Doing Garden Design, part 1: Analyze This

(a 6-part series)

1996                                                            2016

A garden constantly changes over time. So, too, does the gardener. And (lately), so does the climate. After 3 decades of tending my lush and ever-bearing yard, it was time to re-think its current design. There was little to limit my imagination except the limits of my physical ability and my time.

I approached the design similarly to the way I approach any architectural design project, with a progression of phases.

Phase 1. Identify Problems in Need of Solutions:

  • Some beds have become grass-and-weed-choked beyond repair.

this path (L) has become tangled up (R)

 

  • The shade from established trees has expanded.
  • I have gotten more measured in my energy expenditure as I age, and need to dial down the amount of high-maintenance plants.
  • The summers have gotten hotter and drier; some plants now wither where they used to flourish.

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this slope became too dry and shady for its plantings

 

Phase 2. Gather Facts About Prevailing Conditions.

Over the years, I have developed a head full of experience and opinions about this garden’s performance.

The hardscape (paths, stairs, retaining walls, and paved areas) has been developed over the years. It will essentially remain as-is.

I have noted plantings that have succeeded and those that failed. Some of them combine with others. Some are easy to care for. Some offer great rewards, such as long blooming time, delicious scents, beautiful colors, and/or striking textures.

On the other hand, others are short-lived, invasive, fussy, too chaotic, or I just don’t like them.

I made the following double-duty diagram.

new-plantings-exposure-1

sun/shade exposure        /        existing features, to remain

 

Examples of elements well worth keeping as-is:

rhodies

enormous old rhododendrons with 70’ tall Western Red Cedar beyond

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native ground covers within the rhododendron grove

flower-garden

sunny flower garden near house

 

Phase 3. Scheme, daydream, and imagine possibilities. Start wish lists, accompanied by deep research in books and on the web. Some of my lists:

  • Flowers I want.
  • Drought-resistant shrubs with “winter interest.”
  • Plants that will bring sparkle to the shade.
  • Plants (from small-to-large) with remarkable foliage.
  • Scented plants to locate near the path.
  • Evergreen ground covers, bedding plants, and specimens.
  • Plants with notable shapes.
  • And so on…

wish-list

I love the evocative names, and all of the promises they hold

At the end of this third phase, armed with information and ideas, I am ready to start drawing.

The next 2H Pencil post will be:

Doing Garden Design, Part 2: Plans

upper-plan-rendering_edited-1

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Spirals

spring rollIt is Winter now, but Spring is right around the corner. Looking back at this picture of a tulip, unfurling from the ground in front of my house a few Aprils ago, got me thinking about spirals.

Many living things, both plants and animals, share this form in their growth patterns. Haeckel_Ammonitida

This plate from Art Forms of Nature  by German biologist Ernst Haeckel shows examples of ancient Ammonitida shells. I marvel at their complexity and perfection.

No less amazing is M74, the Perfect Spiral Galaxy, a spectacular example of a “grand design spiral galaxy.”

m74_baixauli_900

Fibonacci numbers describe these spiral phenomena mathematically.

Fibonacci_spiral_34.svg

There are many works of architecture based on the spiral, from whole buildings to details, to spiral staircases.

There is a special spiral staircase in Baker Hall, at my alma mater, Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), built with nothing but layered thin Terra-cotta tiles, as a variation of timbrel vault type of construction.

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It supports itself without a steel armature, posts or beams.  The sinuous gentle curve is gorgeous. The a herringbone tile pattern along the curved underside is one of three layers of tile adhered together with fast-setting mortar.  The resulting laminated shell is almost as strong as reinforced concrete.

It was built by the company of a Spanish master builder, Rafael Guastavino, who excelled at designing and building timbrel arches, vaults, and spiral stairs. Guastavino structures, unlike Roman arches and vaults, don’t require heavy wooden supports (centering) during their construction. “The Guastavino craftsmen could start at the four walls of a room and build toward the center. The masons could stand on a ladder or a platform, but they didn’t have to build a wooden frame to support their structure while it was being built—it almost seems miraculous…We have a difficult time today calculating the geometries of (this) structure. I have students here at MIT doing doctoral research, trying to understand how these structures stand up. We can’t build this staircase today.””

The above quote is from MIT structures Professor John Ochsendorf in “Vaulting Ambition,” by Craig Lambert, in Humanities Magazine, a great article that explores the Guastavino’s history, work and influence.

There is an upcoming exhibit in the National Building Museum, called Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces, which will be on view from March 16, 2013 to January 20, 2014. I hope to get a chance to see it.

The first photo is mine; the second photo is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; the third photo is courtesy of NASA; the fourth photo is courtesy of Wikipedia; and the fifth photo is courtesy of Michael Freeman.

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New Toy

A while back, when I taught art in a high school, I conducted an experiment in moving lines from the paper into the air. In the library, we researched and made line drawings of insects and other small creatures. The next day, using wire and pliers, we manipulated the lines in space. It was fun! The unclaimed 3D line drawings ended up on my mantle at home.

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I appreciate their embodied energy, and their economical structural integrity .

Bug 1

bug 2

Recently, I obtained a 3Doodler 2.0, a device which enables one to create lines in the air using molten ABS plastic, the stuff of Legos.

legos

In theory, this new toy presents a vast array of opportunities. In reality, first, there is a learning curve. I will have to internalize:

  • the rate of the material’s cooling.
  • the variable speed and thickness of the material’s flow from the instrument tip.
  • the strength and plasticity of the material.

Pyramids

My first efforts: pyramids. I’ve got a long way to go.

A recent review notes the following:

“Honestly, you’re not going to make many practical, functional, or truly useful objects with 3Doodler … it’s really just a fun artistic tool. If you’re looking for a legit 3D printer that you can make useful objects with, you should definitely look elsewhere…

That said, if you like the idea of drawing objects in three dimensions, without having to jump over all the hurdles that lie between ideation and creation (like software, computer models, and properly calibrated machinery) then the newest 3Doodler should definitely be in your artist’s toolkit.”

I look forward to making some objects. Perhaps they will be models of conceptual products. As likely, they will be one-offs. Or is that ones-off?

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The Death of Drawing?

I applaud Sophia A. Gruzdys, the author of this review, for taking a stand against this book’s argument that drawing is no longer a viable tool for architects.

1503-The-Death-of-Drawing_coverRead the review: The Death of Drawing: Architecture in the Age of Simulation | Book Review | Architectural Record.

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Color Options

My client chose a particular rich dark green siding and black window trim for their Craftsman bungalow. I presented them with options for the remaining  trim and door colors. Then I made this quick GIF animation for fun.

laura_4

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Grotesques

This post is an answer to question posed in the previous blog post:

Q.  “Who are we?”

A.  We are grotesques, inlaid into the terra cotta floor of the Reading Room in the Laurentian Library, in Florence, Italy.

libreriaThe Library’s Entry Vestibule and Reading Room were designed by Michelangelo. They are notable because of the radical ways in which architectural elements are used without strict adherence to their traditional/ expected/functional roles. The tall vestibule, an interior room, is made to feel like an outdoor courtyard, literally outside-in.  There are large corbels (brackets) that don’t physically hold anything up, and window-frames surrounding planes of opaque stone rather than glass.

It is a prime example of the style called Mannerism. From Wikipedia, “Mannerism is notable for its intellectual sophistication as well as its artificial (as opposed to naturalistic) qualities. Mannerism favors compositional tension and instability rather than the balance and clarity of earlier Renaissance (work).”

I had been taught that the Laurentian Library was both conceived of and fleshed out by Michelangelo. Because of this, I thought that the faces inlaid in the floor were made from sketches by Michelangelo. However, in a correspondence with Leonard Barkan, a scholar, currently at Princeton University, with many deep interests including Literature, History, Art History, Classics, and Meaning, I learned that this was not the case. He wrote:

The faces on the floor of the Laurentian Library are indeed interesting, in the fashion of grotteschi, which were a widely diffused style of decoration throughout the sixteenth century and beyond.  They probably don’t have much to do with Michelangelo himself.  The Library was realized from what appear to have been his very generalized architectural designs, but he seems to have had very little input as regards the details, since it was all done after he had definitively left Florence.  And the letters we possess on the subject suggest that he wasn’t very closely connected with what was going on in the construction.  The drawings for the floor were (we’re told) by Niccolò Tribolo.  For a brief account in English, see: http://www.bml.firenze.sbn.it/ing/tour_of_the_complex.htm

The inclusion of this assortment of cartoon-like heads in this stately space may have been done in order to include the wild, sensuous, and willful side of human nature along with the sublime, intellectual and religious side.

Grotesques are found in architecture throughout the world. The following Gothic examples are from the Bayeux Cathedral, in Bayeux France.

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g11g2g7

Bayeux images courtesy of  George P. Landow

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