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Archive for the ‘What we’re thinking’ Category

Downtown Boston teemed with people this past holiday weekend. Stroller brigades patrolled the streets, the scent of sunscreen wafted through the breeze, and a general air of well-being rested like a pleasantly warm blanket over the city.

Friday, I had walked through Boston Common and seen the simple and remarkable memorial to Massachusetts’ fallen military just installed by the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund. Yesterday I returned with my camera.

In the distance, something appears to cover the Common's usual green carpet.

Closer, the rug becomes a sea of American flags below the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument. Visitors drawn to the sight stop, gaze at the flags, take photos, and chat quietly with others standing nearby. Parents keep their little kids from running into the flag field.

People and cameras are everywhere.

Flags are set between 12 and 18 inches apart, on no discernible grid.

One flag for each fallen military service person from Massachusetts.

A few signs printed on FomeCor and staked into the ground explained the memorial installation.



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Or, ‘This is not a tree’.

Thinking again about, and then past the pollen issue, I wonder if humans had such strong allergic reactions in pre-industrial times. In much the same way that we have been using the world’s oceans as a dumping ground for every substance we don’t want to deal with, we have been pumping fine particulates into the atmosphere in ever-increasing quantities since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Maybe pollen's not the real problem. Photo courtesy of The Library Of Congress, via Flickr.

We breathe oxygen. Oxygen shares atmospheric space with pollen and with myriad other particulates; our bodies work to filter out the particulates as we draw in oxygen.

Certainly, pollen poses challenges to the smooth operation of the human body. And planting fewer pollen-abundant trees might help breathing conditions to some extent. But really, now — shouldn’t we also look at the overload of particulates continuously (not only seasonally) streaming into our breathing space from coal-fired power plants, miscellaneous smokestacks, vents, trains, trucks, buses, and cars? And act to place more stringent limits on emissions from all those sources?

Making the natural world the culprit is easy. Calling ourselves to account for the consequences of our much more harmful actions may, as painful as it is, may be the more responsible and fruitful response.

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ZZZZZZZZZZZZSSSSSSDDDDchew!! Excuse me; Toby’s photo of the pollinating pine in that last post just makes my nose tickle.

His points about pollinating trees make sense to me; wind-pollinated trees are different in nature from insect-pollinated trees, and have quite different effects on those allergic to fine particulates.

I have to say that Mr. Ogren’s original Op-Ed piece stood out as much for its hypo-allergenic focus as for its assertions about what trees do get planted in cities. To set the record straight, a number of the plants he mentioned (both favorably and unfavorably) — box elder, mulberry, silver maple, willow, cottonwood, and even red maple — are considered either outright weed trees or are simply weak-wooded and would never pass muster for planting in dense urban areas. More often than not, most of these trees volunteer in the city, and are able to thrive because they are wind-pollinated, produce a lot of seed, and are able to grow quickly and under conditions that would stymie less tenacious trees.

Landscape architects and arborists working in cities tend to avoid these plants for street tree plantings; in fact, I would think of using some of them — if any — only on larger sites where space was not an issue, where I wanted fast and effective growth, and where there was no chance that they would invade other areas. Municipal lists of acceptable street trees are actually, quite limited, as the piece points out, and mainly include slower-growing or more structurally sound trees than some of these worst culprits — the criteria for street tree selection in a city have to take into account those trees that have relatively reliable structure and habit, can deal with difficult soil, exposure, and moisture conditions, and that don’t create walking hazards with heavy fruit set.

What struck me most, after reading Mr. Ogren’s piece, was the realization of how much vegetative biomass there is in cities, despite our best efforts to pave wherever possible. The ocean of pollen we swim in every spring and summer comes from volunteer as well as planted trees, shrubs, grasses, and forbs, and reducing the pollen count in any area feels a little bit like setting aside a piece of the ocean to make a freshwater pond…

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Brian Rose’s website, the subject of yesterday’s post, also features his photos of the Berlin Wall and its environs before, during, and after its fall. He writes about the experience of place in Berlin, and for anyone whose knowledge of the Wall is limited (mine was derived mainly from watching Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire and Faraway So Close — wonderful movies, in which the Wall is a character, but not the main character in them), Mr. Rose’s chronicle, called The Lost Border; Photographs of The Iron Curtain is well worth exploring. Don’t miss it, in fact — it’s an affecting series that depicts and describes how the Wall and the zone around it informed, and in ways continues to inform — the national consciousness of the once-divided and now unified Germany.

Photo by Svenwerk on Flickr

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A friend recently sent me a link to the website of Brian Rose, a New York photographer. Mr. Rose’s work is worth a look (or two or three); his photo series called New York Primeval chronicles his exploration of ‘wild’ parts of NYC. Knowing that Manhattan, at least, has been invaded with all sorts of extremely competitive plant genera (to see examples, take a look at Leslie Sauer’s The Once and Future Forest, which among other things describes the restoration of some of Central Park’s woodlands), it’s absorbing to study the Rose photos and try to figure out what plants make up today’s wildness in them.

This series, with its horizontally scrolling format, also affords a gratifying graphic experience: by grabbing and dragging the scroll bar beneath the photos in each of the three sections (‘One’, ‘Two’, and ‘Three’) it’s possible to scan through all the photos in that section, and to recognize the horizon line as a datum for the whole collection. I can think immediately of two other artists — Saul Steinberg (see this link) and Andy Goldsworthy — who have used a single line to organize a series of disparate items. Steinberg drew his lines, Goldsworthy builds his with stone, stems, shadows, flowers, ice, wood, or leaves. It’s a pleasure to see the line used here to link all photos.

Pebble spiral done in tribute to Andy Goldsworthy; shadow makes the line. Photo by Escher on Flickr.


Andy Goldsworthy's The Wall That Went For A Walk at Storm King in upstate New York. Wall as datum, organizing, defining, and questioning the edge between woodland and meadow and land and pond. Photo by Dr. Curry on Flickr.

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Last week a friend mentioned seeing a yellow-flowering shrub on the VFW Parkway in Boston. It reminded me of the show of Hamamelis that used to appear outside of the Harvard Business School’s Baker Library back in the early 80s; when I first saw it (this was a few years before I became a landscape architect and learned what Hamamelis was) I thought a bank of Forsythia was blooming in February.

Saturday I was in Cambridge, and drove down a street that used to be on my route home from work at CRJA. As I turned the corner, this sight greeted me.

This street runs roughly east-west, and with buildings on both sides gets a slice of sun in the middle of the day. The sycamore maples further along the street add a bit of dappled shade to that slice, too. These Witch Hazels don’t seem to mind. And they have the room they need to spread and fill out their characteristic fountain habits.

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Cattleya in bloom; Ripsalis in background


Another grey and cold day in a long, cold month. Going to my desk and working is a good antidote to the gloominess, especially when the Cattleya next to my drawing board blooms (as it did last fall), or the Ripsalis in the window each January reliably turns from a mop of green string into a mop of green string and yellow confetti. Each plant has its own delicate flower fragrance, which rests quietly in the air until someone walks through the room and stirs up faint currents of deliciousness. It’s a good reminder to use scented plants in the landscape.

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