Archive for the ‘Environment’ category

A Visit to Kenrokuen Garden

December 1, 2016

Last month, I took a photography trip to Japan led by the incomparable Sam Abell. Our itinerary was unusual since most of the cities we visited were off the beaten track for most tourists, and I didn’t expect it to include any memorable gardens, especially since we weren’t headed to Kyoto, known for its stunning public and private gardens.

To my delight, I quickly discovered how wrong I was. In almost every city we visited, there was at least one breathtaking garden, often associated with a local temple, whether small or large. And in Kanazawa (located on the Sea of Japan in north central Honshu island), we spent most of a day exploring Kenrokuen, which is considered one of Japan’s three most beautiful gardens.

In 1985, Kenrokuen was designated as a National Site of Special Scenic Beauty by the government (having been merely a “place of scenic beauty” for several decades prior to that). Its construction began in the late 1600’s as part of the feudal lord Maeda Tsunanori’s creation of a garden adjacent to Kanzawa Castle. “Kenrokuen” means “having six factors,” and refers to six attributes considered by the Chinese and Japanese to create a perfect landscape: spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water sources, and a magnificent panoramic view. This garden, which extends over 25 acres in size, has them all.

Although we encountered rain off and on during our visit (not surprising given Kanazawa’s reputation as a “distinctly wet” city with over 190 days of rain a year), we enjoyed taking in the peak fall color of the leaves and watching the gardening staff taking part in yukitsuri. Yukitsuri, which literally means “snow hanging,” is the name for the annual process in which garden staff erect ropes in a conical shape over garden trees and shrubs in order to create structure to keep their branches from breaking in the wet, heavy snow the region gets every year. The resulting structures are not only practically useful but aesthetically appealing – a ‘win-win’ situation for garden visitors. The pine trees, in particular, are carefully taken care of; there is one that is over 200 years old and has many of its lower branches supported by sturdy wooden ‘props.’

Kenrokuen is visited year-round by many people, especially now that bullet train service is available from Tokyo. In the winter, the landscape must be breathtaking in snow. Spring brings cherry trees, azaleas and irises in bloom, and in summer the landscape views are all green and lush. In fall, when we visited, the trees are ablaze with golds, reds and yellows of countless varieties of Japanese maples. And year-round there are ponds to visit, paths to stroll, and teahouses placed for their views and to offer sustenance and contemplation for the visitor. By the time I left, at the end of the day, I had resolved to return in another season, and I hope you will be intrigued by these images to consider a similar resolve.

Kenrokuen Garden is located in Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan. It is open year-round from 7 am to 6 pm during March to mid-October, and from 8 am to 5 pm from October 16th to the end of February. Admission fees vary (free for senior citizens with ID). More information can be found on its website.

Stopping By the Chicago Botanic Garden

October 9, 2015

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

September 25, 2015

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

July 25, 2015

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!

Discovering Long Bridge Park

January 9, 2015

Last summer, as I was nearing the end of my photo-a-day project (or rather, its extension after the workshop ended), I ventured across the bridge to Arlington, Virginia with a friend from the class. We were exploring the Crystal City/Rosslyn area, which consists primarily of large office and apartment buildings centered around the Crystal City Metro stop. Sarah wanted to check out some galleries, but afterwards we walked around and eventually stumbled onto the Long Bridge Park area.
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The park, which has three full-size, large athletic fields and an elevated walkway planted on either side with native perennials, is near I-395. The walkway offers views of the Potomac River and flights taking off from National Airport.

The walkway over Long Bridge Park offers views of the National Monument.

The walkway over Long Bridge Park offers views of the National Monument.

Long Bridge Park

Joe Pye Weed and other native perennials line the walkway, which also serves as a running destination for local residents

County residents have authorized a bond offering that would help fund a large aquatic center, but the County Board recently shelved plans as construction bids came in too high. Nonetheless, the athletic fields apparently are quite popular. And as we wound up our walk in downtown Crystal City, we found the other end of the Park’s offerings, a beautiful ‘water wall’ installation that helped cool us off on a hot July afternoon.

Long Bridge Park

These water walls and plantings (looked like feather reed grass to me!) in the downtown area of the park help provide green space for all the surrounding office buildings.

October at Longwood – Part 2 – the Meadow Garden

November 1, 2014

When my friend Sarah and I planned our trip to Longwood earlier this month, one of the destinations I had in mind within the gates was its new Meadow Garden. Opened in June of this year, the 86-acre expanse was designed by Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects and boasts three miles of walking trails and boardwalks that take visitors from the edge of Hourglass Lake up to the Webb Farmhouse and Galleries. We covered a lot of territory (and continued to struggle with the strong sun, photographically) and marveled at how beautiful and wild the garden is. Some friends who had visited in September had been able to see goldenrod in flower, at the end of the summer season, and we were a bit early for strong fall color in the trees. But these images should give you a good idea of how magnificent the space is.

For more information on the Meadow, visit Longwood’s website and this excellent article published by the American Society of Landscape Architects earlier this year when the Meadow Garden opened.

High Summer at the US Botanic Garden

October 3, 2014

In late August, I took a personal field trip to the US Botanic Garden, located on The Mall in downtown DC. It had been a while since I visited. The National Garden has grown in since its early days and was the site of lots of cleanup work the day I was there, so I didn’t photograph it. But the areas around the entrance to the building were awash with beautiful, full late-summer plantings, both in beds and containers, including those planted as an extension of the garden’s “Amber Waves of Grain” exhibit  (which remains up through October 13).  Hope you enjoy the photos!


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