Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Every month Landscape Architecture Magazine arrives in the mailbox, and some months I look through it quickly for pieces that catch my eye. Other months it has to go on the stack of periodicals next to my desk until I can pick it up on a slow day.

The 2009 series on field sketching was a dandy one, and I found myself pulling out each of those articles to save. One of my favorite things to do is to look at process art — the work that shows you the inside of someone’s mind — so I dawdled over these issues. It was inspiring to look at different sketching styles and to read each landscape architect’s approach to the materials, subjects, conditions, and opportunities of sketching.

The January 2009 issue of the magazine, which I only just recently read, had a fine piece on designing for the winter landscape. What struck me about this piece was its tying design to maintenance. Anyone who has designed a place that gets regular snowfall knows the challenges of dealing with the need to move snow, of coping with ice, and of accommodating the freeze-thaw cycles of every winter. This article, written by Adam Regn Arvidsen, outlined some fairly commonplace tactics for designing in northern climates: including a basic inventory of a site’s winter maintenance needs, considering what happens to grout when it is exposed to moisture and cold, paying attention to pavement textures and slopes in areas where ice might accumulate.

The bit that most appealed, though, was the sidebar called “Quick Tips from Winter-Savvy Landscape Architects”. Arvidsen distilled suggestions from landscape architects in Vermont, Michigan, New York, Minnesota, and Maine into a useful tip sheet, with ideas about communicating with winter maintenance crews about design intent, using darker paving materials that will heat up and help melt snow, and avoiding evergreen plantings that might hang over cars or walkways, as the shade they make can encourage ice to form. (I’m always inclined to plant shrubs and trees fairly far back from pavement that’s going to get plowed, and instead use tough, blocky herbaceous plants, like peonies or hosta, that can hack getting snow dumped on them.)

These things all make sense, and as nuts-and-bolty as they are, consideration of this sort of practicality can lead to the kind of project detailing that lends ease and comfort and an air of gracious inevitability to a designed landscape.

Photo from Flickr, courtesy of the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

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‘Balnahard Bay, Colonsay’ by Bryan Dickinson 1 September 2009
“Noticed the lines that the Marram grass was drawing in the wind…. Rain shower just as we were finishing, had to run for cover.”

Piggybacking on your post, Toby, here’s another image from the same V & A exhibit; maybe two photos will compel even more people to look at this link.

I’m reminded by this image of the lesson to make sure that an element in plan has a three-dimensional reason for being.

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Cranberry bogs in Plymouth County, MA during harvest season.

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The Massachusetts Arborists Association has a new volunteer initiative starting in 2010. They aim to build on the traditional Arbor Day celebration by instituting a statewide volunteer service day on that day, which falls on April 30, 2010.

To get the ball rolling, the MAA is inviting anyone to identify potential tree care projects in their own communities, and then to post those project ideas on the Arbor Day link at www.MassArbor.org. They hope to get ideas from all 351 Massachusetts cities and towns by January 15. From that list, MAA members and member companies will choose projects for their own Arbor Day of Service volunteer effort.

This is a great way for landscape architects to elect projects and for professional arborists to make a contribution, both for the civic good, and for cities and towns to reap the benefits of a concerted professional effort. Safety pruning, tree planting, hazard tree removal, ornamental pruning — a community you drive through daily may have the project that’s perfect for your company to tackle on Arbor Day. To submit a project for Arbor Day of Service consideration by the MAA arborists, visit www.MassArbor.org by January 15, and click on Arbor Day.

Arbor Day is a great way to get all generations involved in plant care.

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This article, appearing in today’s New York Times, describes the clever business run by a currently out-of-work landscape architect. Scott Martin, a California native, rents living Christmas trees to Los Angelenos wanting the presence, fragrance, and vitality of a living tree without having to find a home for it after the holidays.

The trees rent for 2-3 weeks at a time. Martin delivers them and picks them up after their work is done, and they spend the rest of the year on rented industrial property. If a client especially likes the tree they get, they can request to have that tree tagged with their name and to rent it again the following year.

It’s not a bad model: the trees live, the renters enjoy them, the landscape architect makes people happy, promotes a living product, and makes a profit. And once the economy picks up, it may well be that Martin can sell the sized-out trees for planting on designed sites.

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Say you’re a growing country club in a nicely-treed community, and you need to enlarge your parking lot. And perhaps you want to lower its grade. The lot has some mature oak trees in it, and they add a certain je ne sais quoi to the scene, so you decide to save the trees by keeping the grade as is around the base of their trunks. You retain the roots and soil with a mortared stone wall. Voila!

Good idea – but woops! The minimum standard for root preservation is to keep 10 inches of root mass diameter per caliper inch of tree. For these trees, that would spell at least 360-inch diameter root masses. Because the trees are so close together, their roots overlap significantly — but still, 360 inches is thirty feet of diameter. This 18-footish enclosure takes a tad too much root; the country club will almost certainly be watching these trees decline and die over the next few years (and they may well drop dead branches onto the parking lot, or cars in it, in the process).

The idea of saving a mature tree is a good one, as long as the tree’s actual requirements for continued healthy life are met. Now that we have the tools to see how large a tree’s root mass really is, it’s much easier to see how big the unimpeded area around it has to be for the tree to survive happily and thrive.

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So we’ve started down this path, which in a time typically relatively quiet in plant color may not be such a bad thing. These Purple Dome asters gave a great show on one of my projects this fall, and enlivened the scene when other plants were fading to gold and rust.

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A few weeks ago I woke with the words of one of my college English professors, Richard Sewall, repeating in my head. At the end of a busy semester, he had tried to inspire our class to continue to read the good stuff (it was with him that we read Moby Dick, still one of my all-time favorites); in the middle of his last lecture he cried “Coat your minds with gold!”

That urging stuck with, and it pops up every now and again in my thoughts. This particular morning the sun was shining in the liquid way it does in late October, and while the vivid reds and scarlets of maples had mostly gone by, the landscape was still full of gold foliage. With Professor Sewall’s words echoing, I got up and began taking photos of some of the gold.

Norway maple

Norway maple

Silver maple


Norway maple leaves in juniper


Rudbeckia, still going into November

No design observations here, just a look at some of the retinal balm that surrounded us for several weeks.

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On a gloomy day, after a cranky post, perhaps a little visual break is in order:
RS blue

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