Saturday, December 18, 2010
The connection between tree ferns and wild strawberries
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Rain and the zen of moss gardening
Not tempted to stick my nose out and get soaked, I've been perusing George Schenk's remarkable book Moss Gardening Including Lichens, Liverworts, and Other Miniatures (Timber Press, 1997). It is a perfect companion for rainy winter months, the high season of all mosses; when else do their emerald, smooth cushions look so soft and becoming than during the coldest and wettest days of the year?
Earth and heaven merge.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Saving Sipsalo, one small step at a time...
A student of Carl Linnaeus, Pehr Kalm was one of the lucky few who managed to return alive from his plant collecting tours, having visited the relatively safe target destination of North America in 1748-51. Back in Finland, he worked as a professor at the Turku Academy, dutifully propagating in Sipsalo his admirable collection of seeds of over 400 plants. Many of them failed in the harsh climate - for example, the utopian idea of establishing silk industry in Finland failed miserably as both the silkworms and mulberry trees soon froze to death - but some of them, like Parthenocissus vitacea (syn. P. inserta), Rubus odorata and Crataegus grayana, are now a common part of the flora of Finland.
During the past year, several Finnish organizations with potential capacity for owning and managing Sipsalo have been contacted. The local universities, the National Board of Antiquities and the Finnish Cultural Heritage Foundation have been some of the suitable candidates. The tough economic times have certainly played in as great interest have been shown by many, but so far, none of them has had the courage and money (a long time commitment like this demands a great deal of planning and resources) to buy Sipsalo, and secure its future for the coming generations. Understandable, but at the same time, very sad and disappointing.
A south-facing meadow and old apple trees in front of the buildings of Sipsalo.
For a while, I almost lost my hope for Sipsalo, and felt that maybe nothing will came out of all work that I and many others have done to rescue Sipsalo (for example, an article that I wrote about the international interest for Sipsalo was published in Turun Sanomat in June 2010 - all response was very positive, but there were no other immediate results). Then, last week I was told that Katri Sarlund from the city council of Turku had made an initiative that the city should purchase Sipsalo.
After contacting Katri, we agreed on that an international petition by the community of researchers, scientists and writers would be highly desirable, and probably effective in promoting the cause. So I wrote one, and so far, I've been very happy to receive great response from everyone I've contacted. In January, Turku City Council will receive an international petition letter for Sipsalo with a handsome list of supporters from three continents.
So no happy ending yet, but I do have high hopes for one. And even if the work in not quite done, I already admit that I have learned a lot during the process. Like that next time I try to save an old garden, I will go and take a lesson in community organizing first. Nevertheless, I am very glad that I've tried and I sincerely hope that Sipsalo at last will be saved to the coming generations. I will keep you posted.
An old oak tree planted by Pehr Kalm in the 18th century by the Aura river in Turku. The Botanical Gardens that surrounded the oak were destroyed in the 1960s. If Sipsalo is lost to new housing development, this old oak tree will be the only remaining evidence of and memorial to Kalm's work.
My three earlier posts about Sipsalo: Save the forgotten gardens of Pehr Kalm, August 2009. Sipsalo, again, December 2009. Late November in Sipsalo, December 2009.
Unfortunately, my article in Turun Sanomat is not available on-line, and I haven't found a way to download the pdf here on my blog.
Please leave a comment if you need more information about Sipsalo.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Abkhazi Garden - the garden that love built
A garden is a perpetual reminder that there are no shortcuts to the important things in life, wrote Peggy, Princess Abkhazi, once in her journals. No shortcuts were taken in the Abkhazi Garden, so lovingly and devotedly built over 40 years by Nicolas and Peggy who had experienced both ultimate splendour and extreme misery during their long lives. And so it became one of those unique gardens that are able to touch one's heart, even over a decade after its creators finally left its stone-clad, mossy hills and shadowy groves.
'The garden that love built' was a description that Peggy herself used of their garden.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
A classical Chinese scholar's garden in Vancouver
Thursday, November 11, 2010
A lunchtime sunbath at the roof, anyone?
View from the "wilderness" part of the KF roof gardens. Photo by Bertil Norberg.
Friday, November 5, 2010
The lush playgrounds of a software giant
Pathways around the campus.
Intrigued by the variety and lushness of the huge corporate gardens, I talked to landscape architect Mark Brumbaugh, whose company Brumbaugh & Associates has been responsible for designing the grounds of Microsoft for years. Mark described how the design process has always been connected to the Northwest values: a love for nature and outdoor recreation. In the latest project, a new building area of 43 acres was designed to reflect the four regional habitat landscape types: coast, mountains, forests and meadows, each of them with their own distinct identity. Using local materials and plants suited to each habitat (not all of which are native), they were designed to provide interest during all 12 months of the year at the same time being reasonably easy to maintain.
Benches and chairs around one of the sports fields.
Microsoft's Senior facilities manager Michael Impala generously also took time to meet me, revealing some fascinating details about landscaping on this giant scale. For example, a full-sized soccer field, basketball, bocce and sand volley ball courts and an underground garage with 192.000 square foot green roof and a forest trail for running are all included in the design, all imposing their own requirements for planting and maintenance. Also, security of the employees who use the grounds has to be taken into account. Using hardy native plants is not only a matter of design, but it is also a way to keep the grounds sustainable maintenance- and irrigationwise. Despite its rainy reputation, over 90 percent of the precipitation in Seattle area falls between September and April, making special water-saving computerized irrigation systems necessary during the dry summer months.
Above plantings with forest theme; below entrance through the mountain themed plantings, with locally sourced boulders.
Wandering through the huge grounds of Microsoft, I was impressed both by the variety of detail and by their excellent connection with the surrounding landscape. Despite their scale, they felt at times almost intimate, an effect achieved mainly by skillful selection of vegetation. Huge grasses rustled besides curving paths and meadow like planting areas, with benches and seats scattered along the trail for moments of discussion or reflection of thought. Being a busy Tuesday morning, no-one was using the sports grounds, but many were enjoying their lattes by the dining area with water features providing a pleasant background for discussions.
Detail from the meadow plantings.
Deriving from the long tradition of university campuses in the US, where beautiful landscaping has for long been used to attract and retain students and staff (two wonderful examples of which are the campuses of Stanford and Berkeley), the Microsoft campus is built on a similar theme. Overall, it is an admirable display of the software giant's commitment to provide a great working environment for its employees.
Thank you, Mark and Michael, for taking time to tell about the Microsoft grounds!
I have no commercial interests in Microsoft and/or its products.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Blueberries in mist
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Dunn Gardens, a miniature Olmsted in north Seattle
Luscious seedpods of the giant Himalayan lily, towering three meters above the ground. They have self-seeded themselves prolifically in the gardens, forming commanding focal points in the most unexpected places.
Beautiful stone steps, an original feature by the Olmsteds, was found only recently under a layer of soil and debris that had gathered on the unused tennis court..
As I wandered through the Dunn Gardens, after almost a century from their creation and with the surrounding suburbia creeping close onto them on all sides, I felt how they still quietly relayed the original Olmstedian goals that had guided their design. The paths lingered, never revealing what was waiting around the next copse, headlands of plantings pushed into the vast lawns, and behind the boundaries, distant trees invited my eyes to explore the scenery further away. Many of the plants, like the towering Douglas firs and huge Rhododendrons, had clearly grown out of their optimal size and sometimes overtook the scene. Despite this, these majestic, native plants continue playing an important part in the story of the Dunn Gardens, just like the Dunn Gardens play an important part in the history of gardens in the Seattle area.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Five abundant acres - Wells Medina Nursery
Friday, October 8, 2010
There is no such thing as a too common plant...
In my garden in Sweden, there is a difficult spot where the garden makes transition into the surrounding parkland; a small slope, set against a group of young fir trees. Many times I have thought of planting there a clump of snowberries, being fond of the idea of the glowing white berries against the dark branches of the firs, but every time, I've written off them as far too boring and common. But as usual, the more you know about something, the more interesting it gets... and now I think that snowberries are exactly what I should grow in that spot. They will suit my 1930s house perfectly, and with their befitting origin and background, they'll be a wonderful reminder of these years in the Pacific Northwest.