Botanica Atlanta | Landscape Design, Construction & Maintenance

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Atlanta Garden Design

Through the Billowing Bench

Posted by Sam Valentine on August 12, 2017 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (0)


Image: Bing Maps


Parque Güell in Barcelona, Spain is a landscape like none other I've experienced. It is a challenge to describe this Antoni Gaudí  landscape in just a few words, but if you imagine a less-monetized and more-lithic Disneyland, you will be on the right track. Grown from boulders, cobbles, stone slabs, tile shards, and grout, the Park is a fantasyland of brave forms and inventive details.


One of those details in particular, the continuous, curvilinear bench that wraps around the Teatro Griego (Greek Theater), has stuck with me since my visit earlier this summer.



Images: Charlene Lobo Soriano and Sam Valentine


From a hundred yards away the bench is already distinct. Its serpentine form encloses the 30,000 square-feet of open stonedust plaza and its colorful mosaic surface enframes the sloping view of Barcelona below. The mosaic pattern of the benchwall is informal, vibrant, bedazzled, and would be quite jarring if transplanted into almost any other landscape. It is not the surface decoration but the furniture's clever form that drew me in and got me thinking.



Images: Jake Bellucci and Liz Castro


The bench seat abuts a shoulder-height backrest wall, which -- despite its swoops and curves -- provides a continuous protective barrier against falling to a lower level of the landscape. The surface of the seat pitches gently to this backrest and provides for relatively cool and comfortable seating.



Image: Sam Valentine


Parque Güell is a generally strange landscape, but I found the trilobite-sized white bumps especially puzzling. Squatting down to bring them to eye level, a story of rainwater quickly opened up. The entire tiled seat slab, at least 700 feet in length, serves as a collection pan for stormwater. The bumps serve as guards, apparently to keep visitors and their clothing out of what must be a running stream of rainwater, and the backrest is perforated with weepholes that outlet the water to a gutter on the other side of the parapet.



Image: Sam Valentine


It is rare to wish for rain during a landscape visit, but with the system dry as a bone the day I toured the Park, it was necessary to fill in the blanks with a touch of imagination. Fortunately, the narrative of rainwater moving across and through the billowing bench is expressed clearly in slopes, channels, holes, gutters, and, finally, gargoyles.



Image: Elias Rovielo 

Tea with a View

Posted by Sam Valentine on July 17, 2017 at 9:40 PM Comments comments (2)


Image: Elena Svirya


Having landed in Morocco a few hours prior, my friend and I pushed through the bustling market streets of Tangier to find a good sunset perch. Our trek took us up and over hills, twisting through the ancient medina and past a few modern plazas. We had been tipped off to make a stop at the famed Café Hafa, and as we neared that pin on our map, we could feel an urban energy building.


People were descending in droves, arriving by foot, bicycle, and motorcycle on the oceanfront café that -- except for a quick read of a travel article -- we knew nothing about.



Images: Ruben Mediavilla Blanco, Bolbo Laan, and Alessandro Rumi


Entering between stuccoed walls, Café Hafa spilled down before us from the city towards the sea. As we soon realized, we were arriving at one of Tangier's best sunset-viewing venues, and doing so during Ramadan, when the day's fast is broken with the sinking of the sun. Suffice it to say we were not alone.


Café Hafa is situated on a precipice over 200 feet above the Mediterranean Sea. From this overlook, one peers out over the Strait of Gibraltar, and Spain seems so close one could (almost) imagine swimming to it. So close that it is easy to forget you are on African shores.



Image: Sam Valentine


The Café is more landscape than building. The interior shops are scattered and ancillary, places not so much to sit as to order and make payment. Meanwhile, the white-stuccoed terraces, narrow strips of masonry hugging the hillside, dominate the environmental experience. The construction is makeshift and the details quite crude. The stair tread widths and riser heights are each singular and unpredictable. The compartmentalizing walls are quite literally cobbled together. Overall the aesthetic is more ratty than refined, but somehow there is a dignified and durable undercurrent.


Each terrace is screened from the next, buffered by robust plantings of geraniums and seaside succulents. These plant masses create semi-private pockets for socializing, but they also frame views out over the Strait.



Images: Till Jacket and Xuoan Duquesne


It is rare for an American to see the sun setting over the Atlantic but arguably rarer for one to see an unpolished landscape in such high demand. As the sun sank, the Café endured as a vibrant social scene, with every chair occupied and a strong sense that the guests would linger well after their stomachs were full.



Image: Toni Pamuk

Enclosure in the Landscape

Posted by Sam Valentine on May 18, 2017 at 9:50 PM Comments comments (2)

Image: Tim Green


In my last post, I described how visual massing, especially that created primarily from plant material, can enframe landscape views. The same trees, shrubs, grasses, and vines used for enframement of landscape vistas can be used to shape the edges one perceives in an exterior space.


Much in the way that drywall, wood, and metal define the edges of an interior room, plant material of varying heights and densities is commonly used to limit, or enclose, one's surroundings in the landscape.

 


Image: Jojo Vriens


In its most basic sense, enclosure is achieved by the implementation of one or more walls. Think of the various forms that a hedge can take on; aligning shrubs and trees into a hedgerow, a screening hedge, an aerial hedge, or a windbreak creates a plant "wall" that obstructs visibility and limits passage. By planting a hedge, a landscape designer is actually delineating a small piece of the earth's surface, enclosing a finite amount of land as "in" and marking the rest as "out."


Images: Micolo J., James De Tuerk, and Putney Design


When the same single hedge is grouped with others or planted in an encircling curve, a designer can create a landscape corridor or an outdoor room.


Images: Phil Pickin and James DeTuerk


Like any respectable composition, an outdoor room is created through exerting control. A successful outdoor room can create a sense of privacy, security, and intimacy. Enclosing walls can not only block undesirable views but can also allow a central feature such as a fountain or seating area to be emphasized. One landscape that stands out from my travels as an especially effective and tranquil outdoor room, is the Ellipse at Dumbarton Oaks. A lawn and central water feature is encircled by seventy-six hornbeams.

 


Image: Jidan Chaomian 


Enframement in the Landscape

Posted by Sam Valentine on December 1, 2016 at 8:45 PM Comments comments (1)

Note: My next two posts will explore how "enframement" and "enclosure" are achieved in the landscape, with a focus on plant massing.



Image: Sam Valentine

 

Plants -- like all matter in the universe -- have mass. While mass means one thing to chemists and physicists, there is another type of mass that landscape architects and garden designers rely upon: "visual mass."


Visual mass, which can be created from wood, stone, metal, or -- often -- living plants, is one of the most important tools in a site designer's toolbox. It is through the perceived mass of trees, shrubs, grasses, and vines that a garden takes shape.



Image: Henry Vincent Hubbard, An Introduction to the Study of Landscape Design and Bob Radlinski

 

To varying degrees of effectiveness, all plants can be used to enframe landscape views. Solid, opaque tree trunks can provide a vertical edge to a picturesque view. Lighter, billowy leaves and branches can form the top of a framed view as shrubs or tall grasses can make up the bottom.


 

Image: Humphry Repton

 

By selectively revealing pieces of a landscape and masking others from sight, a designer controls the composition. Modifying plant massing can provide visual balance to a scene and it also allows the designer to highlight key thematic features. Some of the clearest demonstrations of this idea of the controlled view is seen in the visuals of Humphry Repton.

 

 

Image: Humphry Repton

 

Humphry Repton was a British landscape designer who was masterfully framing landscape views over 200 years ago. He presented his designs to clients in signature packages he called "Red Books," and included within them ingenious overlay paintings. The overlays, a fine-art equivalent of "before and after" shots, documented an existing landscape condition and allowed the client to flip a panel to reveal the proposed composition.



Images: Humphry Repton

 

Enframing with plant material can be as simple as the addition of a new shrub or two, but in some cases, controlling a view can require much bolder design moves, including the removal of mature trees or regrading of the landscape. For the right view though, even extreme measures are worth it.

 


Image: Bob Radlinski




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Just a Dash of Color

Posted by Sam Valentine on October 29, 2016 at 10:35 AM Comments comments (0)

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 

In my recent travels, I had the opportunity to tour El Jardín Japones, a Japanese-themed garden park in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was remarkable to observe one foreign country's distinct style transplanted into the center of another far off land. Coming from the United States, I certainly did not expect to find Asian gardening in South America.

 

However, as I strolled the Jardín's dozen acres, what stood out far more than the cultural juxtaposition was a special visual effect: the powerful and judicious use of the color red.

 


Images: Richard Lemmer, Nancy Waldman, and Miranda Jan

 

After my visit, just a bit of research suggests that red lacquer is actually more of a Chinese signature than a Japanese one, but that does nothing to undermine the striking visual experience I observed. The bold choice to cover the Jardín's bridges and gateways with bright-red paint results in dramatic vistas across the lawns, ponds, and rock gardens. The painted structures "pop" against a backdrop of shrubs, trees, and city skyline.

 

Across cultures, the color red has unique social and psychological associations. Red sports cars, red lipstick, red sunsets, and red stop signs undeniably demand human attention. Lurking behind these cultural meanings there is an array of scientific explanations for red's prominence.

 


Images: Turenscape Landscape Architecture

 

The photos posted above show examples of the color red used in both historic and contemporary landscapes far from the single park I visited in Argentina. In the landscape, red stands out even more dramatically than it does on a city street or a paper page. An autumnal maple leaf, a glowing holly drupe, or a lacquered "torii" each reads in strong contrast to the shadowy greens and browns of a garden. The result is even more painterly when that landscape is covered in a fresh blanket of white snow.

 

As in all types of composition, the design of landscapes calls for the artist to use his or her tools judiciously. Red is only so effectual in El Jardín Japones because it is applied sparingly, precisely, and strategically.

 


Images: El Bitio and Duncan Harris

 

While an unbroken red field of blooming poppies is certainly a sight to see, the view lacks the dynamic force of a few lone poppy blooms standing starkly against a green field.



Image: Peter Kurdulija

 

 


Pulling Strings

Posted by Sam Valentine on June 28, 2016 at 9:15 PM Comments comments (3)

 


Image: Andrew Magill

 

A taut line of string is something of a rare find in the designed landscape. Neither stone nor steel, plant nor paver, and wood nor water, string has material implications of fragility, impermanence, and tension.

 

In gardening and landscape construction, string and wire often serve a supporting role, but they are often kept backstage, intentionally concealed from view. Gardener's twine makes espaliers possible and trains everything from tomato plants to young trees. Mason's string guides the building of straight walls and is critical in laying out paths, concrete forms, and other hardscape elements.

 


Images: Monaghan Inc., Alan Buckingham, and Sparkle Motion

 

When strings get really interesting, though, is when they are put brightly on display. Perhaps the most commonplace instance of ornate string in a garden is the woven hammock. Popularized, if not invented, by ancient South and Central American cultures, hammocks become works of art when a web of colorful cords come together to suspend a resting body above the garden floor.

 


Images: Anna Ban, Lee Tishman, and Li Tsin Soon

 

Around the world, artists and designers have followed this thread on a larger scale, stringing their work significantly higher in a way that defines and redefines outdoor spaces.

 


Images: Elizabeth Graf and M. G. Stanton

 

Last year in Boston, the city's newest park system was treated to a months-long string installation by artist Janet Echelman. Tethered between skyscrapers, "As If It Were Already Here," became a colorful landmark, changing color with time of day and weather.

 

 


Images: John Hill/World Architects

 


This year, a young team of architects pulled fluorescent cords across a largely bare courtyard at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa PS1) in New York City. Following the project's name, "Weaving the Courtyard," a young architecture studio brings the courtyard walls together with colorful lines that also serve to establish a ceiling for the space.



Images: Sam Valentine

 

During a visit to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico a few years ago, I approached the Galeria Nacional, an art museum housed in a stately but staid old monastery. Entering the central courtyard, I was surprised to walk right into an art installation. Using just string and cloth, artists Doel Fresse and Vladimir García powerfully and vividly redefined a 16th century building, and created this strong new character without any permanent alteration of the building.

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 

 

 


Planting in Brick

Posted by Sam Valentine on February 29, 2016 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)


To early philosophers, the world was comprised of just four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Today, a chemist will more likely give you the number "118" (the discovery of four new elements was announced in December 2015). Landscape designers, however, can often perform the miracle of boiling the world down to merely three elements: hardscape, softscape, and structure.



Images: Dean Hochman, Tanaka Juuyoh, and Susanne Nilsson

 

Though lacking in scientific heft, this tripartite view of landscape is relatively convenient. "Structures" are the architectural inventions, generally vertical and walled, that can be located in the garden or form its outside boundaries. "Hardscape" elements are the seatwalls, flagstones pavers, plaza bricks, poured concrete walks, and the like that remain fixed under foot. "Softscape" components are a mixed bag of almost everything else; I have seen this category to include lawns and trees, water features, and everything in between.

 

In landscape design, things can get exciting where these three elements overlap and hybridize. Examples that come readily to mind include a flagstone path with soft moss conquering its cold stone joints; water cascading down a vertical rock face; and -- as is the focus of this post - walls made of modular bricks that can host planting.

 


Images: Micaela Nardella and Oana Tudose

 

It was an online video that tipped me off to this somewhat trending topic. The two architecture students invented "Brick Biotope," a handmade "bird-friendly brick," to integrate with the standard dimensions of a conventional brick wall. The bricks are patterned to provide room for small plants and growing media, as well as small crevices that birds can call home.



Images: Patio Town, Jensen Architects, FabArtDIY, and Rael San Fratello

 

Brick Biotope is prototypical and hand-crafted. Consequently, unless you are quite crafty yourself, it will not be seen in your garden any time soon. The experiment does, however, remind me that there are plenty of readymade products that allow you to bring vegetation to the walls of your home and garden. Aesthetic detailing of these "plantable" bricks and blocks varies greatly, as does price. On the low end of both spectrums, planting pockets can be achieved in a retaining wall by selecting certain concrete blocks. (It is arguable, though, whether these are much easier to love than roadside gabions, which also allow for some vegetation to take root.)


 


Images: Rael San Fratello

 

Use 3D-printing technology, one architecture firm has pioneered much more elegant bricks that also serve the purposes of nesting birds and holding vegetation. Each brick is a piece of sculpture in its own right, and like the Brick Biotope, these units are coordinated to interweave into a conventional brick wall.

 

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, was built, to transform architecture into "a lush, green mountain rising up out of the desert". While we may now be in an age of jaw-dropping modern technology, the same fascination remains strong: where softscape meets architecture, inspiration abounds.

 

 


Image: Emerging Objects

 

 


Character

Posted by Sam Valentine on January 14, 2016 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (0)

As it's a new year, I will use this post to clear the table for fresh, new topics. Looking back on my travels through the city and country landscapes of Italy (and the dozen posts through which I discussed them here), there is something that clearly unites these places; it's called "character." It comes as a surprise to no one reading this that the gardens and towns of Italy have character, but after seeing these five-century-old landscapes with my own eyes and walking them with my own feet, I feel I have an improved grasp of what elements, precisely, form this quality.


A quick caveat: defining landscape "character" quickly crosses into subjectivity. My goal is simply to collect a few traits that are perhaps intrinsic.



Images: Rick Lawson, Michaela Good, and Edoardo Frola


Wear

Whether by weather or by repeated contact with human hands and feet, a landscape object that shows a bit of wear signals that it is in for the long run. A shallow shoe-rut in a brick step, battered edges of a salvaged cobblestone, or a hand-worn wooden gate implies a landscape that, perhaps like a familiar baseball glove, is worn in but not worn out.

 

Images: Wayne S. Grazio, Johnathan Nightingale, Adam Winsor, and Jamie & Marina Berger


Patina

In the landscape, nearly all metals oxidize. Steel's form of oxidization -- more commonly known simply as rust -- is usually not something to aspire to. In the wrong places, rust leads to structural failure and safety concerns. Some iron-based metals, though, handle rust differently than raw steel: stainless steel resists oxidization while Corten steel and wrought iron can develop a rust layer without compromising structure or function.


The green and blue oxides, usually the patina of choice for garden aficionados, come with the presence of copper. When exposed to the elements, bronze, brass, or other copper alloys produce the painterly hues found on the Statue of Liberty and old pennies.


While a scientist may be less likely to apply the word "patina" to non-metals, the visible staining that develops on many garden stones and ceramics is another contributor to strong landscape character.



Images: Diana L. Lyons, Jon Seekford, and Al Disley


Variation

Tourists to Rome find mystique and magic walking down its ancient streets. Surely this distinct urban character is the product of many qualities coalescing, but it is no coincidence that every one of these streets is lined with walls of mismatched brick and stone, incongruous pavements, and fences and doors of crooked boards.



Images: Michael J. Babcock, Jr., Ed Brownson, and Samuel Rolo


Life

Interplaying with each of the above characteristics, the distinct verdancy of life lends character to a landscape like nothing else. Traces of vines, mosses, lichens, and even algae paint hard surfaces with a family of greens and make clear that the landscape is well established. In the world's richest landscapes, the lines between hardscape and nature are allowed to harmonize and to blur.


Authenticity

By amping up wear, patina, variation, and life in a landscape, one can encourage the visible cues of age, and induce and reinforce the development of character. It is, however, worth noting that authenticity is the sister (if not mother) of character. The use of honest building materials is critical for graceful, natural aging, and engaging a skilled designer will help to make balanced decisions when it comes to the use of such materials as stone veneer and vinyl "wood" members.

 

To be clear, Italian gardens have a lot more going for them than merely grime and fine aging, and as discussed in my last few posts, these landscapes were masterpieces of art and experience even on the days they opened. However, a bit of grit united everything that my eyes were drawn to in Italy and there is no reason to think that new American landscapes cannot reach towards an established "Old World" character.



Image: Joseph Yvon Cote

 


A Compelling Narrative: Water Features at Villa Lante

Posted by Sam Valentine on December 1, 2015 at 7:40 PM Comments comments (0)

 

Where we left off in our last post, we had climbed to the upper end of the walled garden at Villa Lante, were admiring a grotto fountain, and were about to begin a choreographed descent along the garden's axis..

 

During my visit, I experienced the journey of water from top to bottom, from south to north, and from wild to urban. Villa Lante offers a clear storyline in its water features, and the following are the six "chapters" as I perceived them:

 

 

Chapter 1: Fontana del Diluvio


 

Images: Rosalba Cantone and Sam Valentine

 

Briefly described in the last post, the "Fountain of the Deluge" is a mossy, fern-covered grotto. In its shadows and murky water, it holds an air of mystery, and it is teeming with life: the pool and walls are a verdant green, stone forms of dolphins swim its waters, and it was originally designed to attract songbirds.


 

 

Chapter 2: Fontana dei Delfini


Images: Rosalba Cantone

 

 

A few yards north, water emerges for a second time along the garden axis. At the "Fountain of the Dolphins" one finds perhaps the garden's most conventional water feature (at least to our contemporary eyes). A freestanding, tiered, and octagonal pyramid features a symmetrical array of dolphins. The dolphins here and on the Diluvio fountain are both allusions to a Roman allegory of water and nature overpowering mankind.

 

 


Chapter 3: Catena d'Acqua

 


Images: Rosalba Cantone and Sam Valentine

 

Similar to Villa d'Este's "Alley of the Hundred Fountains," Villa Lante is best known by a single water feature. The Catena d'Acqua, or "Chain of Water," runs like a billowing ribbon down Villa Lante's central axis. The organic form of these manmade rapids, actually an incredibly elongated depiction of a crawfish, is unlike much that has been designed before or after. It is a true work of art, and landscape historian Elizabeth Barlow Rogers observes that the Catena d'Acqua's "linked curves both create and echo the movement of swirling water." At its northern end, the water chain feeds the next fountain, with water spilling over the crawfish's abdomen and tail fins.

 

Chapter 4: Fontana dei Giganti

 


Images: Rosalba Cantone and Sam Valentine

 

As a visitor follows the water along its axial path, the water chain delivers us next to the edge of a terrace. Fed by the tail fin above, the semicircular "Fountain of the Giants" is rife with symbolism. The wild water has been physically and metaphorically tamed as it arrives to this fountain. River gods lounge prosperously, their cornucopias signaling a change in the water, from wildness to fertility and generosity.

 


Chapter 5: Fontana dei Lumini


Images: Rosalba Cantone and Sam Valentine

 

Another significant change in elevation is smartly addressed at the "Fountain of the Lights." Two tiered semicircles, one concave and one convex, reference an ancient building form but also seem to invent something new altogether. In these tiered semicircles I found Villa Lante's most interesting geometries, but none of this even touches on the water itself; one hundred and sixty jets shoot from sculpted stone "lamps" arrayed on the edge of the fountain tiers. When these airborne streams of water catch the right light, the whole space looks truly illuminated.

 


Chapter 6: Fontana del Quadrato o dei Mori


Images: Rosalba Cantone

 

Best viewed from the terrace above, the final water feature, "The Fountain of the Four Moors," is also Villa Lante's largest. Reminiscent of the "Maritime Theater" at Hadrian's Villa, the Fountain of the Four Moors either directly or indirectly evokes an ancient naumachia. Eight symmetrical boxwood fields flank the fountain on all sides, and this large formal water feature expresses and amply celebrates the end of water's journey at Villa Lante.

 

As you may recall, I found that the grandeur of Villa d'Este wore off as I began to realize that there was no overarching narrative or master plan to unite its amazing moments. Villa Lante does not have that problem.

 

As Rogers observes, water at Villa Lante is used "with the inventiveness of a choreographer directing the movements of the dance or the sculptor." The garden and its narrative is organized clearly along a central axis, but the "axis is aquatic and can only be traveled visually for the most part; one walks alongside it, perceiving it perhaps more powerfully for this very reason."

 

Villa d'Este and Villa Lante have a lot in common - they are only eight miles apart and were built in the same decades - but there is much that sets them apart. Compared to Villa d'Este, Villa Lante is half the size and seemingly less than half the budget, but I found it to leave a stronger imprint. Perhaps there is a lesson here for your own landscapes: there is immeasurable value in designing with a strong master plan.



Image: Sam Valentine

 

 

 


Experiencing Landscape: Villa Lante, Bagnaia, Italy

Posted by Sam Valentine on October 29, 2015 at 8:45 AM Comments comments (0)

 


Images: Sam Valentine

 

Villa Lante is entered from the tight, archaic streets of Bagnaia near Viterbo, Italy. The grounds of the villa are split into a large, informal public park and a smaller, walled formal garden, but visitors to either destination cross through the same formal wrought iron gate.

 


Images: Rosalba Cantone and Sam Valentine

 

Arriving guests are presented with a conspicuous fountain (Fontana del Pegaso) and a choice - the fountain serves as a fork in the path to the public park or the walled garden. The fountain, elliptical and backed with a twenty-foot stone retaining wall, is centered around a pegasus and a small collection of other winged statues. Choosing the stairs to the left carries the visitor up alongside the foliated walls of the formal garden and, soon enough, to its entry.

 


Images: Sam Valentine

 

Passing through the walls of the garden between another pair of iron gates, visitors find themselves on a paved walk that quickly reveals itself as just one terrace of many; the garden at Villa Lante is an axial, stepped scheme laid over sloping topography. As it happens, this presents a visitor with a choice. To the left, downhill from the arrival terrace, the garden opens up into a flat, expansive landscape with forthright geometrical plantings overlooking the town. To the right, uphill, rises a series of stone stairs, crisscrossing hedge-lined paths, and more mysterious terraces shrouded in a dark forest canopy. I went right.

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 

There is an indescribable draw to climb the hill, and at the high end of the garden, I found what I was looking for. In a small courtyard surrounded by rusticated loggia walls, water crashes from elevated, mossy caves into murky waters. This, the Fountain of the Deluge (Fontana del Diluvio), is the upper terminus of the villa garden, but it is perhaps better understood as the "wellspring" of the entire landscape below.


Image: Sam Valentine

 

My next blog will trace the dynamic, downhill journey of water from this upper end of the Villa Lante to its conclusion at the garden's bottom. Looking back on my visit last year, I think of the path I chose through the garden -- first to the top, then to the bottom -- and am reminded of how one uses a waterslide. There is a scramble to the top of the ladder, a peaceful pause, and then a descent that carries one down alongside the flowing water.


Image: Sam Valentine