Changing the Kroon Landscape:
Initiative Gives New Face to Northern Courtyard

kroon northern courtyard
Photo courtesy of Sara Smiley Smith
Last summer, a dense growth of dogbane swelled to a height of nearly six feet in Kroon’s northern courtyard, crowding out milkweed and other plants.
If you wandered through Kroon Hall’s northern courtyard last summer, you couldn’t miss it. As city temperatures climbed so did a dense growth of dogbane, a herbaceous plant that thrives in almost all conditions and, in Kroon’s narrow courtyard, swelled to a height of nearly six feet, crowding out milkweed and other plants.
As the dogbane towered over the courtyard, some passersby began asking why the plants were not labeled, wondering what they might be. The questions eventually filtered down to Melanie Quigley and Sara Smiley Smith, members of the School’s Environmental Stewardship Committee (ESC). After meeting with Walter Debboli, a supervisor in landscaping and grounds maintenance at Yale, the complicated natural history of the unassuming space, nestled between Kroon, Sage Hall, and Sachem’s Wood, began to emerge.
For one thing, Smith says, dogbane isn’t supposed to be there. An invasive species, it was not part of the original plans when Kroon was built in 2009. In fact, the mix of species living in the courtyard today barely resembles those early landscaping plans. Some species planted in the beginning are long gone, pushed out by dogbane and other opportunist species. Others, like a pair of giant sequoia planted by a former student, became unexpected additions to the courtyard.
A group of students and staff members are developing plans that they hope will return the site to something more than just a place to walk through or park a bicycle. Their vision, which has been approved by F&ES and Yale officials, will transform the site into a fruiting forest garden that supplements lessons on agroforestry being taught in the classrooms.
The north courtyard space represented an ideal opportunity to knit together academic values, a tradition of stewardship, active learning, and hands on engagement at all levels.
— Sara Smiley Smith
The first major step will be efforts to pull up the dogbane roots this week. In fact, volunteers are invited to help with the work throughout April 22 as part of the School’s Earth Day celebration. Once the invasive plants are gone, members of the Yale community and the Yale Office of Facilities will begin planting new species across the site.
“As the chair of the Environmental Stewardship Committee here at F&ES, part of my role is to help our entire community live out this value of stewardship, caring for this school we are all so passionate about,” said Sara Smiley Smith ’16 Ph.D. ’07 M.E.Sc./M.P.H., chair of the ESC. “The north courtyard space represented an ideal opportunity to knit together academic values, a tradition of stewardship, active learning, and hands on engagement at all levels.”
“This space has so much potential,” she added. “In front of Kroon,we have the drought garden. There’s the rain garden in front of Sage. And then in the back you have the green roof in front of Klein Biology Tower. What a perfect set of bookends for a demonstration of the many ways Yale is thinking about managing the landscape.”
The forest garden plan has been designed and coordinated by Emma Akrawi, a fifth-year Master’s student, who began working on a hypothetical forest garden for campus last fall while taking, “Multifunctional Carbon-Sequestering Agroforestry,” taught by F&ES lecturer Eric Toensmeier.
“I had really wanted to do something that would be applicable to campus,” she said. “And the courtyard was a good candidate because it was a site that the ESC and Facilities had expressed an interest in developing but hadn’t been able to move forward with yet.”
It wasn’t until last fall that she joined the effort to reinvent the Kroon courtyard; by the spring semester the project had evolved into an independent study course.
There are a lot of really great fruit and nut species in the Northeast that are native and underutilized and part shade tolerant.
— Emma Akrawi
The plan she helped create, under the guidance of Toensmeier, will include a multistory of shade-tolerant, edible species that are native to the northeastern U.S., including Pawpaw, Common Elderberry, American Persimmon, and American Hazelnut. The existing trees and shrubs, including the oaks and popular red maples, will remain on site and will serve as the canopy layer of the garden.
“There are a lot of really great fruit and nut species in the Northeast that are native and underutilized and part shade tolerant,” said Akrawi. “We also wanted to pick native plants because they attract the best native insects. And also, there are a lot of stakeholders involved in this process.”
The site will also include additional picnic tables and new oak benches to promote more social activity in the area.
The plan, she says, was designed to be self-renewing, self-fertilizing, and largely self-maintaining. (To be safe, the Environmental Stewardship Committee hopes to devote one student per year to upkeep of the site.)
The renovation project will be funded by the F&ES Class of 1980 fund and ESC. Yale Grounds, which has been a partner throughout the project, will provide soil, plants, and labor over the coming weeks.
Volunteers interested in helping to remove the invasive plants on April 22 can join at any stage for any duration. Lunch will be provided by the Environmental Stewardship Committee. A part of the grounds work will be supported by two student interest groups, CAFÉ and STIGMA.
On May 10, students, faculty, and staff are invited to help with the planting. Anyone interested should contact Emma Akrawi.
– Kevin Dennehy    203 436-4842
PUBLISHED: April 21, 2016
Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles posted prior to July 1, 2020, refer to the School's name at that time.