of the existing trees influenced the garden layout. The Center has a meditation studio that looks out onto the shaded meditative/gathering space, which in a way brings the inside out and the outdoors in. The addition of a prominent water feature in the garden also reinforces the character of the project. Other garden features include:
- Storage shed and greenhouse combo for tool storage and planting starts for the garden
- Free seed and cookbook library
- Various sizes of raised planting beds
- Elevated planting beds that can accommodate wheelchairs within the garden
- Stone water feature
- 3-bin compost system built out of woven logs
The first phase mini orchard has been funded and planning is underway for gravel removal, irrigation and mulch installation, and a fall planting date with assistance from the nonprofit Tree New Mexico. Funding is being sought for the next phase, which includes the pedestrian walkways, planter beds along the service drive and water feature swale. The garden is expected to be complete over the course of 2-3 years, providing JCC members and the community with a fantastic opportunity to participate throughout the process. The garden design is adaptable to the Center’s needs and vision and was developed with great intention to be a place of inspiration and considerable use for the community.