Posted tagged ‘trees’

Cylburn Arboretum and the Vollmer Center

November 6, 2015

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.

Green Screens for Small Spaces

March 7, 2015

Garden Shoots is on a hiatus while I let my left hand heal. . .  Until I can type again with both hands, I hope you will enjoy one of the blog’s 
most popular posts from the past. Hope to be back in action sometime in April!

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One of the requests I hear most frequently as a designer who lives in a suburban area is for screening plants. Maybe your neighbor’s house is a McMansion, or perhaps you just don’t want to look out your porch or the dining room window and see the street or – whatever. If you’re lucky, you have a large enough yard and enough sun that you can accommodate a mixed grouping of trees – some conifers (no Leyland cypresses, please!), a holly or two, and some deciduous but ornamental trees mixed in.

In some cases, however, the space available is more limited. Here is where I make a pitch for a tree that may not be as well known as the American holly or even the Japanese cryptomeria. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata,’ or the fastigiate hornbeam.

Before looking at the slimmed-down version, the straight species deserves its own moment of glory. I first encountered Carpinus betulus on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate outside of Asheville, North Carolina many years ago on a glorious early autumn day. Although the fall color is only hinted at in this photo, it’s a glorious golden hue and a real plus.

Carpinus betulus, European hornbeam

A mature Carpinus betulus starting to show fall color on the grounds of the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, North Carolina

At the time, I didn’t know what kind of tree it was, but I made it my business to find out later. Since then, while I haven’t had clients with the kind of space needed in their gardens to plant one of these “regular” Carpinus, I’ve discovered the merits of its smaller cousin.

Carpinus betulus 'Fastigiata'

Young Carpinus betulus

Fastigiate hornbeams (‘Fastigiata’ or a supposedly even narrower version, ‘Franz Fontaine,’) have a branching structure that is so tight it stops the eye, even when the tree isn’t in leaf. I’ve seen them planted as close together as 4′ on center, although I prefer to space them out six to seven feet apart (measured from trunk to trunk). This photo shows three ‘Fastigiata,’ planted along a six-foot fence in a back yard in the District of Columbia about seven years ago. Today they are fully grown together, about twenty feet high, and the garden owner loves them, especially since she can no longer see the car parked in her neighbor’s back yard.

I have seen them planted more formally (and seemingly “topped”), as a backdrop for a parking area at Muddy Rugs in Connecticut last August on a Garden Conservancy Tour.

Carpinus betulus, fastigiate

Fastigiate hornbeams, looking like lollipops, screening a parking area at a Connecticut house.

They can be kept relatively short and used as a hedge in smaller suburban spaces between houses, although I’m not sure how attractive I find them when treated that way if the height is seriously curtailed.

Carpinus betulus, hedge

These fastigiate hornbeams have been clipped into a kind of hedge between two new houses in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

(Of course, the Ellipse at Dumbarton Oaks is the most famous use of a clipped hornbeam hedge that I know of, but there the height at which the trees are kept is probably closer to 30-40 feet.)

Dumbarton Oaks, Ellipse, Patrick Dougherty

The hornbeam hedge at Dumbarton Oaks (shown here with Patrick Dougherty’s  ‘Easy Rider’ installation).

So you probably get the picture. The added bonus is that hornbeams can “take a little shade,” as designers like to say. That allows them to be used in less than ideally sunny sites, either mixed with other kinds of screening trees or on their own. And the fastigiate varieties can be utilized where space is very tight (a narrow space between two houses, for example); over time you can limb up the lower branches so that they can clear a low fence, or prune them to keep them tight.

But truthfully? I prefer situations where you can give them some breathing room, even when using them for screening. Here’s a perfect example, where local landscape architect Guy Williams has used matching pairs to great effect on one side of a somewhat formally designed back yard, both to screen the house next door but also to set off the space with grace.

Carpinus betulus

Four European hornbeam trees act as a screen but also as a focal point in this garden.

So the next time you’re contemplating how to screen a view – or just add some beauty to your garden – give some thought to a hornbeam. You won’t regret it.

Garden Shoots will take a brief holiday break over the Christmas weekend. See you in the New Year!

Beautiful Bonsai at the National Arboretum

February 6, 2015

In early January of this new year, I was feeling a little stir-crazy at home. So I decided to visit the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, at the National Arboretum. I had drifted through the collections before, on other visits, but this time I went specifically to see these miniature treasures.

As many of you probably already know, bonsai is the Japanese art form of growing minature trees in containers (bonsai literally means “planting in tray,” according to Wikipedia). It is over one thousand years old. A similar practice grew up in ancient China, where it is called “penjing” and includes creating miniature landscapes as well as trees.

 

National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, National Bonsai Foundation,  US National Arboretum

Part of the collection at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum.

Because it was winter, some of the bonsai specimens were leafless – but not all of them. A conifer is a conifer, after all, regardless of size. So the Chinese and California junipers, as well as the camellias, still sported their leaves – and one camellia was even in bloom. It was a quiet afternoon, well-suited to enjoying the charms of these beautiful specimens. Here are some of my favorites. If you’re ever fortunate enough to visit the Arboretum, don’t overlook this hidden gem. The museum’s hours are more limited, however, so plan your visit between 10 am and 4 pm most days.

 

A Visit to a Memorial in Downtown DC

May 24, 2014

Several weeks ago, on a visit to the National Building Museum with a friend, I came across the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial for the first time. Located in the Judiciary Square area of downtown Washington DC (in the 400 block of E Street, N.W.), the memorial honors law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.

National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial

The memorial occupies a large plaza space in front of the National Building Museum and is reachable by Metro’s Judiciary Square stop.

The circulating pool in the center is a popular site for birds refreshing themselves, but the most striking feature of the memorial is two long curving walls of blue-gray marble walls, carved with the names of over 2000 officers killed in the line of duty (new names are added regularly).

National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial

A portion of one of the walls carved with names. Flowers are left as tributes, and sometimes photos.

From a design standpoint, the curving walls also provide a place for rest, reflection, and a respite if it is sunny thanks to the carefully pruned linden tree hedges that reminded me somewhat of the hornbeam hedges at Dumbarton Oaks. You can choose one side or the other of the plaza to avoid the sun if it’s very bright.

National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial

One of the curved pathways. There is a seatwall on one side of each of the paths on either side of the plaza while the other wall is carved with names.

At the entrance to each of the curved pathways, there are sculptures of an adult lion protecting its cubs – symbolic of the protective service provided by law enforcement officers to the public.
National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial

National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial

The day I visited, there were flowers bedecking all of the lion statues.

The center of the memorial is a large plaza, planted with honey locust trees, which cast high, light shadows in summer – perfect for sheltering people walking across the plaza.

National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial

The center plaza part of the memorial.

The memorial is about three acres in size and apparently is filled with daffodils in bloom in the spring. For more information about its history and events that are held there periodically, please visit its website.

 

 


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