Lawns:

A Field Guide to
Greensboro, NC

South Elm Neighborhood


THE ALL-AMERICAN LANDSCAPE

A park offers a manicured moment of respite from the city’s bustle that we might return with renewed vigor to that same movement, while an an empty lot is as meaningful for what is absent as what is apparent.

In this gap between the city’s constant reaching towards the sky, questions of ownership, thoughts of history, and observations of changing urban infrastructure are - like the soil itself - closer to the surface. A park, an occupied space, a historic building: these have narratives, stories dedicated to donors and historic figures - while an empty lot stands as a monument and moment of all that is invisible and forgotten.

Here, where plants grow to waist height and flower, we can see how short the distance is between the natural and the manmade. The same soil from which flowers grow here, extends beneath the entire city. The plants that form a green square here, elsewhere burst from sidewalk seams. This lot stands as an accusation. You are not looking.

When mown, an empty lot appears as a singular green expanse. We can imagine a single story, the cropped tops of plants all appear as one green blanket. But when the lot is allowed to grow an entire ecosystem is revealed, a complex web of stories. Plants here since before the arrival of Europeans grow alongside more recent immigrants. Accidently introduced by early Europeans settlers, the common earthworm converts organic matter into soil, while european honey bees pollinate the flowers above.

The diverse ecosystem of the lot echos the reality of a city’s history. Certain tales are repeated again and again, until they become the green lawn of a city, but if we stop long enough to let the grass grow, we find a thriving network of stories that together fill the streets around us.


Illustration of Common Violet

Common Violet

Violoa Sororia
Native

Illustration of Dandelion

Dandelion

Taraxacum officinale
Invasive

Illustration of Asiatic Dayflower

Asiatic Dayflower

Commelina communis
Invasive

Illustration of Common Sneezeweed

Common Sneezeweed

Helenium tenuifolium
Native

Illustration of Carolina Horsenettle

Carolina Horsenettle

Solanum carolinense
Native

Illustration of Catbriar

Catbriar

Smilax glauca
Native

Illustration of Lamb's Quarters

Lamb's Quarters

Chenopodium berlandieri
Native

Illustration of Spotted Spurge

Spotted Spurge

Euphorbia maculata
Native

Illustration of Creeping Charlie

Creeping Charlie

Glechoma hederacea
Invasive

Illustration of Virginia Creeper

Virginia Creeper

Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Native

Illustration of Bermuda Grass

Bermuda Grass

Cynodon dactylon
Invasive

Illustration of Lesser Periwinkle

Lesser Periwinkle

Vinca minor
Invasive


New Lawns for
Warnersville


In the “renewal” of the Warnersville neighborhood in 1962, the Handbook of Housing Rehabilitation lays out what is expected of residents in terms of maintaining a rehabilitated yardspace:

Your backyard shall be at least 25 feet deep. Your house and any garages or sheds cannot cover more than 30% of the lot. Yard requirements for sheds and garages can be obtained from the Redevelopment Commission. Off-street parking must be furnished for each dwelling unit.

You will want to landscape your yard so that it will be a community asset. Your neighborhood organization can give you advice about plantings.

1962 PROGRESS REPORT
Redevelopment Commission of Greensboro


Under the Lawn

SOUTH ELM SOIL

The native soil of South Elm is grey with a clay-like texture, but most of it has been removed or covered by fill dirt from construction projects. The native soil is actually referred to as “residual soil” in construction industry terms, demonstrating its relative unimportance compared to imported dirt.

In Greensboro, fill dirt for construction projects has to come from another construction project that has permission to remove soil. Near Point of Interest #5 on site map, under the SE corner of the new nursing school at Bragg Street and Gate City Blvd, there is 11 feet of soil from the construction site for the Greensboro Urban Loop Bypass.

CITY WATER

Often it’s cheaper to leave old pipes in the ground rather than remove them, so under these streets lies a network of defunct water, gas and other lines from across time. Some still function and are in use. The original 10” cast iron water main from 1887 still runs under Elm Street, carrying clean water to the South Elm neighborhood.

The natural soils have been greatly altered by cutting, filling, grading and shaping during the processes of urbanization. The original landscape, or topography, and the drainage pattern has been changed.

GUILFORD COUNTY SOIL SURVEY MAP 1977

There are about 8 different soils that have been pushed into there that are distinctly different. I can see they are different colors, different textures. Sandier over here, red clay there, just depends on where we were.

BEN MATHISON
SENIOR CONSTRUCTION SUPERINTENDENT FOR RENTENBACH CONSTRUCTORS, INC.
(Discussing soils found on construction site for the Union Square Campus on South Elm, 2015)


Empty Lots:

520-524 Bragg Street Lot

Illustration of

Sanborn Insurance Map, 1907

Illustration of

Sanborn Insurance Map, 1919

Illustration of

Sanborn Insurance Map, 1925

Illustration of

Sanborn Insurance Map, 1950

Illustration of

Corner of Arlington and Lee (now Gate City Blvd) looking west on Lee

ECOLOGY: BRAGG ST LOT

Carolina Horsenettle, Narrowleaf Plantain, Lespedeza, Southern Hackberry, Pecan, American Elm, Liriope, English Ivy, Fleabane, Silver Maple, Willow Oak, Winged Elm, Common Evening Primrose,Chinese Wisteria, Rose of Sharon, White Mulberry

527 1/2 South Elm Street Lot

Illustration of

Sanborn Insurance Map, 1907

Illustration of

Sanborn Insurance Map, 1907

Illustration of

Sanborn Insurance Map, 1919

Illustration of

Sanborn Insurance Map, 1950

Illustration of

Corner of Arlington and Lee (now Gate City Blvd) looking west on Lee

Illustration of

Corner of Arlington and Lee (now Gate City Blvd) looking west on Lee

Illustration of

Corner of Arlington and Lee (now Gate City Blvd) looking west on Lee

ECOLOGY: 527 1/2 S Elm St.

Virginia Creeper, Catbrier, Lambs Quarter, Bermuda Grass, Narrowleaf Plantain, Dandelion, Wood Sorrel, Lesser Periwinkle, Asiatic Dayflower, Common Chicory, Purslane, American Pokeweed, Southern Red Oak, Porcelain Berry, White Mulberry, Callery (Bradford) Pear, Privet


References

Benjamin Filene, UNC-Greensboro Director of Public History; Ann Walter-Fromson, Guilford Native Plant Society; USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database; City of Greensboro Website: Property Upkeep Guidelines; Remembering Greensboro, by Jim Schlosser; David Phlegar and Zachary Petersen, City of Greensboro Water Resources Department; Elise Allison, Greensboro Historical Museum; Dr. Mary Ann Scarlette, Historian, St Matthew’s United Methodist Church; Guilford County Soil Survey, 1977; Ben Mathison, Senior Construction Superintendent from Rentenbach Constructors Incorporated; Album of Greensboro, 1892; Greensboro Volume II Neighborhoods by Gayle Hicks Fripp. Images Of America/Arcadia 1998; Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps; Zion Starnes.

Extended References

The Chamber of Commons | 2015