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TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY TARA MITCHELL

The unseen world of little bluestem grasslands.

FROM THE MARCH 2021 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Roadsides are a tough place for any form of life. The land is never free of human disturbance, be it from mowing, drainage and guardrail repair, tree cutting, installation of signs and utility posts, or vehicles that don’t stay the course. The soils are often compacted, dry and infertile, and polluted from salt and runoff. Remnants of debris—plastic bags and bottles, fast-food wrappers, coffee cups, pieces of cardboard, toys, and miniature liquor bottles—lie tucked away in the vegetation. On heavily trafficked roads, there is the continuous roar of cars and trucks whizzing by, wearing, irritating, never-ending.

Roadside vegetation is increasingly becoming a jungle of nonnative plants. In some places, there exist impenetrable stands of Japanese knotweed and common reeds. Elsewhere, the ubiquitous jumble of bittersweet, multiflora rose, and honeysuckle eats away at the forest edge. In more suburban areas, barberry, burning bush, and English ivy, having escaped the confines of manicured landscapes, creep unnoticed through the understory, changing the soil chemistry and the ecology of adjacent forests. From the perspective of vegetation, the roadside is a double war zone: man versus nature and plant invaders versus long-established plant communities.

But sometimes, when the soils are dry and infertile and the land is sufficiently exposed to the wind and the beating sun, there exists (when the mowers allow) extraordinary beauty in long stretches of little bluestem grassland. These grasslands may not be particularly noticeable during the summer, but by late August, when the foliage turns a coppery-red hue and the fluffy white seeds glint in the sunlight, the land is transformed. When mixed with the pink haze of purple lovegrass in bloom and a sprinkling of goldenrod, rabbit tobacco, and aster, the combination can be stunning. (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

An illustration of Edmond Albius, by Antoine Roussin, 1863. Image courtesy of Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.

An online exhibit hosted by the New York Botanical Garden decodes plants’ relationships to Black people.

 

Of the five plants featured in the New York Botanical Garden’s online exhibition Black Botany: The Nature of Black Experience, some are cash crops typically associated with Black people and slavery, such as cotton and rice. Others highlight relationships that are less well-known. “We wanted to look at how Black culture is always simmered down to low and middlebrow culture, as opposed to scientific or higher-brow knowledge,” says Nuala Caomhánach, a former Mellon Fellow at the New York Botanical Garden and a current doctoral student in the history of science, who curated the show with Rashad Bell, a collection maintenance associate at the garden. Each plant shines a light on the intentional omission of comprehensive Black knowledge of botany and nature, as well as how Black people were often connected to these plants in the popular imagination by slavery.

Very simply, “plants aren’t neutral,” Bell says. (more…)

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The things our art director, Chris McGee, hated to leave out of the current issue of LAM.

Photo by Marion Brenner, Affiliate ASLA.

From “From the Outside In” in the February 2021 issue by Brian Barth, about how one of the nation’s most progressive affordable housing policies in San Francisco is creating landscapes that embrace low-income neighbors.

“Courtyard play.”

–CHRIS MCGEE, LAM ART DIRECTOR

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 250 bookstores, including many university stores and independents, as well as at Barnes & Noble. You can also buy single digital issues for only $5.25 at Zinio or order single copies of the print issue from ASLA. Annual subscriptions for LAM are a thrifty $59 for print and $44.25 for digital. Our subscription page has more information on subscription options.

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As part of an ongoing effort to make content more accessible, LAM will be making select stories available to readers in Spanish.

BY KATHARINE LOGAN

FROM THE JANUARY 2021 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Sourberry, red willow, redbud, sedge: These are some of the plants native to the meadows and creek sides of Mariposa County, at the mouth of California’s Yosemite Valley, where for thousands of years the women of the Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation have woven them into baskets—for gathering food, for cradling infants high and safe while the women work, and for receiving babies as they’re born.

Most recently, Miwuk basketry is the focus of a public art installation helping to inform Sacramento-based Atlas Lab’s development of a Creative Placemaking Master Plan for Mariposa County. As a demonstration project to invite community input while broadening perceptions of the possibilities for public art, the temporary installation is located beside a footbridge crossing Mariposa Creek, where once-plentiful native plants are now struggling in a landscape transformed by settlement. “The strength we have as landscape architects is to reveal these hidden histories,” says Atlas Lab’s founder and principal Kimberly Garza, ASLA. (more…)

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INTERVIEW BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

Greg Kochanowski documented the loss of his own home in the 2018 Woolsey Fire, which destroyed 110 of 217 houses in Seminole Springs, California. Photo by GK.

 

The Los Angeles-based designer Greg Kochanowski researches wildfire mitigation close to home.

 

Earth is a water planet. It is also, as Stephen J. Pyne has written, a fire planet. The Earth “has held fires as long as plants have lived on land,” Pyne recently wrote in Yale Environment 360. To remove fire from landscapes that have coevolved with it “can be as ruinous as putting fire into landscapes that have no history of it. The fires we don’t see—the fires that should be there and aren’t—are an index of ecological loss, like imposing a drought on a normally lush landscape.”

Greg Kochanowski knows well the losses that fires and their absence bring. As the studio director of the multidisciplinary design firm RIOS, Kochanowski had been investigating the effects of urbanization on the fire-adapted landscapes of Southern California for more than three years when the 2018 Woolsey Fire destroyed his home in Seminole Springs, California.

Now, Kochanowski has collected his research, as well as his experience of the Woolsey Fire, in The Wild, published last fall as part of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design’s pamphlet series. The book explores the urban periphery of Los Angeles and the economic, cultural, and political pressures that have resulted in the city’s persistent peri-urban expansion and, consequently, the inevitability of ever larger, ever more deadly wildfires. Landscape Architecture Magazine spoke to Kochanowski shortly after the book’s release. His reVISION ASLA 2020 panel, “Fire Across the Pacific: Australia, California, and the Climate Crisis,” is available online.

LAM: What gave birth to the line of inquiry you’re tracing in the book?

Kochanowski: It was really the Rising Currents book that came out of the MoMA exhibition [Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront, 2011]. That was the first time that I had seen the global design community using their expertise to solve much broader problems. I was really inspired by it, but I was living in Los Angeles. Los Angeles has issues with sea-level rise, of course, but there was a lack of theorizing about the West. It was a very East Coast discussion. In the West, I was experiencing fires, and then it would rain and you would have floods, and then landslides, and it happened every single year. It was just this cycle. After a few years, I thought, no one’s talking about this. So, I began to look at the fire cycle, and had a session at the ASLA conference in 2018 on some of that initial research. And then my house burned down. Then I got really interested in fire. (more…)

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This fall, LAM will be highlighting professional and student winners from the 2020 ASLA Awards by asking designers to dive deep into one image from their winning project.

The LivingRoom: A Freeware Learning Garden Focused on Health, Food, and Nutrition Education, by Simon Powney, Tripp Dunn, Huang Zhaoheng, Ben Gunter, Jacob Felkins, Cody Eades, Walter Hogue, Matthew Stanton, Clint Kiser, Logan Sullivan, Nada Aziz, Natalie Bowers, Brandon Burton, Oriey Glenn, and Jane Kent; Mississippi State University, Student Collaboration Honor Award.

“The inspiration for the color and bold graphic style used in the Galloway Elementary School LivingRoom Garden came from an existing mural at the school that speaks to local food production and programmatic discussions with education researchers. The style uses a simple palette of primary colors and geometric shapes to represent local food selections. The arrangement is based on a few ideas about how elementary age children can use the garden. First, there is a series of spaces that can be used to identify destinations. ‘Meet on the big watermelon’ or ‘Let’s go sit in the tomato and talk about this.’ Second, [there’s] the need for structure so multiple groups could use it at the same time. ‘Let’s walk on the “peas” path so we don’t get in the way of the class on the “carrots” path.’ Third, the ‘peas’ end in an ordering grid that allows teachers to instruct children to order things they find in the garden by size, color, texture, shape, etc. and have discussions about the differences.”

—Simon Powney, Student ASLA

 

Teaching children about how food is grown is a worthy endeavor. But school administrators are daunted by the funding requirements and maintenance of a school garden. A team of landscape architecture, architecture, and graphic design students created a prototype for a learning garden that is affordable and practical. Instead of small-scale farming, the student team described the design as focused on “aligning teachers’ needs with food, health, and nutrition education goals.” The resulting semicircular planter, made with off-the-shelf components for less than $1,500, incorporates a trellis, seating, and an irrigation system. Working with an educator, the team also created a garden curriculum that is organized around the themes of time, color, math, biology, and seasons, allowing the lessons to be incorporated easily into the regular school curriculum.

—Lydia Lee

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TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY KATHERINE JENKINS

Scholarship in the Open Air.

FROM THE OCTOBER 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE  

 

Walking Through the Pandemic

In May 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, my graduate student Megan and I met on opposite sides of a meadow and walked together while remaining physically apart. We followed alternate edges of the field, aware of our bodies in space, keeping our distance but maintaining each other in sight. As if in a slow meandering dance in which the partners never meet, our paths crisscrossed a great divide. Maintaining a healthy separation demanded that we monitor each other’s movements with an acuity rarely exercised in an ordinary stroll. We walked with heightened awareness, present to the asynchronous rise and fall of our bodies as we moved along our separate paths.

Not long thereafter, Megan returned to the meadow, which is located on an urban farm on the Ohio State University campus. Alone on this walk, she was confronted by a campus police officer who questioned the purpose of her visit. When she explained that she was a student of landscape architecture conducting research on walking outdoors, he replied, “I find that very hard to believe,” and instructed her to leave the site. The officer justified his dismissal by claiming that he had received reports of people stealing apples from an adjacent orchard. Megan kindly noted that given that it was early May, some months before any apples would be available for picking, the validity of such a report was questionable. Regrettably, the officer was untroubled by this observation—and by the possibility that he was disrupting scholarly research—and evicted Megan nonetheless.

In this political moment, walking outside was regarded as a transgression. Although she was alone and surrounded by acres of open, unpopulated space, Megan’s presence on public land upset expectations to stay isolated by retreating indoors. But her walk also confronted other social norms that favor vehicular use above alternative modes of transportation—norms that evolved with the diffuse growth of the city of Columbus. Considering the many ways in which Columbus has designed walking out of everyday life, perhaps roaming an agricultural site with no clear destination is truly abnormal behavior. (more…)

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