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42/1803. Centennial Olympic Park

Summary of Show

Story Behind Centennial Olympic Park
Eric and Billy are standing in the middle of Centennial Olympic Park, and IT IS AN AMAZING PARK. Eric wonders about the story behind it and how it was developed. Billy is particularly proud of Centennial Park. In fact of all the 31 venues they built, all the dormitories, etc., this is the number 1 physical legacy of the games. And, it came about quite by accident. They had planned all the venues, they were building them all over metropolitan Atlanta, all over the state in fact, and at the last moment, the last moment being the last couple of years, Billy started worrying that what they were missing in Atlanta was the equivalent of what he had experienced in Barcelona for the '92 games or Lillehammer, Norway for the '94 games and that was a gathering place.
For More Information Click here

Largest Inner City Park Built The Past 25 Years
Mark provides an overview. Centennial Olympic Park is the heart of downtown Atlanta. At 21 acres it's the LARGEST INNER CITY PARK BUILT in the last quarter century and attracts over 3 million visitors each year from all over the world. They do that by keeping it neat, clean and safe. They learned a long time ago that - good people doing good things makes people with ill intentions feel uncomfortable.
For More Information Click here

Water A Prominent Feature
Mark mentioned water and WATER IS ONE OF THE MOST PROMINENT FEATURES throughout the garden. Eric is always impressed when visiting with the fact that this park is surrounded on all sides by very busy streets. Accordingly, the water features have been designed with a tremendous amount of motion. There is falling water throughout and it does an amazing job of deadening all the street noise so that when one walks into the Park, it's very tranquil, a wonderful place to relax. And that is exactly how it was designed. And the neat thing is these concepts apply at home, as well. One may have a noisy street, even a noisy neighbor, and want to cover up some of that noise.
For More Information Click here

When To Irrigate
They let the plants tell them when they want to be watered. They look for signs of wilt on the turf grass, they WATCH FOR THE PLANTS TO TELL THEM WHEN THEY WANT TO BE WATERED and that's when they apply water. They don't just run the irrigation system because it's the scheduled day to run it.
For more information on irrigation and water gardening, click here.

Offset Rectilinear With An Informal Border
To offset all the rectilinear design apparent throughout the Park - lots of big plazas, big square areas of turf - similar to what one may have at home, they wanted a transition between the lawn, which is necessary to accommodate the concerts, recreation and tourism, and what appears a nice lush forest. A VERY INFORMAL BORDER runs the length of the garden, following the water feature from top to bottom. At home we might have a front yard that's a little more formal but we want something for our side or back yard that's more informal. And, that is what they've done with the design in this area. They've utilized a lot of native plants that will soften the feel and they've used some Gold Medal plants, in an effort at making a garden that people will feel as if they're walking in a forest.
For More Information Click here

Trees
TREES PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE in any great design. Mark explains the thought process for this area. This is a harsh urban environment but it's not unlike what a homeowner may face after their home has been built and all the equipment that has been on and around the site finally is removed. The really hard compact soil that remains is a limiting factor for tree roots. So, here they sub-soil the area. If equipment designed to address these problems isn't readily available one can take a shovel and dig extra deep. Loosen up that soil so the roots can get in there and establish. Soil preparation is so important.
For More Information Click here

Choosing Shrubs
Eric also likes their CHOICES OF SHRUBS. The right plant for the right place is important here, as well. And involves 2 considerations. 1 is - what is it supposed to do? The planting in one area consists of Rotundafolia Holly. It's a Chinese Holly, very prickly and they have it planted in this location because they have had a problem with people coming from the great lawn and walking down the slope, which has caused the slope to erode. Thus this requires a very practical planting, one that makes coming down the hill difficult. The other consideration is the practicality of the light and how much light that plant gets.
For More Information Click here

Digging A Hole
In many respects planting a plant is as simple as DIGGING A HOLE and planting the plant. But there is more to it than that. Mark sees a lot of plant mortality where plants are planted improperly. The size of the hole is critical. The size of the hole needs to be 3 times the size of the root ball and as we plant the plant we must loosen the roots so the plant will get a good foothold and have lots of oxygen.
For More Information Click here

Soil Preparation
With over 3 million visitors annually it's challenging KEEPING THE GRASS ALIVE, let alone healthy. Mark and crew do have a few tricks up their sleeve, although they really aren't tricks. Instead they're research and science based stuff that anyone can get from their local extension office. And they're the basics - soil preparation is important but a step that often gets skipped at home. Mark thinks the guys selling us seed are the ones telling us to just scratch the ground with a rake.
For More Information Click here

Choosing The Correct Grass
There are many DIFFERENT TYPES OF GRASS SEED AND DIFFERENT TYPES OF SOD. Which one is ideal? There is not a single perfect grass. Mark is growing Hybrid Bermuda very successfully in this park but that doesn't mean that it is the correct application for someone living significantly north or someone that has a lot of shade on their property. Find a grass that will adapt to the sun and shade you have, plus take into consideration the type of activity that will take place on that grass. Eric has pulled a sprig of the hybrid Bermuda they're using here to illustrate the point. The reason this turf works so well has much to do with its growth habit. It is a very flat growing grass. Everyone of the little nodes, or nodules, basically puts out a root.
For More Information Click here

Tips For Lawn Care
So, AFTER THE TURF IS ESTABLISHED, what should be done the rest of the year? There are four basic principles they use here and that are helpful at home. First, is the fertilization program. They base fertilization on soil test results. People need to do that at home, the local extension office will do it for free or for a nominal charge. Go to 6 or 8 different spots in your yard, collect soil samples from those different areas, mix those together, take it in and let the analysis determine the type of lime and fertilizer that is needed. Apply that lime and fertilizer at cross angles to each other. Imagine yourself on a checkerboard and spread half the fertilizer north and south, the other half east and west. By doing it this way you don't get patches. Mowing is important. Mow according to what the turf grass needs, don't just guess at mowing height. For Mark's hybrid bermuda an inch to an inch and a half is the perfect mowing height but it isn't the right height for something like fall Fescue.
For More Information Click here

LINKS:

Centennial Olympic Park

1996 Olympic Games

42/1803. Centennial Olympic Park

Complete Transcript of Show

Centennial Olympic Park, in Atlanta, Georgia is the largest urban park built in the last quarter century. In this Episode GardenSMART goes behind the scenes of this beautiful park and talks with a great horticulturist who provides some great gardening tips.

In 1996 the Olympic Games celebrated their 100 year anniversary and came to Atlanta, Georgia. Billy Payne, the President and CEO of the Olympic Planning Committee was instrumental in bringing the Games to Atlanta. Billy was born in Athens, Georgia where his folks were attending the University of Georgia, but he was raised in Atlanta and has lived here all his life. Atlanta is a great place to live, it has wonderful weather, four distinct seasons but most importantly it's blessed to have the reality of Southern hospitality.

Bringing the Olympics to Atlanta wasn't easy. The idea began February 8, 1987 as he and his wife were driving home from church. He told his wife, Martha, not to laugh but he had this crazy idea - Let's bring the Olympics to Atlanta. At that point they had been married 20 something years and when he said that it worried her because she knew that once he got his mind on something that there was no telling what would happen. And, just as she predicted, within several months he had quit his job and had gone all out with the Olympic effort. Almost 3 years later through the work of a lot of wonderful people, Andy Young and others, they were able to secure the vote to host the Centennial Games.

Eric and Billy are standing in the middle of Centennial Olympic Park, and IT IS AN AMAZING PARK. Eric wonders about the story behind it and how it was developed. Billy is particularly proud of Centennial Park. In fact of all the 31 venues they built, all the dormitories, etc., this is the number 1 physical legacy of the games. And, it came about quite by accident. They had planned all the venues, they were building them all over metropolitan Atlanta, all over the state in fact, and at the last moment, the last moment being the last couple of years, Billy started worrying that what they were missing in Atlanta was the equivalent of what he had experienced in Barcelona for the '92 games or Lillehammer, Norway for the '94 games and that was a gathering place. A place where the world could come together in a spirit of celebration and despite all our differences, religiously, ethnically, racially, economically, we could share a common bond of friendship. There wasn't a place to serve that purpose. Ironically in 1994, a couple of years before the games, he would often stand on the balcony of his office, which was located adjacent to what is now the Park, and when he looked down on this area, it was, at the time, very much run down, dilapidated, dangerous and drug infested. Really it was the worst blight on downtown Atlanta. With all that in mind he said - Well let's build our own Park to serve as a gathering place. So, once again he started making the rounds to try to get help and once again everybody thought he was crazy. But thankfully at that time, Governor Zell Miller made the decision that he would support the effort. Governor Miller decided that the Georgia World Congress Center, which had a well respected reputation, would be the owner of the Park. So, all Billy had to do was raise the money. He was familiar with that function because he had had to do that to put on the Olympics and while they had already knocked on most doors, they were quite surprised and particularly grateful that so many great Atlanta companies and non profit foundations stepped up and made the Park possible. They acquired almost 100 separate pieces of real estate, that they ultimately combined and put together the Park. And they did it all in about 18 months meaning the Park was built and ready for the Olympic Games. And, it was an unbelievable success. But, at that point they had no way of knowing that so many million people would come here during the course of the games and that it would serve as that gathering place they wanted it to be. It exceeded their expectations. It was a tremendous achievement and a great legacy that Billy has left for the City of Atlanta.

Eric is looking forward to seeing the Park and thanks Billy for sharing the story and for his time. It has been Billy's pleasure. He knows Eric will have a great time. Centennial Olympic Park is the heart and soul of Atlanta and the greatest memory of the Olympic opportunity, everyone is very proud of the Park. Thanks Billy.

Eric next meets Mark Banta, the General Manager of Centennial Olympic Park. Eric believes this Park is one of the most amazing urban parks and obviously a tremendous undertaking. And he wants to learn more. But, first he wants to learn about Mark. Mark became involved with agriculture as a child. He spent many summers on a hog farm in Indiana and there learned about attachment to the land, growing things, he developed his love of doing things with the soil. Mark was later with the Cooperative Extension Service for some time, he was a county extension agent in Dekalb County, Fayette County and Cobb County. In these jobs he helped homeowners and master gardeners learn the latest research based and science based information enabling them to be better gardeners at home. He left the Extension Service and came to the Park. With this job he loves the ability to touch peoples lives in a positive way. Watching kids play in the fountain of rings, watching couples fall in love, a big concert, fireworks, it's a dream job.

Eric is anxious to see the Park so off they go. Eric finds it fascinating that this beautiful place has become the center of downtown. Mark provides an overview. Centennial Olympic Park is the heart of downtown Atlanta. At 21 acres it's the LARGEST INNER CITY PARK BUILT in the last quarter century and attracts over 3 million visitors each year from all over the world. They do that by keeping it neat, clean and safe. They learned a long time ago that - good people doing good things makes people with ill intentions feel uncomfortable. So that's an important part of what they do. They have 2 important roles - one, continuing the lasting legacy of the 1996 Games. When people visit from out of state or out of country looking for where the 1996 Olympic Games were held, they come to the Park to find that legacy. The other role they play is one of economic development. The area around the Park represents $2.4 billion in redevelopment. The Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coke all are here in a 1 block area around the Park because of the impact of the green space. And, it's a wonderful place to visit. Eric and others on the crew have brought their families here numerous times, on numerous occasions. It's a fun and inviting place with the kids playing in the fountain and the beautiful landscapes.

They program the Park extensively, there are 186 event days a year. That creates challenges in maintenance and many of their maintenance tips apply at home. Centennial Olympic Park is really known for 2 things worldwide. One, is a very positive thing, the fountains of rings is probably one of the most photographed fountains in the world. It's an interactive water feature where people can watch the show or get in and play in it. It certainly is a primary draw and anyone that's flown into the Atlanta airport, as they come up the elevator, has seen the giant mural of the fountain of rings. The second thing that they're known for is not so positive, and that's the bombing that occurred during the '96 Games. But there's a silver lining to that story. Three days after the bombing, Atlantans and basically the world decided that they weren't going to let that stop the Olympic Games, they weren't going to let that stop them from enjoying Centennial Olympic Park and from that point forward the public has had a love affair with this Park. It's an amazing testimony to the spirit of Atlanta.

Mark mentioned water and WATER IS ONE OF THE MOST PROMINENT FEATURES throughout the garden. Eric is always impressed when visiting with the fact that this park is surrounded on all sides by very busy streets. Accordingly, the water features have been designed with a tremendous amount of motion. There is falling water throughout and it does an amazing job of deadening all the street noise so that when one walks into the Park, it's very tranquil, a wonderful place to relax. And that is exactly how it was designed. And the neat thing is these concepts apply at home, as well. One may have a noisy street, even a noisy neighbor, and want to cover up some of that noise. Although the large feature behind them, a reflecting pool, is not on a scale most homeowners can utilize they do have other water gardens. The next water feature is also on a much larger scale than a homeowner would have but it presents some great design ideas. The basic thought behind water features is the same. Here they've developed a water feature that replicates nature as closely as possible. It is a replication of Panther Creek in North Georgia and the rocks and falling water provide a sense that you're back in nature. And it covers traffic noise, providing peace and tranquility. When designing a water feature you want to go big and bold. The biggest mistake Mark sees people making is using rocks that are too small and using too many rocks. Here they have large, big, bold rocks that make a statement. Also, you see a lot of water flowing here. One needs to consider how much water capacity you have. A pond that's undersized will evaporate off water, it will be dry a lot, so the water capacity is an important consideration. This water feature requires a lot of water but this is a 21 acre park. They take their well water, pump it out of the ground, then put it in the water garden, which acts as their above ground cistern. They then irrigate from it. But it's not enough to water everything if they don't pay attention to the plants. They let the plants tell them when they want to be watered. They look for signs of wilt on the turf grass, they WATCH FOR THE PLANTS TO TELL THEM WHEN THEY WANT TO BE WATERED and that's when they apply water. They don't just run the irrigation system because it's the scheduled day to run it.
For more information on irrigation and water gardening, click here.

To offset all the rectilinear design apparent throughout the Park - lots of big plazas, big square areas of turf - similar to what one may have at home, they wanted a transition between the lawn, which is necessary to accommodate the concerts, recreation and tourism, and what appears a nice lush forest. A VERY INFORMAL BORDER runs the length of the garden, following the water feature from top to bottom. At home we might have a front yard that's a little more formal but we want something for our side or back yard that's more informal. And, that is what they've done with the design in this area. They've utilized a lot of native plants that will soften the feel and they've used some Gold Medal plants, in an effort at making a garden that people will feel as if they're walking in a forest. The area is not over-planted, so it doesn't have a cluttered feel. The wonderful array of diverse plants help immensely. When Mark was a County agent he would consult on a lot of different problems with design. He feels we often tend to do extremes of things. We either plant the single row of a single type plant or we plant a hodgepodge of too many different things. Good design flows. Here there's a diversity of plants, but they're grouped together so that they make sense with different colors and textures. This area works, it's a wonderful, natural design.

TREES PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE in any great design. Mark explains the thought process for this area. This is a harsh urban environment but it's not unlike what a homeowner may face after their home has been built and all the equipment that has been on and around the site finally is removed. The really hard compact soil that remains is a limiting factor for tree roots. So, here they sub-soil the area. If equipment designed to address these problems isn't readily available one can take a shovel and dig extra deep. Loosen up that soil so the roots can get in there and establish. Soil preparation is so important. Eric notices several different trees, trees not often seen. Mark feels that besides the color and texture and how the trees look, diversity of species is important. Because if you get disease or insects, if you have just 1 type of tree, a monoculture, then you can have a real problem. Disease or insects could wipe out the stand. But by planting different trees that problem can be avoided.

Eric also likes their CHOICES OF SHRUBS. The right plant for the right place is important here, as well. And involves 2 considerations. 1 is - what is it supposed to do? The planting in one area consists of Rotundafolia Holly. It's a Chinese Holly, very prickly and they have it planted in this location because they have had a problem with people coming from the great lawn and walking down the slope, which has caused the slope to erode. Thus this requires a very practical planting, one that makes coming down the hill difficult. The other consideration is the practicality of the light and how much light that plant gets. The Japanese Plum Yews planted at the Southern Company Amphitheater are good low light plants and when they grow underneath the Cryptomeria they're not going to get a lot of light. So light needs must taken into consideration.

In many respects planting a plant is as simple as DIGGING A HOLE and planting the plant. But there is more to it than that. Mark sees a lot of plant mortality where plants are planted improperly. The size of the hole is critical. The size of the hole needs to be 3 times the size of the root ball and as we plant the plant we must loosen the roots so the plant will get a good foothold and have lots of oxygen. Oxygen is important, water is important, all of those factors effect the survivability of a plant.

With over 3 million visitors annually it's challenging KEEPING THE GRASS ALIVE, let alone healthy. Mark and crew do have a few tricks up their sleeve, although they really aren't tricks. Instead they're research and science based stuff that anyone can get from their local extension office. And they're the basics - soil preparation is important but a step that often gets skipped at home. Mark thinks the guys selling us seed are the ones telling us to just scratch the ground with a rake. That doesn't work. A farmer would never go out and plant his field by just scratching the soil with a rake, then putting seed out. We shouldn't do that either with our home lawns. Prep the soil with a tiller or another instrument that will till 4 to 6 inches deep and make a nice bed. That advice applies whether using seed, sprigs, plugs.

There are many DIFFERENT TYPES OF GRASS SEED AND DIFFERENT TYPES OF SOD. Which one is ideal? There is not a single perfect grass. Mark is growing Hybrid Bermuda very successfully in this park but that doesn't mean that it is the correct application for someone living significantly north or someone that has a lot of shade on their property. Find a grass that will adapt to the sun and shade you have, plus take into consideration the type of activity that will take place on that grass. Eric has pulled a sprig of the hybrid Bermuda they're using here to illustrate the point. The reason this turf works so well has much to do with its growth habit. It is a very flat growing grass. Everyone of the little nodes, or nodules, basically puts out a root. It's a stoloniferous grass which means that the root section does grow underground and it can pop up new little grass leaflets so if the grass gets chopped up or if sections are damaged, it can basically reestablish itself very, very quickly. So, it makes an ideal grass for an area that will receive a tremendous amount of traffic. And with the number of events held here, 186 event days a year, it's needed. Even if you have a home lawn where the kids want to play football or someone wants to go out and chip and putt, anything that's physically damaging, this grass can recover quickly. It's a good choice for this type environment.

So, AFTER THE TURF IS ESTABLISHED, what should be done the rest of the year? There are four basic principles they use here and that are helpful at home. First, is the fertilization program. They base fertilization on soil test results. People need to do that at home, the local extension office will do it for free or for a nominal charge. Go to 6 or 8 different spots in your yard, collect soil samples from those different areas, mix those together, take it in and let the analysis determine the type of lime and fertilizer that is needed. Apply that lime and fertilizer at cross angles to each other. Imagine yourself on a checkerboard and spread half the fertilizer north and south, the other half east and west. By doing it this way you don't get patches. Mowing is important. Mow according to what the turf grass needs, don't just guess at mowing height. For Mark's hybrid bermuda an inch to an inch and a half is the perfect mowing height but it isn't the right height for something like fall Fescue. So, know the type of grass you have, then adjust your mower accordingly. Watering and irrigation are important. Irrigation should be based on how much water you're getting from Mother Nature and then supplement that with the irrigation system only as needed. Let the grass tell when it wants to be watered. If you look at grass carefully, it will turn a bluish green color and when you walk on it it will leave footprints when it needs water. Use the irrigation to balance the amount of water from Mother Nature. About 1 inch of water per week is needed for grass. Then, last but not least is the aeration program. An aerator is important because it relieves compaction. It will take out plugs from the soil which relieves the tension in the soil and allows the roots, water and nutrients to move around. The aerator they use takes plugs out of the soil equivalent to the length of a pen, maybe more. That really loosens up the soil, prunes the roots and lets air in. By following these simple rules your lawn will be much healthier and look much better.

Mark has 2 parting thoughts. One, come and visit. This is a great place to visit and a wonderful legacy to the 1996 games. Secondly, don't be afraid to ask questions. Utilize your university system, your extension service to get science and research based information. It's a great resource, more should take advantage of it.

Eric thanks Mark. It's been a wonderful day, we've learned a lot. Well they have another 21 acres to see, they've just scratched the surface, so Mark and Eric are off. Thanks again, Mark.

LINKS:

Centennial Olympic Park

1996 Olympic Games

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