Improvements at Binney Park | An Interview with Peter Grunow, Owner of Gro Pro Landscaping

Have you seen the recent changes at Binney Park?

Binney Park has been a focal point of beauty, recreation and relaxation since its dedication to the town in 1933. These days, Binney Park is a cherished part of the Greenwich landscape where local residents and visitors alike stroll the walking trails, picnic, enjoy peaceful nature views, play sports, and spend memorable moments together.

When Living Greenwich learned about the bevy of upgrades recently put into place at Binney Park, we made it a point to open a conversation with Peter Grunow, Owner of Gro Pro Landscape Co., Inc. who was retained to complete a portion of the park’s landscaping restoration.

Peter and his Gro Pro team have recently completed their work – installing numerous beautiful plantings along the pond and walking paths as well as a gorgeous blue slate patio beside the historic pavilion - or “Club House” – located in the center of the park. We encourage everyone to come down to Binney Park to take a walk around the pond and enjoy the new surrounds!

Below are some highlights from our conversation:

Peter - Can you tell us the genesis of this reconstruction of Binney Park, where did it all start?

The reconstruction of Binney Park has been years in the making. The Binney Park project started several years ago when the Town of Greenwich commissioned a Historic Landscape Report (a broad overview of sorts) that was written up about several of the parks in town: Bruce Park, Binney Park, Byram Park and Montgomery Pinetum - among others - that were deemed to need improvements. The Historic Landscape Report was quite extensive and to date some of the improvements have been implemented amongst the various parks reviewed.

The Binney Park portion of the town park renovation program got underway in earnest in 2015 with the completion of the Town of Greenwich Department of Parks and Recreation’s Master Plan for Binney Park. This Master Plan provided the roadmap for the complete renovation of Binney Park – including the landscaping work.

  

How did Gro Pro get involved?

When the town was ready to begin the Binney Park restoration a committee was established to oversee the work program. The undertaking was led by representatives of town leadership and the Binney Park Community Committee. The town was represented by the Superintendent of Parks and Trees, Dr. Gregory Kramer, and Park Operations Manager, Darren Wigglesworth, and the Binney Park Community Committee was comprised of a diverse group of members including representatives from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy, a local landscape architect, the Greenwich Botanical Center and several community leaders to name a few. The objective of this committee was to advise the town on the project as well as assist with the renovation’s implementation.

Gro Pro has been working in the Greenwich community for over 35 years – providing a variety of services in landscape horticulture, design and construction. We have had the good fortune to participate in a number of projects in town such as the Greenwich Point Conservancy’s renovation of the Innis Arden Cottage and Old Barn areas down at the beach, projects undertaken by Friends of Greenwich Point as well as a proposal submission for the recent Byram Park Project. It was through this work that Gro Pro was recognized and ultimately invited to submit a proposal for the landscape design portion of the Binney restoration.

My plan was one of five designs submitted by local landscape designers/architects to the Binney Park Community Committee for consideration and thus far Gro Pro has had the good fortune of being awarded the Binney Park “island” portion of the restoration - one of the focal points of the overall project. I and the team here at Gro Pro are very appreciative of getting to work on such a high-profile project right here in the hearth of our community. The work and the people associated with the project have been great.

  

What were your main ideas regarding improvements at Binney Park?

In the Binney Park Master Plan there were a number of recommendations and requirements relating to the restoration that we needed to be mindful of. We incorporated as many of those recommendations as possible in our final proposal.

My first idea for the “island” restoration was to “borrow the longest view” and improve the sight lines throughout the park so that one had clear vistas not only over the historic stone bridges but also across the lake.

To accomplish this, we removed several overgrown junipers that were blocking sight lines and obstructing the walking paths at various points around the park. We also removed a sick tree near one of the stone bridges - so now as you come over the bridge you have an unobstructed view through the pavilion clear across the lake. Next, we removed a Norway maple, which is on the list of invasive species, to prevent it from undermining the foundation of another of the stone bridges over time. Finally, in the newly cleared spaces, we re-planted mostly low, native perennials and shrubs that would not require much maintenance but would look very nice throughout the year.

Once these bushes and trees were removed - sight lines were opened up and it made for more open spaces - conducive for throwing a ball, walking dogs, picnics or just relaxing.

One of my favorite new features is a brand-new blue stone patio on the south side of the pavilion. The patio was given to me as a prerequisite from the master plan and I think it was a very good idea. We took what was a sloped, rooted and often flooded locale in the park and, with the addition of a 30-inch retaining wall at the ponds edge, turning the area into a dry, level surface for the patio and surrounding gardens. To complete this new space, there will soon be two benches installed on each side of the patio for people to sit on and enjoy the view.

Creating these public spaces and making them useful for Greenwich residents has been very satisfying.

  

What were your ideas for the planting beds here at Binney Park?

There has been a gradual movement towards the use of native plants for landscape work in the area. For the Binney park project, the whole idea for the north end of the island was to use native plants or hybrids of native plants so we tried to adhere to that theme as closely as possible.

  

What are some examples of the native plants you chose?

Across the island we used a wide and varied selection of native plants in the restoration. We used a number of perennials: lady fern, blue flag iris, amsonia, solidago, little blue stem, sedges, hellebore, aruncus and asters. For shrubs: bayberry, native viburnum, red twig dogwood, aronia and a native chestnut bush.

South of the patio we chose perennials which are known for their long-lasting bloom because this is a popular spot for event photos: graduations, weddings and the like. We wanted to make sure the park had as much color as possible throughout the year.

  

You were born and raised here in Old Greenwich, do you have any stories relating to Binney Park?

At age 4 or 5 I was at First Church Preschool and we would come across the street and over these bridges and there were many ducks and swans and we would feed them. That is my earliest recollection, however when I was age 6 we moved next door to Helen Binney Kitchel. We lived at the end of Ballwood Road, she lived at the end of Binney Lane.

Helen Binney Kitchel was a wonderful lady, she would extend an invitation by hand written note to neighbors allowing us to use her beach each summer. We could keep out boats at her beach and use the raft she put in. When she came out for her afternoon swim, all mischief ceased.

I remember when I was 7 and she was 70 and we became good friends. I would visit her on a regular basis and we would talk about the history of Binney Park. She talked about how she and her sister convinced their father to buy this land to keep it from being developed as it had been slated for house lots.

We talked about Binney’s involvement with First Congregational Church and the idea to turn the church Westward to face Binney Park.

We spoke of her involvement at Greenwich Point and the Old Greenwich Garden Club. She would tell me the origins of the Holly Grove which is dedicated to her parents in honor their 50 years of marriage.

Perhaps the most interesting story was her story of getting needed funds to buy all of Laddin’s Rock Farm to preserve it as open space. However, with the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, the state backed out and the only land her group was able to buy was the forested area now known as the Binney Park Nature Trails that now stretches up the north side of Harding Road from the Perot Library to Brown House Road on the Stamford town line.

She was a wonderful woman and a great friend of the town.

  

Peter – any final thoughts?

I would like to say that Greenwich is very fortunate to have had people like Helen Binney Kitchel, whose foresight led to the creation of this beautiful and inviting gateway into Old Greenwich, in our community.

It is people like her, and other likeminded neighbors dedicated to the continued beautification of our town’s parks and open spaces, that makes Greenwich such a special place.

Finally, as a life-long Greenwich resident, it was an honor to be selected and to have a part in the restoration of Binney Park. It is my hope that in the years to come everyone in town has a chance to enjoy a peaceful moment overlooking the “new and improved” Binney Pond.

  

Peter, it has been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for your time.

  

  

Click any image below for a larger view:

  

Learn more about Binney Park: http://oldgreenwich.org/binney-park

  

  

About Gro Pro Landscaping

The Gro Pro philosophy is to design and create a seamless transition between home and garden.

With over 35 years of experience in horticulture, design and construction, our team has been transforming properties in Greenwich and surrounding towns and creating havens for our clients to relax and entertain.

As a design-build firm comprised of landscape architects, horticulturalists, construction professionals, designers and lifelong gardeners, we are there every step of the way from conception, to design, construction and installation. We also offer a comprehensive maintenance program to protect out clients' investment and enhance the enjoyment of their property.

With Gro Pro it's only natural!

Learn more about Gro Pro Landscaping: http://www.groprogardens.com/

  

  

Photos and interview by Pam Grunow.

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