Friday, July 18, 2008

Meadows, meadows everywhere

Meadow gardening in Sweden in the 1930s. Picture by Sven A. Hermelin, published in Hem i Sverige 1935.

Meadow gardening has really taken off during the recent years and seems to create as much headlines here in the U.S. as it does in Sweden and other European countries. One of the most beautiful books in this area is the late Christopher Lloyd's "Meadows" (Timber Press, 2004), a captivating guide about how to preserve grasslands, and establish and maintain meadows. Of course, other excellent books exist, but I am a long time fan of Christopher Lloyd's writing, which always is extremely well-informed, entertaining and lively. (Sadly, he died just before my first visit to Great Dixter, and wandering there knowing he would never be gardening or writing again was a very sad moment. It is strange how some writers make you feel like you would know them personally - for me, I really felt like I had lost a close friend, even if I never met him).

Meadow at Great Dixter. The strictness of the huge Taxus topiary figures contrast so well with the dainty meadow flowers. And my daughters are taking in all the beauty.

Meadows as a gardening practice are decendants of two different origins: natural meadows, and a farming practice, which resulted in meadows. A natural meadow is a perpetual grassland - a habitat of rolling or flat terrain where grasses predominate. These grasslands are so called climax ecosystems that are capable of sustaining themselves; environmental factors restrict the growth of woody plants and therefore the grasslands are kept clean of shrubs and trees, which otherwise would succeed the grasses. Some typical environments for natural meadows are the alps, coasts, deserts and the prairies, all with harsh growing conditions (cold, wind, salt, heat, drought).

The meadow in my garden in Saltsjöbaden - kept in bay by the cold and salty winds from the sea, but still needing maintenance to keep out the unwanted invaders.

Meadows formed also as a result from the ancient farming practice of growing winter feed for the cattle on open land. The grasses were cut down in the end of the summer and carted away and their seeds were left on the fields, and so could regenerate the vegetation the following spring. Pastures are not really meadows as they are continuously grazed by animals that keep the grass short the whole season.

Beautiful, seaside pastureland with grazing sheep at Beachyhead, East Sussex; I warmly recommend it as a a wonderful place to visit.

Meadow gardening and "prairie style" gardening have been popular since the 1990's when Piet Oudolf's and Oehme & van Sweden's designs (only mention a very few) got a lot of space in the gardening magazines. And of course, Christopher Lloyd's many books, with beautiful pictures of lovely meadows have had an enormous impact. In my research for my first garden history thesis, I found some wonderful articles in Swedish gardening magazines from the 1930s promoting meadows in gardens, as the first picture above. During the 1930s, meadows as an agricultural practise was disappearing and many garden writers were worried about that the cultural and ecological environments would disappear as well. One of the most popular garden architects in Sweden during that time, Sven A. Hermelin, suggested using meadows instead of lawns in gardens, as they are more esthetically pleasing and give a larger biodiversity than the monotonity of a close-cut lawn. It just took another 60 years before his thoughts became popular... is nothing ever new in gardening?

A birds-eye view of the meadow towards the moat and the pavillion at Sissinghurst, with mown paths, roses and fruit trees in the grass. I took this picture from Vita Sackville-Wests writing tower.

Later update: see also my post European meadows, American meadows.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Black Sun

Black Sun by Isamu Noguchi (1969).

I've always loved Isamu Noguchi's designs - both furniture, sculpture and gardens. In front of the Seattle Asian Art Museum there is an excellent example of his work: the Black Sun from 1969. I love the heavy, flowing, organic form, contained within the eternity of the circle. And the little "bottom" seen at the right side of the circle (or maybe it isn't, but that's how I see it), it just adds a touch of surprise and wit to the massive sculpture.
Displaying sculpture outdoors gives it an extra dimension. It seems that both the viewer and the work (sculpture, that is) can breath more freely when placed in open air. Or just as Tina writes on her blog The Garden Design Chronicle:
"More often than not I find sculpture soothing. I’m not really sure why this is. I like the interaction the artworks have with the surrounding environment something that you really do not obtain in a gallery. There is no interaction. They are merely objects in space, demanding your full attention. Perhaps I like the fact that the outdoors reduces the artworks demands on you. I feel free to take them in or not. I feel free to eat a sandwich, read a book, close my eyes. None of which I can do in a gallery. A sculpture garden allows me to be human."

The view towards downtown Seattle makes a dramatic background to the Black Sun. I just wonder how it would look like on a more serene site, with lots of lush green around and waves of the sea quietly lapping behind it...? Anyway, The Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, N.Y. is high up on my "what to do during the U.S. years" list! (the sculpture garden is being renovated and will re-open in November 2008).

The Seattle Asian Art Museum seen throught the Black Sun.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Quote of the Day

For fast acting relief; try slowing down.

- Lily Tomlin
(picture taken by me at Chelsea Flower Show 2007)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Volunteer Park Conservatory

The Volunteer Park Conservatory
Sometimes your GPS leads you to places you did not really think of visiting - at least just then. These mistakes can sometimes turn out really well. Last February, when we were visiting Seattle to try to figure out where to live, the GPS in our rental can directed us to Seattle Asian Art Museum, instead of Seattle Art Museum. This meant that I found Volunteer Park Conservatory on this first trip to Seattle. I felt directly much more friends with the city as this place was just like one of my old favourites in Sweden, the Palm House at the Garden Society of Gothenburg.

Palm House at Volunteer Park

The Palm House in Gothenburg was erected in 1878 and Volunteer Park Conservatory in 1912. Though on a small scale, they share a similar history. Both were fashioned after the Crystal Palace in London, the huge cast iron and glass structure by Joseph Paxton which housed the Great Exhibition of 1851 (and burned down in 1936). Volunteer Park Conservatory is situated on Capitol Hill in Seattle, and the park surrounding it was designed by John Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (nephew-stepson and son of Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., well known for his design for N.Y. Central Park). It was manufactured in New York and shipped to Seattle.

Palm House at Volunteer Park

Volunteer Park Conservatory has five houses representing different environments from the world. The entrance leads you directly to the Palm House, with many species of palms, an Orchid Collection, anthuriums from Hawaii and Central America, Crotons, Musa (banana) and Hedychium (ginger) plants.

Fern House at Volunteer Park

To the left from the Palm House, you come to the Fern House, which numerous species of ferns and other tropical plants. Also, this house has a collection of primitive plants from the dinosaur era and diverse carnivorous plants. The permanent plant collections are "hotted up" with displays of exotic seasonal plants, such as Brugmansias, Aristolochias, Passifloras, Begonias etc. In my eyes, a little less would have done more, but I'm sure many of the visitors appreciate these colourful additions.

Bromeliad House at Volunteer Park

Bromeliad House contains a large collection of well... members of the bromeliad family, of which pineapple is one of the most well-known ones. Many of these plants are epiphytes attaching themselves on rough sufraces as tree branches or rocks. Tillandsias are also shown in this room.

Cactus House at Volunteer Park

The fourth house is the Seasonal Display House, which I found quite boring (this time) with lots of blue Hydrangeas and other uninteresting plants. The only quite interesting plant here was the Amorphophallus titanum, which is expected to flower again some time in late July 2008. This plant was discovered in 1878 by Italian botanist and explorer Odoardo Beccari (1843-1920) in Sumatra, at the height of plant hunting during the Victorian era. It has the largest undivided inflorescence of all plants, and reminds of... well, just what it's name means.

Cactus House at Volunteer Park

Cactus House at Volunteer Park
The fifth and last room is the Cactus House, with cacti and succulents, all adapted to dry and hot conditions. As the leaflet from Volunteer Park says, all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Last February, when I visited this conservatory for the first time, many of the cacti were flowering vibrantly. Now, most of them were just looking prickly - or maybe I was born far too North to really appreciate their beauty.

Cactus House at Volunteer Park

Cactus House at Volunteer Park.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Gates in Medina

This entrance makes definately a statement, and the garden behind is full of interesting, huge, modern sculptures. Nothing for the cottage-gardeners...

This morning, I had a lovely walk following the "Points trail" through Clyde Hill to Yarrow Point, Hunts Point and Evergreen Point. From there the trail took me to Medina, an area with amazingly large gardens and houses. Many of them can't be seen from the road, you just can imagine what is hiding behind the large expanses of lawns, huge trees and meticously kept plantings. The houses represent all styles, from old traditional to really bold modern ones - some of which are really beautiful (and some downright ugly...). Anyway, here's a collection of gates that I found either interesting and/or beautiful!

A sober and quite elegant gate, with a beautiful drive surrounded by mature trees and an evergreen hedge. I wonder how the house looks like?

A beautifully carved, neglegted old gate. The fence is gone since long and moss is covering the gate. Where did it lead in the past? Nothing seems to be behind it, only weeds and overgrown bushes.

French chateau-style, anybody? Maybe the house is a miniature of Versailles...? (These gates are at least 3m high).

Gates with Edvardian touch, with a small gatekeepers house behind. Beautifully executed in timber.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Washington Park Arboretum

Yesterday I visited the Washington Park Arboretum, a huge urban green space on the shores of Lake Washington just east of downtown Seattle. The Arboretum was designed by James Dawson of the Olmsted Brothers firm (Frederick Law Olmsted is noted for the plan for New York's Central Park together with Calvert Vaux), and was developed in the 1930's.

On totally 230 acres of land almost in the middle of the city, the Arboretum has over 20,000 trees, shrubs and vines, more than 10,000 of which are catalogued in collections. 4,600 different species are cultivated varieties from around the world. Collections include rhododendron, azalea, mountain ash, pine, spruce, cedar, fir, crabapple, holly, magnolia, camellia, and Japanese maple.

I found it quite amazing to see such variety of plants (some of them trees over 30 meters high) so centrally located in Seattle. It is a great asset for the inhabitants of a city to have this kind of green area to enjoy - during our visit, the park was full of families, joggers and citizens just enjoying their day in the cool shade of the trees.

The plan of the park lends itself well to walking and jogging around, the paths wind and curve gently in the landscape and there is always something new to discover behind the bends. Some of the "displays" (if you can call living trees so...) are arranged in botanical order, which makes them somewhat boring. Clumps of different species of mountain ashes are far more botanically interesting than visually so. But there are areas of great esthetic interest, as the Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden, the Woodland Garden or the Japanese Garden. For the moment, the climbing roses are in bloom and I saw a spectacular Rosa mulliganii climbing up a young Western red cedar, Thuja plicata (which was about 15 meters high, see below). It made the tree look like a young bride covered in white roses or... a Christmas tree in the middle of the summer!

What I would have liked to see in this arboretum was plant tags on all trees, even the largest ones, showing the exact names of the species. Now I could only find them on the smaller trees and shrubs, which made me a bit disappointed as I really wanted to learn about the trees of this part of the world. Otherwise, the Arboretum is definately worth a visit and there's a risk that it will become one of my favourite places in Seattle!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Quote(s) of the day

For those interested in garden design:

A garden without trees scarcely deserves to be called a garden.
- Henry Ellacombe

For those thinking more in economic terms:

Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.
- Warren Buffett

And for those who just like general wisdom:

Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.
- Abraham Lincoln

Trees are good

We have been melting away here i Seattle the last couple of days. The temperature has been over 90 degrees F/ 33 degrees C. Which has reminded me of one of my favourite "babies" - that trees are good. Not just for the climate (or reversing the CO2 change) but also for providing shade and keeping us cool.

It is sad to see how often the builders cut off all the trees when building. Of course it is a question of economical resources, but I really hope that more people would understand the value of mature trees for the environment. Not only the ecological value, but also esthetic and historical value of them.

I Saltsjöbaden, I took a couple of pictures of an beautiful house from the early 1900's, which got new owners and shortly thereafter was disfigured forever as they did not understand the value of the trees srrounding it. Now the house stands without "any framing", looking just tired and old. Even the old, beautiful oaks, normally appreciated even by the most ardent "tree-haters", were pruned back "to rejuvenate them". Something that you don't think would be needed with oaks, as normally the older oak, the better & more beautiful! It is so sad to see that the new owners do not see that the old trees are a big part of the charm of these older suburbs, part of their history that can't be bought for any money. It will take generations to repair the wounds like in this garden.

Here in Seattle, I've been confronted with even more dramatic kind of building practices: literally everything on the lot is bull-dozed off. So all that is left is a plain area of rubble and concrete rests. And after building the house, the whole area is landscaped again. But the trees won't be there for a couple of decades to give their dimension for the gardens. And in this heat, you have to turn on your A/C instead of getting their shade for free. I'm just wondering, as we are trying to be so green and environmentally correct these days, why don't we make this connection and start caring for the trees?