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West Laurel Hill Cemetery West Laurel Hill Nature’s Sanctuary  Bala Cynwyd, PA

Based on prior success in ecological restoration KMS Design Group was chosen by West Laurel Hill Cemetery to redesign a failing green burial ground. Green burial involves processes that exclude chemicals, embalming fluids and caskets containing non-biodegradable materials. KMS designed the site to follow the green burial lead and create a site which utilizes sustainable practices.

The West Laurel Hill Nature’s Sanctuary is being designed to gradually progress through the multiple stages of ecological

succession. Starting as a meadow, and progressing to a successional old field, successional woodland and eventually a climax forest. As cemetery lots are filled, the plant palette used in that location will be shifted towards the next successional stage. Over the course of time, this natural cemetery will transform from a wild flower meadow to a native forest. Ultimately, the resting place of ones’ loved ones will be beneath the branches of a native tree, amidst the foliage of shrubs and ground covers. The intent of the project is to achieve perpetual care by nature, rather than the current unsustainable practice of perpetual care by a lawnmower or pesticides.

The project proposes a process called “Assisted Ecological Succession”. Natural ecological succession is the gradual process of change in plants and animal species found in a naturalizing community. When starting from scratch, such as after an alteration in the landscape due to fire or a downed tree, plant communities start with a small number of pioneer plants. As the plants mature and affect the characteristics of their environment (e.g. creating shade in previously open areas), different species will naturally thrive. Over time, the community will develop further complexity and eventually stabilize as a climax community. Assisted Ecological Succession mimics this restoration process, with human assistance to restore a site which has been altered beyond the point of self healing.


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