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Atlanta Garden Design

Arborsculpture

Posted by Author on September 30, 2016 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (0)

 


Image: Wes Hanson

 

My previous posts have covered trees that look like sculpture, sculptures that look like trees, and sculpture woven from twigs and branches. Somehow I seem to have danced around a the clearest overlap: sculpture made from living, breathing trees.

 

Beginning in 1925, a Swedish-American farmer by the name of Axel Erlandson began a project at his California home. His "tree shaping" all started as a hobby, but by 1947 he had trained a veritable freak show of trees. Calling his project "The Tree Circus," Erlandson attracted local visitors and national publicity by growing trees into surprising forms.

 


Images: Axel & Wilma Erlandson and Wes Hanson

 

Tree shaping, a close relative of "pleaching," was by no means invented by Erlandson, but it is he who exposed generations of Americans to the sculptural, acrobatic forms that average trees can be forced into. With archways, basketweaves, picture frames, and what seem like extraterrestrial forms, Erlandson blurred the lines of classic gardens, creating works that were both plant and architectural folly.

 


Images: Wes Hanson

 

Some of Erlandson's sculptured trees still exist today. Thirty years ago, the pieces were moved -- or, more accurately, transplanted -- to form the central attraction at Gilroy Gardens an amusement park near San Jose, California.

 


Images: Peter Cook and Becky Northey

 

If not the works of Erlandson himself, the concept of tree shaping has influenced artists to create interesting works over the last few years. Both artists and furniture builders are employing methods similar to Erlandson's. Pooktre Tree Shapers uses a "gradual shaping method" to grow trees into predetermined sculptural forms. Another operation is using tree-shaping methods to make unique, sustainable furniture; formed like concrete or plastic but made of wood. Growing young saplings over mold-like forms means no toxic glues or binders are necessary, just pruning, training, and a massive amount of patience. Photos of their operation depict an outdoor, organic, but somehow still industrial chair factory.



Images: Full Grown

 

One artist, Richard Reames, may have found the best word for what he creates: "arborsculpture." If you are considering experimenting with this art in your own landscape, Reames warns that using the "artistic medium of a living tree" has "taught me even more about patience and acceptance than grafting and pruning."

 


Image: Heinz-Peter Bader

 

 

 


Holding It Together

Posted by Author on July 31, 2016 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (0)

 


Images: Ken Dodds, Hoot Nonny, and Frank Vincentz

 

They can be found in a diversity of shapes and sizes. They are a familiar piece of American Southern vernacular, and yet there seems to be no consensus on what exactly to call them: wall washer, star anchor, stress washer, anchor plate, and Charleston bolt are a few of the many names that one might hear.

 


Image: The Post and Courier Archives

 

While most would file these iron bits under "rustic decor," there is a noteworthy functional difference between a "star anchor" and a purely ornamental "barn star". These anchors have been used for centuries as a means to reinforce buildings around the world against settlement and collapse, but they burst into popularity in the American Southeast 130 years ago when Charleston, South Carolina was struck with a devastating earthquake. Reading descriptions of the 1886 earthquake, a geologically rare but particularly damaging event, is truly shocking, but it explains why these "earthquake bolts" are so commonly seen along Charleston's historic streets today.



Images: Paige Henderson, Marie Beschen, Grover Schrayer, and Ken Dodds


Both authentic anchors and replicas are ubiquitous in Southern antique shops and in the online marketplace, and working these into your garden can inject a bit of borrowed character. If your garden calls for something more unique than the generic star pattern, architectural historians have catalogued a range of Charleston bolts from which to draw inspiration.


Image: R. G. Lubischer

 


Pulling Strings

Posted by Author on June 28, 2016 at 9:15 PM

 


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

 

 

 


A Composition of Curves

Posted by Author on April 28, 2016 at 8:40 AM Comments comments (1)

 


Image: Nicolas Mirguet


For those reading this who walk the woods, you know the surprise of coming across a curved tree in the landscape.

 

Often a lone bent tree standing in a forest of straight trunks, it is something of a freakshow quality that draws the eye to the crooked, swooping form, but the composition is anything but unpleasant. The forces causing these dramatic bends can vary. Decades back, soils may have shifted or eroded, requiring the trunk to reorient from a tilted root base. Or perhaps another nearby tree, keeling over from natural decline or a sudden storm may have pinned down this tree in its younger years, requiring it to grow around and up. Or, as is often the case, the tree's natural growth pattern may have been disturbed by a meddlesome human visitor early in its life. In all cases though, as the tree recovers, readjusts its aim, and reaches straight for the sunlight above, the trunk traces an elegant curve.

 


Image: Kilian Schönberger

 

Not too unlike finding a tree in the forest, I recently stumbled upon a unique series of photographs. In a small stretch of forest in western Poland, one photographer, Kilian Schönberger, has captured an entire regiment of bent trees.

 


Image: Kilian Schönberger

 

The pines all bend in the same northern orientation and are roughly the same age. Theories abound as to how exactly this stand of curved trees came to be, but there is no consensus. A reasonable explanation suggests the cause for the arcs was lumber production for ship building, but other hypotheses include freak snowstorms, the scars of World War II, and of course, aliens.

 


Image: Kilian Schönberger

 

There is something poetic about the forms captured in each of Schönberger's photos. The compelling perspectives he used and the layered shroud of fog certainly helps, but what is more revealing to me is seeing a whole forest of curves, rather than one isolated specimen.

 

Like all crooked trees, these pictured appear as living question marks. While the curved trunk lingers as mysterious evidence, the storm has long blown over; the fallen tree has rotted back into the earth; the hiker or logger has long trudged away. We are left with a compelling, sinuous expression of overcoming an obstacle, reminiscent of meandering rivers or the path of one's life.

 


Image: Kilian Schönberger

Planting in Brick

Posted by Author 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 Author on January 14, 2016 at 8:55 AM

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

 


Experiencing Landscape: Villa Lante, Bagnaia, Italy

Posted by Author 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

 




 


Meaning in Landscape: Villa d'Este, Tivoli

Posted by Author on August 5, 2015 at 7:10 PM Comments comments (0)

 


 


Image: Étienne Dupérac

 

In my last post I alluded to what I called "bold iconographic expressions of power" at Villa d'Este in Tivoli. As promised, I have come back to turn this stone over.

 

Perhaps the best way to discuss the symbolism found at Villa d'Este is to take a look at some of the landscape's general qualities and its more significant garden features:

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 

Scale and magnificence: As described in my last post, the gardens at Villa d'Este have conquered a small valley, spanning it with extensive terracing, paths, stairs, and rushing fountains. The scale and detail of the garden vanquish more than just the natural topography, however -- they also conquer the senses of each visitor that steps out the back door of the mansion. Forceful bursts of water, lush plantings, and intricate masonry exude a sense of power and seem to be dripping with wealth.

 


Images: Sam Valentine and Pirro Ligorio

 

La Rometta: Stepping out on to the palace's Gran Loggia is breathtaking and looking out over the landscape below lets a visitor quickly grasp its immense scale. The western end of the loggia allows more distant views toward Rome, and if one lingers at this manmade precipice for a bit longer he or she may spy this curious garden feature below, which is described in translation as "The Little Rome." To a native eye, La Rometta's various sculptures, miniaturized river, and boat-shaped island appear almost as a dollhouse version of the Italian capital city.



Images: Museo della Civiltà Romana, Étienne Dupérac, and Sam Valentine

 

Though the parallels have become a bit cloudier with time, the boat-shaped island in this section of the garden are a reference to one of Rome's more recognizable geographic features, Isola Tiburina (Tiber Island). From the vantage of the Gran Loggia and La Rometta, views to Rome are celebrated with a series of picture-window archways and railings.



Images: Sam Valentine

 

Location and context: The same picture windows that face Rome have another layer of significance - in the 1550's, when Villa d'Este was being located and first constructed, the town of Tivoli was best known as the home of a different, thousand-year-old garden: Hadrian's Villa. There is an unmistakable message in locating one's estate farther up the hill from one of the Roman Empire's most celebrated emperors.



Images: Sam Valentine and Robby Virus

 

Vatican influences: In all fairness, it was the distinctly recognizable features of the Dianna Efesina fountain and another ancient statue that triggered my larger recognition of "inspired" sculptures at Villa d'Este. I had the advantage of visiting the garden within a day of the Musei Vaticani, and though the homages, interpolations, and straight-up copies pose no real threat to the well protected original pieces, it sometimes seems that Villa d'Este has actually pillaged the Vatican.

 

The backstory: Being selected as pope in the 16th century was defined by much of the same religious veneration that the position holds today, but the position also carried immense political powers that have since faded. The man who built Villa d'Este (or, more accurately, had it built) was Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, son of a Cardinal and grandson of a pope. The garden was begun the same year that Ippolito was coming off a failed bid at the papacy, and it takes neither a historian or a psychologist to deduce that there was a bit of compensation at work in the creation of the gardens.

 

Landscape historian Elizabeth Barlow Rogers describes Villa d'Este as the product of "passionate obsession on the part of an owner willing to spend extraordinary sums of money and with the taste to hire the best design talent available," and the obsessive focus and ample resources are evident in every aspect of the garden. Like an example of "conspicuous construction" a bit closer to home, the fact that the motives may have been less than pure does not detract from the work's grandeur.

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 


Experiencing Landscape: Villa d'Este, Tivoli

Posted by Author on June 30, 2015 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (0)

 

After navigating tight medieval streets, entering this Renaissance garden from the stately house above was a descent into a valley of spectacle, astonishment, and moments of elegance.

 


Images: Sam Valentine and Charlie Chapman

 

Really, to use the word "garden" does not quite do this landscape justice. Joining company with the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu in Peru, and the pyramids of Egypt, Villa d'Este in Tivoli, Italy is one of only about a thousand historic sites recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a "World Heritage Site." UNESCO describes the landscape as "one of the most remarkable and comprehensive illustrations of Renaissance culture."

 

To gardeners, Villa d'Este -- or at least certain scenes from it -- might be quite familiar. As a visitor moves from the perched palace to landscape's heart, he or she passes through grottoes, terraces, and sloped walks before soon coming to one of the garden's most unique (and photogenic) features. The "Alley of the Hundred Fountains" is a long pathway measured off by a rhythm of many tiered water spouts. Each spout originates from a unique but congruent fountainhead set within lushly overgrown planted walls. I cannot say I counted all "hundred" fountains, but the visual impact of this space and the sensation of moving along it by far exceeded my expectations.

 


Images: Sam Valentine

 

The landscape configuration seen today is the product of a long string of declines, renovations, and restorations, but it is clear that hierarchy was never Villa d'Este's strong suit. However, what the landscape lacks in focus or organized movement, it compensates for with aquatic feats and bold iconographic expressions of power. (I will explore each of these concepts in a following entry.)

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 

After fully descending from the palace hillside, a visitor reaches the flat plain at the center of the garden. Here, at the geographic center of the estate, visitors finds themselves in the middle of another of the garden's celebrated views; the central axis of the garden steps from soaring fountains down to wide, reflective fish ponds. At a glance, these broad, formally framed pools are analogous to those seen in other Italian, French, and even American gardens, but its unique context sets it apart and it is really just one of dozens of powerful moments in this landscape. Perhaps another thing to keep in mind is its precedence: Villa d'Este was completed more than a hundred years before work began on French gardens like Versailles and two-hundred years before the United States was founded.

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 

 

 


Musei Vaticani: The Vatican Museums

Posted by Author on April 30, 2015 at 9:35 AM

 



Images: C. Form and David Kotsibie


 

A winding cab ride brought me towards the Vatican Museums. Viale Vaticano -- "Vatican Avenue" -- weaves around the craggy, formidable walls and pointed, defensible bastions that fortify the Vatican City State. As we rounded a final turn, a sculptural archway projected from the continuous walls, inviting visitors to penetrate the rough brick fortification.

 

The robust walls of the Vatican protect not only the Pope but also some of the world's greatest expressions of the human spirit. The Musei Vaticani (The Vatican Museums) is a complex of new, old, and ancient, and upon entering the historic doorway, visitors find themselves in a modern, light-filled atrium space. From this point, with a map in hand, a museum visitor can pick his or her own path through the vast collection.


 


Images: Carlos Sanchez, Sam Valentine, and D. A. O.



According to some sources, the idea for a Vatican museum was born with the discovery of a single work of art. The Laocoon group, an assemblage of three human statues entangled with constricting serpents, was discovered in a Roman vineyard in 1506 BCE and brought to the Vatican by order of the Pope. Amazingly, the well defined, interwoven forms -- both human and snake -- were carved from a single block of granite, and though the collection has grown substantially, the sculpture is still one of the Museums' most beautiful pieces.



Images: Klaus Wagensonner, Joao Maximo, and Sebastià Giralt


 

Like many pieces in the Vatican's collections, it is not always clear whether one should be more in awe of the raw artistic beauty of a piece of art or of its unparalleled historic significance. The museums halls and galleries are lined with antiquities from ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman Empires, sometimes even to the point of feeling overcrowded.

 


Images: Gregory Melle, H. Savill, and Sam Valentine


 

Other wings of the complex focus on the (relatively recent) works of Medieval and Renaissance England. On the western edge of the Belvedere Courtyard, the long Gallery of Maps documents the Italian peninsula through a series of 40 frescos painted around 1580. This gallery was perhaps the first moment along my tour where it dawned on me that, beyond the collection, the Vatican Museums' walls, floors, and ceilings are themselves masterpieces. This point is, of course, driven home upon entrance to Michelangelo's renowned Sistine Chapel.

 

 


Images: Sam Valentine, Laura Padgett, and Magda Wojtyra


 

From the legendary names of Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci, to the lesser known (merely "famous") artists such as Giorgio Morandi and Arnaldo Pomodoro, the Vatican Museums are a haven of human expression, skill, and beauty. It was surprising to me how many of the works felt familiar, even if only vaguely so, and many of the sculptures, paintings, and tapestries stirred memories of more familiar subsequent works of art, school text books, movies, and even childhood cartoons.

 

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of Musei Vaticani, is that the rich buildings and its courtyard grounds complement and celebrate the collection they hold but, above all, let the artwork speak for itself.

 


Image: Edith Bogue