Botanica Atlanta | Landscape Design, Construction & Maintenance

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Atlanta Garden Design

Design at the Downspout

Posted by Author on October 31, 2018 at 9:10 PM


The moment rain touches down on a typical building, mankind has fundamentally altered the natural water cycle of a site. Our roofs are successful at creating dry living spaces inside, but by sheltering from precipitation, rooftops incidentally collect and concentrate stormwater. For most buildings in the United States, a storm promises a gathering of rainwater in roof gutters and -- shortly thereafter -- a surging outfall at each downspout location.



Image: Grifos


Though most builders still send stormwater down the pipe as if it's a nuisance, there's a steadily growing movement to rethink this water once it reaches the landscape. Many local governments, realizing the toll that concentrated stormwater volumes take on infrastructure, encourage "downspout disconnection." Rainwater harvesting, mostly in the form of rain barrels, has become nearly ubiquitous in the suburbs of America.



Images: Clean Air Gardening, Improvements Catalog, and Eric Hoffabee


It's certainly good news that every homeowner and building manager can "do their small part" to reduce development's overall impact on the environment, and due to their small size and low cost, these downspout interventions commonly take the form of DIY tinkers. Grassroots green-engineering is a beautiful thing from a social and ecological perspective, but from a designer's view, these small-scale retrofits often appear clunky, feeble, and incongruous with both the architecture and the landscape.



Images: ChannelGuard, InvisaFlow, and Marine Leroux


For example: all three of the splash-pads photographed above show a marked improvement over conventional downspout treatment. In each case, a retained strip of loose stones likely slows down stormwater runoff, prevents soil erosion, and encourages some amount of infiltration of stormwater into the planting soil. Despite the environmental benefits, each of these examples introduces materials that seem unharmonious with the site. These "orphan" materials match neither the landscape nor the building and exhibit high visual contrast. These splash-pads appear as an afterthought, and attract more attention than their builders probably sought.



Images: David R. J. K, Antalya Real Estate, and Evergreen Landscape


These next three examples (above) are more successful. These downspout treatments each achieve better harmony with their surroundings by evoking the natural stone of the landscape edging or the brick of the building face. Quiet, graceful integration of stormwater infrastructure into the landscape surface is a noble goal, but sometimes a solution can be buried from sight altogether.



Images: Keith Board, Phillip's Garden, and Jennifer Connell


Stormwater design gets most exciting, though, when the travel of runoff is expressed unabashedly in the landscape. At many contemporary sites a visitor can observe rainwater in motion and trace its path across the landscape.



Images: San Francisco Better Streets, Zahradní Nábytek, and It's a Green Life



Next time rain falls, put on a jacket and take a walk around your home, office, or school. Are there missed opportunities to reduce your building's environmental impact? Can these same opportunities be leveraged even further into a landscape expression that is educational, ecorevelatory, or artful?



Image: Rob Faulkner

The Parc in Use

Posted by Author on July 29, 2018 at 6:20 PM



Image: Daniel Vorndran


With the high drama of waterfalls, craggy bluffs, and a cliff-top temple, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont could be confused with a theme park. Perhaps the artificial rock faces and the faux-bois contribute to this impression, but it is important to remember that the Parc has no carnival rides and no admission tickets. It is a park for all people.


On the summer day of my visit, the population of the park stood in clear contrast to the city's more talked-about landscapes. The Parc du Champ-de-Mars, Jardin des Tuileries, and Parc de la Villette were chock-full of park visitors, but between these people's palpable fervor and their clicking cameras, it was clear that a large proportion of them were tourists. In Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, on the other hand, the majority of people appeared to be locals. The neighborhoods on all sides of the Parc seem to spill into the landscape.



Images: Sam Valentine, Magdalena Gonzalez, and L'imaGiraphe


As a landscape architect, it is enthralling to see how parks are used. While it is clearly part of the job description to scrutinize topographic design, planting selection, and craftsmanship of such things as stonework, there is more to the story. What could be thought of as a layer atop the permanent, physical landscape is the human activity, or "social life," of a place. At Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, I saw quiet, intimate conversations on park benches, looping joggers and walkers, and children excitedly playing in the small rivulets.



Image: L'ima Giraphe


Near the end of my expedition, I came across a wildly successful lawn on the south side of the Parc. Like Sheep Meadow in Central Park, this was a sunny, broad, and flat space full of picnickers.




O.K.




Image: L'ima Giraphe (modified)


I lied about the "flat" part. Tilted at what feels like a 45° incline, the lawn's topography is not typically the stuff of well-visited public landscapes. (I have trued the above image - the tree trunks are vertical.)


Image: Sam Valentine


As I scaled the lawn with my friend, also a landscape architect, we speculated why so many of the visitors were sitting at the top. It was puzzling, with plenty of open space downhill, why the park users would choose to crowd themselves in one place. The physical attributes of the landscape sprang to the front of my mind. Was the lawn drier at the crest of the hill? Is access easier because of a nearby road?



Image: Vladimir Prohorenko (modified)


Well, most readers know the disappointment -- whether at a baseball game or on an airplane -- of finding a seat with an obstructed view. The crest of this lawn puts viewers above the canopies of the Parc trees. Only after reaching the top of this hill did it become obvious that this social phenomenon was all about views.



Image: Jérôme Baudet

Light and Shadow in the Tuileries Garden

Posted by Author on February 25, 2018 at 5:15 PM


Images: Bertrand Guay and Sam Jacob


One of the best demonstrations of dueling Parisian light and shadow can be found at the Tuileries Garden just west of the Louvre Museum. In basic terms, the Tuileries is a simple but successful composition of tree plantations over a carpet of stonedust.



Images: Gianni Dagli Orti/Corbis and Sam Valentine


The history of the Tuileries is far more complicated than a visitor might detect. Before it was a garden it was a blackened ruin; prior to that it was a glistening palace for emperors and kings.


On the sunny summer day when I visited, as the stonedust crunched satisfyingly beneath my feet, I noticed that the allées and gridded bosques read like a diagram of where to sit and where to walk. Benches are evenly distributed through the grounds, but I observed only the tree-shaded seating drew people to lounge, socialize, and bring together family-style picnics. Meanwhile, hedged by strong allées, the wide, exposed promenades remained clear for strolling.



Images: Mr. Renart and Sam Valentine


The most fascinating moments of light and shadow occurred around the Tuileries' lawn quadrangles. Situated like glades in the gridded forest, these brightly illuminated rectangles of turf drew visitors right up to their edges. Even with the lawns bereft of action (ropes were standing guard), park users of all ages had situated themselves around these lawns in true theater-in-the-round style.



Images: Sam Jacob


The Tuileries Garden is a place of both expanse and intimacy, and even on a cloudy day, the landscape would be worth writing home about. On a sunny day, however, it becomes a compelling study in both visual contrast and the importance of microclimates to visitor comfort. With an onslaught of summer sun, the simple layout of trees projects order, structure, contrast, and thematic emphasis into the garden.



Image: Sam Valentine

Tea with a View

Posted by Author on July 17, 2017 at 9:40 PM Comments comments (0)


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 Author on May 18, 2017 at 9:50 PM Comments comments (0)

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 Author 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 Author 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 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

 

 

 


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