Archive for the ‘Deb's posts’ Category

About ten years ago, I noticed a mild fad rev up in the gardening world; all the garden centers around here started carrying Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’, usually trained into standard form with a 3-4′ high stem and a pompom of foliage at top. Hakuro Nishiki, also known as Dappled Willow, is a fast-growing, twiggy large shrub/small tree with variegated white and light green to pink leaves, and it lights up a garden with its foliage, which is profuse and almost aggressively healthy-looking.

I’m fond of these plants, though they certainly need to be placed with care. They like full sun, but can deal with some shade. Because they grow so vigorously, it’s a good idea to commit to pruning them every year or so, to keep them in bounds. Actually, I can see how sculpting them in various ways each year might be an interesting exercise — not something you’d want to do with most plants, but this one seems malleable enough to allow some experimentation.

I have written earlier about L. and A., my excellent clients on the North Shore, who enjoy developing and fostering their landscape. Several years ago L. bought a Dappled Willow for her perennial garden. It’s not a standard form; instead, she’s keeping it pruned low, to keep it in scale with other elements in the garden. Here’s a photo of it in leaf:

This plant is about thirty inches high and wide, and is kept as a mounded shrub with pruning.

And here’s a photo of how L. prunes it to keep it contained to this form:

Every year L. cuts this Dappled Willow back hard, to keep its vigorous growth contained in a form that works for her perennial garden.

I have wondered what these plants look like unpruned, and last week got to see one. If the willow in L.’s garden looks like a contained explosion, this one looks as if the top blew off the container:

Perhaps the owner of this plant didn't realize what level of attention Hakuro Nishiki was going to require annually.

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Don’t you love that new header? Toby took the photo at the Crane Reservation in Ipswich, a property of The Trustees of Reservations. He said that for him it has the quality of an oil painting; I agree completely. It has that same dark/light/dark sequence, that same frame/focal point/background flavor as a painting by an Italian Renaissance painter.

At the Crane Reservation, Toby writes, “It looks like The Trustees have deliberately maintained the opening to the view, and that the late-afternoon light, raking across the marshes and the bark of the trees, is what makes it work. I like the light on the ground-layer plants.”

The whole ravishing photo.

Here’s an example of landscape management supporting a design intention. Sometimes we design places with stone, wood, earth, metal, and plants; sometimes we design views, and tweak a visitor’s perception of a place by what we leave in, what we remove, and how we frame and focus what they see. Obviously, a photograph can be manipulated to do these things, but sometimes a photograph simply records a perception that has been shaped by others, as The Trustees have apparently shaped the Crane Reservation view.

A view framed by dark elements, a view into a light space, a view toward water, a view toward curves — what a pleasing combination. I want to take a bite out of this photo.

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The massive four-stem Norway maple that blew down in high winds last week.

Following up on the list post item from June 9, about what to use to replace a lost Norway maple: it will be a honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis ‘Shademaster’), placed slightly upslope from the Norway stump.

Last week I visited the North Shore seaside site (where last year we revamped the drive court planting and added bamboo and holly for property line screening; to read about those projects, see Refinement and Air Spade In Action) and saw the spatial effect of losing this tree.

Surprisingly, the loss wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be. The tree’s canopy had taken up a huge amount of space and cast deep shade over quite an area. It had screened my clients from an unappealing view of the corner of their neighbor’s house — but also from a wider view of the Boston skyline in the distance. Now the horizon is wider; they’re going to have a spectacular view of the city’s July 4 fireworks. While the neighbor’s house is unfortunately visible for the moment, the honey locust will mitigate that view. A younger specimen maple just over the property line, which had been hidden by the larger tree, looks healthy, and helps provide a perspective-focusing foreground to the far horizon.

Fortunately too, while the tree provided shade over a wide area of the site, much of its underplanting consisted of junipers and taxus, which should benefit from having more sunlight. The redtwig dogwood, azaleas, and hydrangea will think a bit about how much they like being exposed, but I think they’ll adapt. Even the little spring shade garden should fare all right, protected as much of it by a dense shrub planting from full sun exposure. Many of the herbaceous plants in it are ephemeral anyway, showing up in early spring before any trees leaf out, and fading back as foliage emerges above them.

Shade cast by the now-gone Norway maple protected the little spring garden and its ligularia circle at the path's end.

Our biggest concern for this newly sunny area is the ligularia bed. This bed, banded with a circle of bluestone, makes the southern terminus of a sightline through the tiny spring garden. The ‘Britt Marie Crawford’ ligularia, with its chocolate-brown foliage and golden spikes of flowers, makes a ravishing dot at the bottom of the exclamation point. And it’s a shade lover.

Ligularia 'Britt Marie Crawford' in its circle bed.

It may not be at all happy to be getting sun all day every day. My hope is that it can handle it well enough for long enough to feel relief from the kinder, more dappled shade that the new honey locust will eventually cast.

This site has seen several mature trees come down since last year; neighbors next to the drive court removed a large maple and a lovely S-shaped pine, an ailing ash tree got taken out, and a graceful Russian olive specimen, some 20 feet tall, blew down in the same storm that took the big Norway maple.

Each subtraction has shifted the sun/shade proportions, and each will affect the growth and health of the surrounding area. This kind of change requires adaptation both by the plants and by the owners, and provides opportunities for new ways of seeing a familiar place.

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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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