Archive for the ‘Deb's posts’ Category

Voice.  That’s it.  My phone lets me talk, and listen to someone on the other end; if I’m working, I can plug a headset in or hit the speaker phone button.  And use the ‘Mute’ button if necessary.
I opened Toby’s iPhone app post with reservations, having felt saturated recently with iPhone app ‘articles’ that seem little more than ways for a newspaper or blog to fill space.   (In the Boston Sunday Globe Magazine recently I mistook a piece on phone apps for an advertisement, because it was largely a collection of photos of phones, each one showing a different app, with a weblink below.  It was not poor beleaguered print journalism’s finest hour.)
I’ve been a dedicated voice-only phone user forever.  Low-to-the-ground technology is what I like to use, knowing how easy it is for me to get lured in to a moving display and find myself sidetracked for an hour or four.  And I just got a new phone contract last week, turning down the chance to get a new phone because the one I have works just fine.  So a post about phone apps?  Argh.
But the apps Toby shows are making my dialing finger (so to speak) itch.  It would be hugely helpful to be able to place dimensions directly on a photo in the field.  My field notes tend to be scratchy and blobby, and while I’ve developed a method for keeping straight what numbers go with what dimension line, that dimensioning app holds out the promise of more organized field dimensioning.  So tempting.  And stitching together a bunch of photos a la David Hockney would simplify my reference photo printing, too.  Even the number converter looks inviting, though I keep a handy cheat sheet with me for quick and dirty conversions.

An excerpt from a recent set of field notes.

Still, colored pencil and paper are quick, and while they’re not beautiful they do give me the information I need, in exactly the way they’ll be useful when it’s time to draw a base plan and work out the details.  You can’t beat the price.  So far, the end results  over the last couple of decades have been successful.

Stay tuned.  I’m betting that I’ll stick with a voice-only phone, but if the iPad adds a camera and a UWB port and can use those apps I may turn into a technology maven yet.

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Every now and again Toby and I get together at a local coffeehouse to talk about our practices and about landscape architectural issues in general.  Conversation never lags — as we did when we worked together at Copley-Wolff, and over meals with other LA friends, and even before then, when we were both grad students at Cornell, we find plenty to talk about.  And we generate plenty of ideas for blog posts.

The thing is, once we’ve talked it seems harder actually to write the posts we’ve talked about.

Yesterday we had a long-overdue confab.  As always, it was refreshing  and fun to discuss our professional lives through the filter of a longtime friendship.  We mined a vein of topics that covered, as always, a pretty wide territory.  And once again, I made notes on what ideas I wanted to write about later.

This time, however, it dawned on me that the gulf between talking and writing would loom in front of us again, no matter what notes I took.  The solution — at least for the moment — is simply to post the list of topics we covered.  Here’s our list:

  • Apple crumb cake or two-chocolate mousse?  Brain food is important, and sweet selection really was our first topic as we stood at the counter.  Apple crumb cake won out.
  • Parcel 18 on Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway, and the clearing out of a rose thicket underneath a group of Dawn Redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides).  Now you can understand the design intent of letting the trees form a grove.
  • The proposed Armenian Genocide Memorial, proposed for construction near Boston’s North End on the Greenway.  A labyrinth?  Really?
  • Flat, graphic designs as a substitute for spatial volumes with permeable enclosure.
  • The idea of letting the Greenway grow in and develop a character for a period of several years before adding buildings to it.
  • London Plane trees moved bare-root last summer.
  • This summer’s ISA Conference and Trade Show in Chicago.
  • This summer’s ASLA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.
  • Priceline.com, or the other one that isn’t priceline but also isn’t as easy to remember. (Afterthought: quikbook.com is worth a try too.)
  • Toby’s web site.
  • The Parsley.  Not long ago, she posted a couple of really smart landscape architectural reviews of Chicago’s Millenium Park.  She wrote not only about the Iconic Big Moves (the Cloud Gate, aka The Bean, the Lurie Garden, the Crown Fountain), but also about the less glamorous but important issues of circulation, edge-making, enclosure, detailing, sight lines, and wayfinding. In the opinion of the one of us who’s been there, she nailed it.
  • College reunions.
  • Older parent/family issues.
  • High school reunions.
  • Labyrinths, cathedrals, pilgrimages, and minotaurs.
  • Baby garter snakes and fledgling mockingbirds.
  • Design strategies for linking the North End Parks on the RK Greenway with the southbound Surface Road — street-theatre-promoting terraces and broad steps could add charm, access, and character to a peculiarly bulwarklike edge.
  • The enormous effort involved in designing tree plantings for the Greenway given its intensely utility-rich subgrade conditions.
  • The pros and cons of prefab tree boxes.
  • The merits and hazards of being quoted by reporters.
  • Permeable pavement, and when it isn’t.
  • Silver Lake in Wilmington, MA, its role as the headwaters of the Ipswich River, and what’s being done to make its watershed work better.
  • A huge multi-stemmed Ilex opaca — 50′ tall — in Wilmington.
  • Walden Pond’s water level this year (very high, due to heavy spring rains).
  • The LID Center and its building on decades-worth of knowledge and experience (Ian McHarg and Design With Nature, Andropogon, etc.)
  • Bing birdseye photos as a useful way to see a site online.
  • Garden Design magazine as an advertising delivery system (but not ours).
  • Fine Gardening magazine.
  • Subtext in garden design magazines.
  • The New York Times‘s increasingly goofy treatment of landscape and horticulture, including their astonishing discovery of the tree lawn, aka the “parkway” (Illinois) or “verge” (Britain).
  • CEUs for Connecticut and New York landscape architects.
  • What grows in the shade of a Norway maple and what will grow in the same place after it’s gone — in reality and in metaphor.  Massachusetts had severe and blustery thunderstorms this past Sunday, and hundreds of trees came down around the Commonwealth.  I had three calls about downed trees the next day.
  • Avant Gardens in North Dartmouth, MA.
  • Sylvan Nursery in Westport, MA.
  • Lobster rolls, eggplant fries, and strawberry rhubarb pie at The Bayside in Westport, MA.
  • Fertilizer.
  • Bacterial counts.
  • Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
  • The possibility of designing a series of wooden stairs to run down a slope dominated by a client’s ancient and beloved Sugar Maple, rather than installing stone steps that might damage its roots.
  • Native plants for parking lots.
  • Volunteer barberries.
  • Stone walls.

Truly.  One conversation.

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Downtown Boston teemed with people this past holiday weekend. Stroller brigades patrolled the streets, the scent of sunscreen wafted through the breeze, and a general air of well-being rested like a pleasantly warm blanket over the city.

Friday, I had walked through Boston Common and seen the simple and remarkable memorial to Massachusetts’ fallen military just installed by the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund. Yesterday I returned with my camera.

In the distance, something appears to cover the Common's usual green carpet.

Closer, the rug becomes a sea of American flags below the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument. Visitors drawn to the sight stop, gaze at the flags, take photos, and chat quietly with others standing nearby. Parents keep their little kids from running into the flag field.

People and cameras are everywhere.

Flags are set between 12 and 18 inches apart, on no discernible grid.

One flag for each fallen military service person from Massachusetts.

A few signs printed on FomeCor and staked into the ground explained the memorial installation.

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Or, ‘This is not a tree’.

Thinking again about, and then past the pollen issue, I wonder if humans had such strong allergic reactions in pre-industrial times. In much the same way that we have been using the world’s oceans as a dumping ground for every substance we don’t want to deal with, we have been pumping fine particulates into the atmosphere in ever-increasing quantities since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Maybe pollen's not the real problem. Photo courtesy of The Library Of Congress, via Flickr.

We breathe oxygen. Oxygen shares atmospheric space with pollen and with myriad other particulates; our bodies work to filter out the particulates as we draw in oxygen.

Certainly, pollen poses challenges to the smooth operation of the human body. And planting fewer pollen-abundant trees might help breathing conditions to some extent. But really, now — shouldn’t we also look at the overload of particulates continuously (not only seasonally) streaming into our breathing space from coal-fired power plants, miscellaneous smokestacks, vents, trains, trucks, buses, and cars? And act to place more stringent limits on emissions from all those sources?

Making the natural world the culprit is easy. Calling ourselves to account for the consequences of our much more harmful actions may, as painful as it is, may be the more responsible and fruitful response.

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ZZZZZZZZZZZZSSSSSSDDDDchew!! Excuse me; Toby’s photo of the pollinating pine in that last post just makes my nose tickle.

His points about pollinating trees make sense to me; wind-pollinated trees are different in nature from insect-pollinated trees, and have quite different effects on those allergic to fine particulates.

I have to say that Mr. Ogren’s original Op-Ed piece stood out as much for its hypo-allergenic focus as for its assertions about what trees do get planted in cities. To set the record straight, a number of the plants he mentioned (both favorably and unfavorably) — box elder, mulberry, silver maple, willow, cottonwood, and even red maple — are considered either outright weed trees or are simply weak-wooded and would never pass muster for planting in dense urban areas. More often than not, most of these trees volunteer in the city, and are able to thrive because they are wind-pollinated, produce a lot of seed, and are able to grow quickly and under conditions that would stymie less tenacious trees.

Landscape architects and arborists working in cities tend to avoid these plants for street tree plantings; in fact, I would think of using some of them — if any — only on larger sites where space was not an issue, where I wanted fast and effective growth, and where there was no chance that they would invade other areas. Municipal lists of acceptable street trees are actually, quite limited, as the piece points out, and mainly include slower-growing or more structurally sound trees than some of these worst culprits — the criteria for street tree selection in a city have to take into account those trees that have relatively reliable structure and habit, can deal with difficult soil, exposure, and moisture conditions, and that don’t create walking hazards with heavy fruit set.

What struck me most, after reading Mr. Ogren’s piece, was the realization of how much vegetative biomass there is in cities, despite our best efforts to pave wherever possible. The ocean of pollen we swim in every spring and summer comes from volunteer as well as planted trees, shrubs, grasses, and forbs, and reducing the pollen count in any area feels a little bit like setting aside a piece of the ocean to make a freshwater pond…

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Brian Rose’s website, the subject of yesterday’s post, also features his photos of the Berlin Wall and its environs before, during, and after its fall. He writes about the experience of place in Berlin, and for anyone whose knowledge of the Wall is limited (mine was derived mainly from watching Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire and Faraway So Close — wonderful movies, in which the Wall is a character, but not the main character in them), Mr. Rose’s chronicle, called The Lost Border; Photographs of The Iron Curtain is well worth exploring. Don’t miss it, in fact — it’s an affecting series that depicts and describes how the Wall and the zone around it informed, and in ways continues to inform — the national consciousness of the once-divided and now unified Germany.

Photo by Svenwerk on Flickr

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A friend recently sent me a link to the website of Brian Rose, a New York photographer. Mr. Rose’s work is worth a look (or two or three); his photo series called New York Primeval chronicles his exploration of ‘wild’ parts of NYC. Knowing that Manhattan, at least, has been invaded with all sorts of extremely competitive plant genera (to see examples, take a look at Leslie Sauer’s The Once and Future Forest, which among other things describes the restoration of some of Central Park’s woodlands), it’s absorbing to study the Rose photos and try to figure out what plants make up today’s wildness in them.

This series, with its horizontally scrolling format, also affords a gratifying graphic experience: by grabbing and dragging the scroll bar beneath the photos in each of the three sections (‘One’, ‘Two’, and ‘Three’) it’s possible to scan through all the photos in that section, and to recognize the horizon line as a datum for the whole collection. I can think immediately of two other artists — Saul Steinberg (see this link) and Andy Goldsworthy — who have used a single line to organize a series of disparate items. Steinberg drew his lines, Goldsworthy builds his with stone, stems, shadows, flowers, ice, wood, or leaves. It’s a pleasure to see the line used here to link all photos.

Pebble spiral done in tribute to Andy Goldsworthy; shadow makes the line. Photo by Escher on Flickr.

Andy Goldsworthy's The Wall That Went For A Walk at Storm King in upstate New York. Wall as datum, organizing, defining, and questioning the edge between woodland and meadow and land and pond. Photo by Dr. Curry on Flickr.

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As I was driving down a Cambridge street last Tuesday this scene caught my eye. My heartfelt good wishes and thanks to whatever forward-thinking kind soul who planted these crocus bulbs and let them naturalize through the lawn; after a long and cold and grey winter they were balm for the eyes.

Apologies for the small image size — the light was about to turn green, so I had to snap before I could zoom in.

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Last week a friend mentioned seeing a yellow-flowering shrub on the VFW Parkway in Boston. It reminded me of the show of Hamamelis that used to appear outside of the Harvard Business School’s Baker Library back in the early 80s; when I first saw it (this was a few years before I became a landscape architect and learned what Hamamelis was) I thought a bank of Forsythia was blooming in February.

Saturday I was in Cambridge, and drove down a street that used to be on my route home from work at CRJA. As I turned the corner, this sight greeted me.

This street runs roughly east-west, and with buildings on both sides gets a slice of sun in the middle of the day. The sycamore maples further along the street add a bit of dappled shade to that slice, too. These Witch Hazels don’t seem to mind. And they have the room they need to spread and fill out their characteristic fountain habits.

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Cattleya in bloom; Ripsalis in background

Another grey and cold day in a long, cold month. Going to my desk and working is a good antidote to the gloominess, especially when the Cattleya next to my drawing board blooms (as it did last fall), or the Ripsalis in the window each January reliably turns from a mop of green string into a mop of green string and yellow confetti. Each plant has its own delicate flower fragrance, which rests quietly in the air until someone walks through the room and stirs up faint currents of deliciousness. It’s a good reminder to use scented plants in the landscape.

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