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Posts Tagged ‘landscape maintenance’

I don’t think it’s so bad to have work that steps away from the obvious and simply creates spaces that just feel good.  There may be a lot involved in creating that good feeling, and we might consider it a compliment if a client or visitor to a space comes to realize over time why they like a particular place.  

It certainly is nice to get instant and positive reactions to our work.  But our landscapes take time (usually, unless they’re places like Martha Schwartz’s Whitehead Institute rooftop garden) to evolve into their best selves, much like people or plants or relationships.  Too often, people seek to understand phenomena immediately, without allowing time for perceptions and experience of place to ripen.

Because landscape architects work with the element of time, it can be disheartening to see that others may not appreciate fully what we do because it isn’t immediately evident.  And when a place isn’t maintained as it has been designed, our design intent may never be allowed to grow into realization, and may in fact disappear entirely.

So perhaps we need to tackle the issue of self-effacement on two fronts: 1) We might campaign more vigorously for consistent and sustained maintenance of our designed places and 2) We might start to educate our clients and the public about taking the longer view of our work.  Hmm.  We need to sell the steak, not just the sizzle, especially since we’ve taken the time and made the effort to grill that steak.  (Which I guess leads to the question of if we have enough sizzle, or perhaps, in some cases, too much….)

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I’m looking out at the corner of a yard that once was filled with Norway maple saplings.  Most of the saplings are now gone — felled by saw, Roundup, and hatchet — and the few that remain lie in a thick horizontal bundle, their stems cut almost all the way through.  This bundle, which should leaf out in a week or two, will then sport a lush, dense cloak of leaves, and will provide cover for birds, squirrels, and chipmunks.  

Sapling hedges like this have been used in Europe for centuries; the National Hedgelaying Society of Britain tells us that Julius Caesar mentioned laid hedges (sapling trunks are partially cut and bent over, or laid, in a row, and then staked and woven together) in 55 BC Flanders.  England’s Enclosure Acts of the 18th century, which legislated the development of private property from what once had been common lands, spurred the use of laid hedges in that country, and the laying of hedges became an art.  A well-laid hedge will keep cattle and sheep enclosed in a field, will provide cover for all sorts of small animals and birds, and will define clear, unmistakable, and impenetrable boundaries to a property.

This Norway maple hedge doesn’t have the intricate weaving of a professionally laid English hedge, but it does harness the plants’ own vigor and arboricultural properties in the same way.  Cutting each trunk channels the tree’s energy; tipping back the tree’s leaders and laying their trunks down horizontally changes the flow of growth-suppressive hormones and growth-supportive sugars so that the now-vertical side shoots can develop.  Maintenance now involves my going out once or twice a season and tipping back the side shoots that want to grow higher than the others, a task that takes all of five minutes for this twenty-foot long hedge.

I laid this hedge to see what the effect would be on this invasive-tree riddled area, and on the invasives themselves.  What I’ve learned is that a laid hedge makes an effective barrier (this one screens the compost heap from view quite nicely), that the trunk-cutting reduces vigor enough to keep the plants thriving but not taking over, and that — so far — I can maintain the trees in a juvenile state, and so prevent further seeding of the species.  

We don’t see much hedging in this country.  Perhaps it has to do with the abundant availability of wood for fence-making when the first settlers arrived from Europe, or the need to use up in stone walls the generous supply of fieldstone that pushes up from New England soil every spring.  A neat hedge usually requires the planting of saplings in a line, and then two to five years of waiting for the saplings to reach hedging size.  Fencing and stone walls are faster means of enclosure. 

It does seem to me, though, that with the march of invasive species, and in this case, invasive tree species, through the landscape, we would do well to come up with ways not just of eradicating those species, but in some instances, of managing them.  In this instance, the Norway maples in the yard were outcompeting everything else.  By removing some, and then enlisting others to make a small hedge, we’re able to redirect the nature of this particular corner of the yard to a more useful end.  Although the Mother Norway Maple just feet away still shades that corner (and still showers it with seeds), I’m hopeful that I’ll soon be able to plant some shade-tolerant species there that can deal with those stresses.

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