Archive for the ‘GARDENS’ Category

A monthly roundup of the news, dispatches, and marginalia that caught our eye.

In this dispatch of the Queue, the staff reads up on the latest on the troubled National Flood Insurance Program, considers the legacy of Bunny Mellon, and indulges in a little nostalgia.



    • Slate (via Climate Desk) has an article on “Flood Zone Foolishness,” detailing how the very states most at risk are blocking reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program. In the November 2013 issue, we ran an interview with the project lead on the plan that recommended changes to the program (“The Risk Picture”) and the likely uptick in consumer premiums.
    • Lawrence Halprin (posthumously), along with Lawrence Noble (sculptor) and George Lucas (owner), will receive the Henry Hering Memorial Medal for Art and Architecture from the National Sculpture Society (founded 1893) for their outstanding collaboration on the Letterman Digital Arts Center in the Presidio in San Francisco.





    • Deadline approaching for this radically hybrid art/geography/landscape/performance event: The Anthropocene, Cabinet of Curiosities Slam, to be held at the University of Wisconsin–Madison November 8–10, 2014. The conference will feature a keynote address from Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History and Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change.
    • The Cultural Landscape Foundation unveils its 2014 season of events, which includes What’s Out There Weekends in Miami, Richmond, Virginia, and Los Angeles; the Garden Dialogues series; and a land-art theme for Landslide.
    • The Middle East Smart Landscape Summit 2014 will be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 6–7, 2014.



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PA-239-02This column appears in the May 2013 issue of LAM.

In the interest of public health, this issue should probably carry an antihistamine with it. Our feature stories this month all involve residential landscape architecture projects, wonderful projects, each quite different and with its peculiar challenges and virtues. But the thought of designing gardens around the places people actually live, categorically, seems to cause itching, swelling, and citations of Thorstein Veblen among some landscape architects. I have witnessed this reaction more times than I can recall, though in each case, I am glad to report, the victim has fairly quickly resumed his or her normal activities.

There is a charming fiction in the design world that private work, especially residential work, and especially residential work for anyone living at or above 200 percent of the poverty line, is decadent and unworthy of professional regard. The parallel belief is that all public work is good and righteous for designers to do, and about that there is little doubt, though the case is oversimplified. Ask anyone who’s done public work.

Private work and public work are like fresh pasta and dried pasta, as Gillian Riley has it in the Oxford Companion to Italian Food. One is not better than the other. They are different. Because private clients are often rich, they tend to be open to new ideas, artistic, ecological, or otherwise (they can also drive you crazy). Surely most of us are with Daniel Libeskind in his recent pronouncement that you should not build gleaming streets for despots. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It is perfectly okay to do design work for someone who on their own has made something happen without harm to anyone and has made money as a result. There is a no-fly zone over much of Wall Street, direct mail entrepreneurs, and a certain evil Australian media magnate, but a designer has to use the sixth sense to figure out just who the client is.

Nearly 80 percent of private firms run by ASLA members offer residential design services. This work makes up more than one-third of private sector billable hours. It is far and away the largest market subsector. The domestic front, particularly designing for what you might call the permanently rich, brought a lot of firms through the recession. Many of the landscape architects who do both private and public work will tell you that in their offices the private work pays for the public work. The public work, high-minded as it is, often pays low margins and it increases the number of clients from a couple to a couple of hundred or more. Residential projects are where a lot of designers try the novel things that, if they work, make their public projects better. Still, some designers recoil at the thought of something they consider too close to housework. There’s a T-shirt for sale online by the Landscape Architects Network that says, “I’m a landscape architect and I won’t design your garden.” Good for a laugh, I guess, but not great for business. You may have heard the sentiment elsewhere and noted the need for heroics it carries—besides, who does not love gardens?—and the obliviousness to how the economics of this profession play out in reality.

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Fletcher Steele was one of the first landscape architects to experiment with modernism, but he was not a modernist zealot. In fact, he once said: “A good garden abounds in suggestions to the past.”

A new short film created by the Library of American Landscape History and the filmmakers at Florentine Films/Hott Productions examines Steele’s most famous work, Naumkeag. The garden is best known for its Blue Steps with their parabolic railings; however, the stairs have only a small role in the film Fletcher Steele and Naumkeag: A Playground of the Imagination. The landscape historian Robin Karson, Affiliate ASLA, who provides most of the commentary, says the garden’s “masterpiece” is actually its sculptural South Lawn, which the film captures beautifully. Meanwhile, much of the film is dedicated to Naumkeag’s garden rooms that draw from Chinese and European precedents. You can see the entire film on the LALH website.

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Gardeners around the country are in shock as their impatiens, the workhorses of the summer garden, suddenly go downhill. The plants’ leaves curl, turn yellow and stippled, their flowers fall off, and they are engulfed in white fuzz before they eventually die. The cause is a relentless form of downy mildew caused by Plasmopara obducens, a pathogen whose outbreaks were first reported last year in the United States and also in Hungary. It is showing up in both flower beds and container plantings. All types of the common Impatiens walleriana are at risk, though New Guinea impatiens seem to tolerate the germ. The disease spreads by water droplets and also through the air. The Ball Horticultural Co. has more information on the disease, as well as advice for controlling and culling it among plants, here.

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The Vollmer Garden

Celebrated landscape architect and plantsman Wolfgang Oehme died last December. But, as they have for more than two decades, a small group of friends and admirers came together to celebrate his birthday last weekend, with a weeding party at the Old Courthouse in Towson, Maryland. The garden at the courthouse, and its large massings of chest-high perennials, were designed by Oehme in concert with Avery Harden, then a landscape architect at the Baltimore County Parks Department. Carol Oppenheimer, Affiliate ASLA, Oehme’s partner in WOCO Organic Gardens, says Oehme would often use guerrilla tactics to edit the plantings. “There were a lot of azaleas in the beginning,” she says. “Wolfgang told me he would go there on Christmas Day, when it was completely deserted, to remove the azaleas and replace them with ‘his’ plants.”

After about two hours of weeding, pruning, and planting, the group paused for cake and strawberries, and Oppenheimer said a few words. Then she took everybody on a tour of two other landscapes Oehme designed. (more…)

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Courtesy Peconic Land Trust

Garden lovers might want to check out the Parrish Art Museum’s two-day Landscape Pleasures event on Saturday and Sunday, June 9 and 10, in Southampton, New York. The first day will feature speakers including Eric Groft, ASLA, of Oehme, van Sweden & Associates, and Doug Reed, FASLA, of Reed Hilderbrand. The second day will offer ticket holders a chance to tour some private gardens in the area as well as Bridge Gardens, pictured, in Bridgehampton, New York.

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Mrs. Francis Lemoine Loring house, 700 South San Rafael Avenue, San Rafael Heights, Pasadena, California, photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston was shooting gardens and hand-coloring her glass-plate lantern slides. LAM’s April issue featured a stunning selection of these slides, but now you can see many more of them on the Library of Congress’s Flickr page.

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