Beauty Within and Without – Visiting the Franciscan Monastery

Posted November 21, 2015 by Melissa
Categories: architecture, landscape, photography, Uncategorized, urban photography

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In Northeast Washington DC, in the Brookland neighborhood, sits the lovely Franciscan Monastery.  Earlier this week, a group from my camera club took a field trip there.

Although I had been to the Monastery before, it was only in springtime, and I didn’t venture inside.  That time of year, tulips are lavishly planted on the grounds and around all parts of the garden areas.

Franciscan Monastery_20140428_0094

A statue of Mary, arms full of flowers, in the lower level of the gardens, the week before Easter.

Franciscan Monastery

More tulips near the Church, with the Rosary Portico in the background.

On my more recent visit, although there were still a few roses in bloom here and there near the Portico, most of the visual interest outside the Basilica came from the Rosary Portico, the statuary, and magnificent trees in the last stages of fall color.


A magnificent oak (I couldn’t identify the kind) serves as a backdrop for the Rosary Portico, which frames the main area surrounding the Basilica, and the Ascension Chapel (right background).


The Rosary Portico contains plaques (not visible here) with the text of the Hail Mary shown in nearly two hundred ancient and modern languages.

Around the corner from the Basilica, planted next to a stone building that was closed when we visited, I spotted what seemed to be Ilex verticillata (winterberry) shrubs in fall color, still hanging on to their berries.

Franciscan Monastery

Ilex verticillata with berries. Guess the birds hadn’t discovered these yet!

Eventually we made our way into the Basilica and before starting to photograph, had a fascinating tour about the history of the building – including a walk through some catacomb areas. Then we re-emerged into the sun-lit interior, where for an hour we were allowed to photograph to our heart’s content, using tripods as we looked for large vistas and small detail images. Hope you enjoy what I came home with.

For more information on the Mount St. Sepulchre Franciscan monastery, visit its website or read more about it in Wikipedia.

Cylburn Arboretum and the Vollmer Center

Posted November 6, 2015 by Melissa
Categories: architecture, landscape, Landscape design solutions, photography, Travel

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Several weeks ago, my friend Sarah and I drove up to the Baltimore area to visit the Vollmer Center at the Cylburn Arboretum and walk the grounds. (We were also there to take in an exhibit of photos by my colleague Roger Foley, from a recently published book called On Walnut Hill, about a private garden in Baltimore.)

Cylburn Arboretum, over 300 acres in size, is open to the public year-round, with an historic mansion (available to rent for events) and miles of woodland walking trails. There are some cultivated garden areas up near the mansion, including one small garden space with a gazebo that was serving as the setting for a wedding when we saw it. Cylburn Arboretum

There were also a number of beautiful old dissected Japanese maples on the grounds.

A shot from the inside of an area where four Japanese maples had grown up in a circular planting area, making them look like a single, enormous tree.

A shot from the inside of an area where four Japanese maples had grown up in a circular planting area, making them look like a single, enormous tree.

It was the area nearest the Vollmer Center (and the Center itself), however, that I found most appealing the day we visited. The Center, designed by GWWO Architects, is nestled down in the landscape below the Cylburn Mansion, built into a slope and boasting views into the surrounding trees that were nothing short of spectacular the day we visited. It is modest in both size and aspect but extremely well designed, and has a number of  “green” features, including geothermal heating and cooling and composting toilets. Hope you enjoy these photos of it and its surroundings, and do plan a visit if you’re in the area.

Perfect Gardens in Virginia’s Piedmont Area

Posted October 23, 2015 by Melissa
Categories: landscape, photography, Travel

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In mid-October, the Association of Professional Landscape Designers held their national design conference here in Washington, DC. In addition to a full day or more of sessions on sustainability in gardens, marketing, design topics and the like, the conference included three full days of visiting gardens, two in the DC suburbs and one in the Piedmont region of Virginia, outside Charlottesville.

I had been involved in helping select the Maryland and northern Virginia gardens conference-goers visited, so I didn’t sign up for those two days. But I was really curious about two gardens scheduled for the Monday ‘Piedmont region’ extension of the conference, and so joined a number of good friends for a day trip to see them.

Our first stop was Mt. Sharon Farm, in Orange, VA. Designed by landscape architect Charles Stick in collaboration with the owners (Mary Lou and Charlie Seilheimer), the garden sits on a hilltop overlooking beautiful vistas that Mrs. Seilheimer described as thinking she is “lucky to come home to” every day.

Association of Professional Landscape Designers, Mt. Sharon Farm, APLD

One of the views from a path at Mt. Sharon Farm.

The garden itself was begun in 2000 but feels as though it has been there for many decades, in part because of the massive boxwoods that help create several ‘rooms’ and which Stick insisted should remain (another landscape architect whom the Seilheimers interviewed recommended removing all the boxwoods on site; he was not hired). Stick designed the garden with the principle in mind that all aspects of it should relate to the surrounding views outward, and it shows, even in spaces like the rose garden and the adjoining boxwood parterres.

Mt. Sharon is probably at its loveliest in the spring, and occasionally has been open to visitors during Virginia’s Garden Week. For more images of it during that time of year, visit Roger Foley’s website or check out his wonderful book, A Clearing in the Woods, which includes a chapter on Mt. Sharon.

After a too-short stay at Mt. Sharon, our bus took us onward to Warrenton, where we visited Marshfield, a 40-acre estate whose 12-acre garden has been designed by C. Colston Burrell. The current owner’s grandmother, Mrs. Samuel Appleton, was a founding member of the Garden Club of America, and so the gardens have been named the Appleton Gardens in her honor. The modest brick house at the top of the drive is tucked in among old oak trees and Japanese maples, but it was Burrell’s magic farther away from the house that drew me and my camera. We had plenty of time here, and ate dinner outside in the outer reaches of the garden. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, but this was for me the highlight of the trip.

Stopping By the Chicago Botanic Garden

Posted October 9, 2015 by Melissa
Categories: Environment, landscape, Landscape design solutions, photography, Travel

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On the same July trip that took me to Chicago and the Lurie Garden downtown, I also made a stop at the Chicago Botanic Garden (no, not in one day!). For years this garden has been on my list of public gardens I really wanted to see. It’s huge – 356 acres spread out over nine “islands,” with 26 different display gardens. Even in a full day, a visitor couldn’t do justice to all of it. So in a post-flight stop of several hours before dinner, I barely scratched the surface of a few of its offerings.

First of all, I have to say that regardless of where I was, the container plantings were spectacular. Even those inside the administrative buildings were awesome.

Chicago Botanic Garden

Interior plantings in one of the administrative buildings at the Chicago Botanic Garden in a color palette that I loved.

My friend and I visited the Heritage Garden, modeled after the first botanic garden in Europe, in Padua, and dedicated to Carl Linnaeus. It was bustling with visitors and full of mid-summer blooms.

Chicago Botanic Garden, Heritage Garden

A view of one of the rills in the Heritage Garden

From there we discovered the Circle Garden, which is apparently regularly planted with unusual annuals, beginning with a display of spring bulbs and ending in October with masses of chrysanthemums. We saw it lush with dahlias and Verbena bonariensis, one of my favorite annuals because of its airy nature and tendency to self-seed (although not, unfortunately, in my own garden).

Chicago Botanic Garden, Circle Garden

In a small “side room” of the Circle Garden, four boxwoods are underplanted with a chartreuse sedum – a great color combination.

Verbena bonariensis dances in front of a fountain in the Circle Garden.

Verbena bonariensis dances in front of a fountain in the Circle Garden.

Chicago Botanic Garden, Circle Garden

Verbena and red fountain grass in a mixed planting along a path border in the Circle Garden.

After the Circle Garden, we walked to the Japanese Garden on a separate island.

Chicago Botanic Garden, Japanese Garden

The center hedge is of Hinoki falsecypress, the first time I’ve ever seen that tree used in such a fashion.

Chicago Botanic Garden, Japanese Garden

A view from the main island of the Japanese Garden over to a separate, smaller island not accessible to visitors.

By the time we left the Japanese Garden, I thought there could hardly be anything more impressive than what I’d seen, particularly since our next destination was the vegetable and fruit garden. (Confession time – I have never found gardens devoted solely to fruits and vegetables particularly visually appealing.) However, I was in for a real surprise. Known as the Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden, the area features 400 kinds of edible plants that do well in the Chicago area. It offers family activities and educational programs. But it was the garden’s clever use of hardscape choices and designs (raised beds, decorative brick paving patterns, vertical surfaces for growing herbs and veggies) that took the garden into the realm of ‘art.’

Chicago Botanic Garden, Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden

The raised beds visitors see as they approach the Fruit and Vegetable Garden by bridge is spectacular.

So I leave you with a sampling of images from the Fruit and Vegetable Garden, and I urge you to visit the Chicago Botanic Garden when you can. I can’t wait to return.




A Visit to Chicago’s Lurie Garden

Posted September 25, 2015 by Melissa
Categories: architecture, Environment, landscape, Landscape design solutions, Travel

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In late July, I made a short visit to some friends in Chicago whom I hadn’t seen in many years. High on my list of sights to take in were two iconic but very different gardens – the Chicago Botanic Garden about twenty miles north of the city, and the Lurie Garden, sited downtown on the south side of Millennium Park. Happily, I was able to work in a visit to both, but let’s take a look in this post at the award-winning Lurie Garden, built about ten years ago on top of the Lakefront Millennium parking garage – right, a parking garage – smack in the middle of downtown, next to the Chicago Art Institute and a stone’s throw from the famous “bean” sculpture.

Visible from the second floor of the new modern wing of the Art Institute, the 3-acre public ‘botanic garden’ adjoins a bandshell ‘headdress’ sculpture designed by Frank Gehry that anchors the Great Lawn, a public venue for concerts and other events. The garden is divided into ‘Light’ and ‘Dark’ Plates, separated by what is (somewhat preciously) called ‘the Seam,’ a boardwalk boundary between the two.

Lurie Garden

A view of the Lurie Garden’s Light and Dark Plates, separated by the Seam, from the modern wing of the Chicago Art Institute.

Two outer edges of most of the garden are visually enclosed by what is called the ‘Shoulder Hedge,’ taking its name from the Carl Sandberg poem which referred to Chicago as the “city of big shoulders.” The hedge is big indeed, fifteen feet high (there are metal girders that act as frame and guide for pruning) plantings of dark evergreens, designed to protect the lower perennial plantings from visitors leaving the Great Lawn after events there. When I visited, mid-summer plantings of ornamental grasses, Amsonia hubrechtii, coneflowers and daisies were in full bloom in the Light Plate area.

The Lurie Garden won the 2008 American Society of Landscape Architects General Design Award of Excellence, honoring the Seattle landscape architecture team of Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd. and the planting genius of Piet Oudolf (who was responsible for the perennial planting design). The following description of the garden comes from the ASLA website:

Chicago built itself up from marshy origins and continues to rise ambitiously skyward. A refinement of nature and natural resources has accompanied Chicago’s willful development. Similarly, the site of the Lurie Garden has been built up over time. It has been elevated from wild shoreline, to railroad yard, to parking garage, to roof garden. Lurie Garden celebrates the exciting contrast between the past and present that lay within this site.

The strong grid layout of Chicago’s streets highlights striking physical features that are not orthogonal. Railways form sensuous braids that merge and swell through the grid. Angled roads radiate out of Chicago like crooked spokes from Grant Park’s location in the center of the city. The paths and other forms of the Lurie Garden, and their relationships to the formal grid structure of Grant Park, are inspired by these patterns and by the strong forms of Chicago’s bold, urban, and Midwestern landscape.

Although I visited in mid-summer, the garden’s website photographs demonstrate clearly the beauty of the landscape year-round. If you’re visiting downtown Chicago in the coming year, I urge you to stop by the Lurie Garden and experience its pleasures for yourself.

CityGuides II – SF Architecture and Private ‘Public’ Spaces

Posted July 25, 2015 by Melissa
Categories: architecture, Environment, photography, Travel, urban photography

Tags: , , ,

If you read my last post, you know I’m a fan of San Francisco City Guides, a volunteer-run series of wonderful walking tours within the city. When I last visited, in June, I wanted to take their Tales of the Castro tour, but it had been cancelled for Pride Weekend (probably a wise decision given the other events scheduled for the area that weekend).

Instead, I opted for a walk called ‘South of Market Architecture Stroll,’ which promised to focus on architecture and history in and around the Financial District. To my delight, it not only delivered on that promise but also included a look at a number of privately owned ‘public spaces’ (or POPOS, as they’re called in San Francisco).

More about those in a moment. First, however, a look at the Bell Building’s amazing interior space – primarily the lobby, but  quite a show. Located at 140 Montgomery Street, the Bell Building was built in 1925. Parts of its exterior walls on one side of the building still have a bell motif with ‘telephone book’ pages above them.

Bell Building, San Francisco

One side of the Bell Building, at 140 Montgomery Street. Note the ‘telephone pages’ motif at the top, with repeating “bell” symbols at the bottom.

Inside the lobby, the Art Deco motifs are stunning.

At one point, there was discussion of turning the building into condos, which didn’t happen. Today, the primary tenant is Yelp (not all their employees, just some).

Much of the rest of our tour (although not all) involved seeing POPOS, or ‘privately owned public open spaces.‘ Since 1985, San Francisco has required developers constructing projects in defined areas of the city to provide publicly accessible spaces in the form of terraces, parks, atriums, and other spaces for use by the public. These spaces may be inside a building, on top of it, or completely outdoors. Buildings with such spaces are required to post signs (which must be a specified size or larger; apparently initially some building owners used miniscule signage to discourage people from learning about their POPOS!). Like this.

A 'Public Open Space' notice at 101 Second Street in San Francisco. Note that open hours are specified since this is interior space in a building.

A ‘Public Open Space’ notice at 101 Second Street in San Francisco. Note that open hours are specified since this is interior space in a building.

Some of the POPOS have food and/or restrooms available (although you may have to look a bit for the latter). Some have quiet spaces away from the bustle of the street, in case you are between appointments or want a place to hang out other than a restaurant or coffee shop.

A privately-owned but publicly accessible space in the form of an atrium at 101 Second Street. There is a coffee bar under the mezzanine area.

A privately-owned but publicly accessible space in the form of an atrium at 101 Second Street. There is a coffee bar under the mezzanine area.

Tucked away at the back of 55 Second Street is this spacious, large space sometimes used for meetings by City Guides volunteers.

Tucked away at the back of 55 Second Street is this spacious, large space sometimes used for meetings by City Guides volunteers.

The outdoor spaces are equally impressive, and often include art funded through the city’s “1% Art Program” which requires that large projects in  Downtown and nearby neighborhoods provide public art that equals at least 1% of the total construction cost.

There are so many POPOS that an entire CityGuides walk is devoted to them. You can also find a map online and lots of reviews by city natives of their favorites – just Google “POPOS.” I  hope to see more when I next return to the City By the Bay.

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Garden Shoots will be on vacation for the month of August. See you in September!

Walking with CityGuides in San Francisco – Part 1

Posted July 10, 2015 by Melissa
Categories: architecture, photography, Travel

Tags: , , ,

Last February, I spent a long weekend in San Francisco visiting family. While I was there, I took a walking tour offered by San Francisco City Guides. This volunteer organization, started by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library over twenty years ago, offers free guided tours in countless parts of the city (donations are accepted at the end of each tour, to offset administrative and operating expenses). On this tour, I spent a fascinating two hours in the Mission District on a tour called “Mission Murals.” We started out at Precita and Harrison Streets, behind an elementary school. En route to the meet-up point, I’d already seen any number of murals.

Our guide (whose name I don’t remember, unfortunately – he was terrific) showed us murals on the back of the elementary school, then took us to the Precita Valley Community Center, where I struggled (unsuccessfully) to capture the mural in its entirety.

The Precita Valley Community Center is covered with a three-story mural

The Precita Valley Community Center is covered with a three-story mural

Many of the murals in the Mission have been created by PrecitaEyes Muralists, a nonprofit arts organization based in the community that sponsors ongoing mural projects in the Bay Area and internationally. Their artists are enormously talented. The final stop on this tour (which took up almost an hour, not surprisingly, was Balmy Alley, where virtually every garage door and building wall is covered in amazing murals.

It was a wonderful, colorful introduction to a part of the city I hadn’t known. Next post – discovering hidden ‘public spaces’ with CityGuides.



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