Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens


I have recently returned from Pittsburgh, my second trip this year. While each visit had a different focus, one of my favorite memories is of an early morning photo excursion to the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.


Visiting urban botanical gardens is a bit of a passion of mine.  They are not always easy to classify, although an underlying scientific basis is required. Documentation, monitoring and labeling of the plants within the collection and a commitment to education, information, research and exchange are also required.


The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is located in Schenley Park, one of Pittsburgh’s largest green spaces. It is sited in the lower left hand corner of pictorial map below from the 1930’s, restored and enhanced by artist Carol Skinger.


Founded in 1892, The Phipps Conservatory was presented as a gift to the city of Pittsburgh by philanthropist Henry W. Phipps, a partner of Andrew Carnegie, for instruction and entertainment providing, “a sanctuary, a verdant space where smog-weary citizens could find respite from the notorious steel mills and smoke stacks that relentlessly polluted our metropolis.”


The glasshouse, designed by Lord & Burnham at a cost of $100,000, originally contained nine display rooms that featured plants exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.


Phipps’s remained an active supporter of the Conservatory and gardens throughout his lifetime and funded the expansion of the glasshouse, as early as 1896, just three years after its dedication.  Today the enlarged Conservatory is complemented by a series of outdoor gardens and the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, one of the “greenest’ buildings in the world.


The juxtaposition of the two facilities, which are connected by a series of outdoor garden spaces, exemplifies the evolution of botanical gardens and horticulture.


The complex, a felicitous blend of historic and emerging approaches to innovation and sustainable practices, supports Phipp’s mission, “to inspire and educate all with the beauty and importance of plants; to advance sustainability and promote human and environmental well-being through action and research; and to celebrate the historic glasshouse.”


The first visitor facility in a public garden to earn LEED certification, The Welcome Center, seen above, opened in 2005. It is designed to allow visitors to enter the greenhouse at a lower level, providing the obligatory guest experiences including a gift shop and a three star Green Restaurant featuring local and organic produce, some of which is grown on the Rooftop Edible Garden.


Contained within the  glasshouse are the Palm Court, Sunken Garden, Victoria Room, East Room, Desert Room, Serpentine Room, Fern Room, Orchid Room, Broderie Room, South Conservatory, Tropical Fruit and Spice Room and the Gallery.   The Sunken Garden is seen below.


The Broderie Room (Parterre de Broderie) opened in 1939 and was redesigned in 1966. Modeled after the formal gardens of French chateaux during the reign of Louis XIV, its name translates to “embroidery of earth.”


Two aquatic gardens were added in the early 1900’s and 1939 on the east side of the Conservatory (outside of the Victoria Room). They feature a statue of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.



Botany Hall, funded by Phipps in 1901 to be used by local teachers to enhance visits to the glasshouse by school children, continues to serve as a facility for educational programming and events.


In support of the educational mission, a Children’s Discovery Garden, includes areas designed to attract birds, butterflies, and bees and contains varied spaces, including a bog and sensory garden.




Installed in 1991, the Japanese Courtyard Garden was designed by Hoichi Kurisu to represent two art forms. As a manmade landscape created to appear natural, the garden’s bonsai are miniature representations of trees and landscapes.



Approximately three acres in size, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes was designed to be one of the first projects to achieve LEED Platinum and Four Stars Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) certification while fulfilling the Living Building Challenge for net-zero energy. Opened in 2012, it was designed as a collaboration between The Design Alliance Architects and landscape architects Andropogon Associates.



In contrast to the formal aquatic gardens, the Center for Sustainable Landscape’s paths informally traverse the landscape and grade dramatically until they reach the boardwalk, water fountain and lagoon, where a peaceful setting places the visitor within the landscape.


The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens  continues to support the legacy of its founder through ambitious public educational programming and by “reimagining and reinventing its campus” to become one of America’s greenest public gardens.  As an international leader in sustainable architecture and operations Phipps is both a  symbol of “regeneration and renewal.”


 Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Book Review: A Natural History of English Gardening by Mark Laird

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As every gardener is well aware despite careful and deliberate planning their success lies beyond their control, held hostage to the complex realities of natural forces and the multiple dimensions of time and space. In his magnum opus, A Natural History of English Gardening, historic landscape consultant, garden conservator and historian Mark Laird explores this dichotomy, placing the history of the garden at the intersection of ecology and culture; a vibrant, messy place at the nexus of control and chaos.

Laird’s inspiration derives from the writings of Gilbert White, the pioneering naturalist whose 1789 natural history of Selborne intimately records both the natural and cultural forces of a singular English village. In contrast he cites Horace Walpole, owner of the Gothic Revival estate Strawberry Hill, whose popular book The History of the Modern Taste in Gardening, published in 1780, informed the literary genre for many years to follow with its singular focus on taste and heroic designers at the exclusion of “life forms that inhabit the garden.” Its an imbalance that Laird seeks to ameliorate.

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Badminton from the south, attribued to Thomas Smith. Photograph courtesy the Duke of Beaufort.

To do so A Natural History of English Gardening travels outside the realm of the country house, with its rigidly defined coda of design elements, to explore both the city and court where innovations and explorations in natural history were transforming garden concepts. From the coffee house to the tea room, these are the places where what Laird describes as a “horticultural culture” flourished, shaped by informal groups of plant collectors, nurserymen and botanical scientists.

Laird devotes a chapter to a new world vision of the garden in which plants and animals, both exotic and indigenous, were integrated within the garden, with varying degrees of success. One is reminded of Linnaeus, who famously housed his pet raccoon, Sjupp, at his botanical garden in Uppsala. The 2nd Duke of Richmond’s menagerie, where animals “partnered” with concepts evoking the “American Grove” and Princess Augusta’s Aviary at Kew offer “comparative vignettes of feeling vying with sensibilities.”

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An illustration shows the Temple Flower Garden of Richard Bateman’s Grove House, Old Windsor, Berkshire, in the 1730s. Private Collection.

Although Laird suggests that A Natural History of English Gardening “inclines to the fragmentary” he identifies three key themes that inform his approach. These include the contribution of women to natural history and gardening, the role of amateurs, both women and men, to the increasingly professionalized, male dominated sciences and the split sensibilities innate to gardening which Gilbert observed and recorded at Selborne.

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Mary Delany, ‘Magnolia grandiflora’ (detail) 26 August 1776, collage of coloured papers, with bodycolour and watercolor. British Museum.

Laird’s focus on women whom he describes as “engaged patrons of an innovative eden” is extensive and much appreciated. While the work of artist Mary Delany is well known, her circle of influence is less so, including her close association with Mary Cavendish Bentinck, wife of the 2nd duke of Portland. The importance of the domestic arts and the contributions of women naturalists to horticultural innovation provides a new lens in which to view the garden.

A Natural History of English Gardening is a carefully crafted and well-researched, replete with extensive full color illustrations, plans, paintings, journal entries, correspondence and notations. Its seven chapters are preceded by a series of illustrative watercolour, pencil and crayon plates beautifully rendered by the author. At 450 pages in length it is both large and heavy and might possibly be mistaken for a coffee table embellishment belying its depth as a work of scholarship.

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Sarah Stone, Interior of Leverian Museum: View as It Appeared in the 1780’s, as copied in 1835 watercolour. British Museum.

This is an important book that provides new insights into the discipline of garden history, a field which is long due for an overhaul. By viewing the cultivated landscape as both a natural and cultural phenomenon, Laird links the past with current concerns including biodiversity, climate change and habitat loss reinforcing the interconnected nature of all life forms, a concept that is as relevant today as ever.

A Natural History of English Gardening
By Mark Laird
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Fuller Gardens


I am always on the lookout for books to review for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and grateful when my local library purchases garden books that I can borrow before I decide to add them to my personal collection. It is even more of a treat when I discover a book that, for any number of reasons (size, cost, title, weird personal preferences), I wouldn’t read if it did not appear on the “new titles” shelf.

Thus is the case of Bunny Williams’ book On Garden Style, a three-hundred page, over-sized tome, by one of America’s best-known interior designers. First published in 1998, the book purports to provide both the novice and professional gardener, ways to think about “style, form, ornament and the look and feel of a garden” helping readers to “ imagine and design their own personal sanctuaries.”


What most surprised me was the brief introduction which I truly enjoyed.  If a love of gardens and landscapes is, as Williams speculates a journey begun in childhood, for me that journey began at the Fuller Gardens, located on the coast of New Hampshire just south of Rye Beach, where I spent summers growing up.  I visited the garden in the late spring for the first time in many years.

Governor of Massachusetts from 1925 – 1929, Alvin T. Fuller was a successful businessman and entrepreneur who created the first auto dealership in Boston.


His summer estate, located in Little Boar’s Head North Hampton, was named Runnymede-by-the-Sea.  In 1927 Fuller commissioned landscape architect Arthur Shurtleff (Shurcliff) to design a garden on the property.


Described as one of New England’s “most cherished 20th century estate gardens” the garden is intimately scaled and divided into two areas by a private driveway (seen on the map below) leading to the original (circa 1890) carriage house which is now used for staff purposes.  The gardens to the right of the map are part of the original design.Screen shot 2015-09-19 at 10.49.41 AM

A wooden gate, which I used many times and is now closed, provided access to the front garden from what was the location of Runnymede-by-the Sea (footprint seen above) which was removed in 1961, three years after Fuller’s death.


Designed in the Colonial revival style, the formal front garden is bordered by perennial beds with a recessed parterre planted with roses.




The front garden’s axis terminates in a small lawn panel with a fountain and leads to  the Japanese Garden.


Part of the original design, the Japanese garden is surrounded by cedar trees. Ethereally beautiful, this very intimate space with its koi pond, small bridge and sculptural elements starkly contrasts with the bright colors and sharp textures of the front garden.



According to the Garden’s website Governor Fuller wanted the front garden to serve as a “showpiece” and amenity for the public despite the fact that he and his wife were infrequent visitors. Instead they derived “a great deal of pleasure looking from their bedroom windows over the road into the garden, seeing a great deal of people — especially on weekends — enjoying its charm.”

In the 1930’s the Olmsted Brothers were retained to improve the gardens and design a rose garden in honor of Fuller’s wife, Viola. Containing 1,500 bushes of 125 varieties, the rose garden is enclosed by a privet hedge with circular beds connected by grass pathways and an antique wellhead at its center.



Described as the side garden on the map, the rose garden is connected to the conservatory and the Lydia Fuller Bottomley garden added in 2005.


Honoring Fuller’s daughter, the Lydia Fuller Bottomley garden is centered upon a reflecting pool with a graceful marble statue. It feature statuary gifted to the Gardens by Bottomley.



The Fullers were avid art collectors who donated works to the National Gallery of Art in Washington and The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston including, Monet’s “The Water Lily Pond,” and Renoir’s “Boating Couple.” On their travels abroad they also collected statues and fountains to place in the garden. I like to think the garden was considered part of their art collection.



The Fuller Gardens were officially opened to the public in 1958 after Governor Fuller’s death and for many years they were open free of charge. In 2001 Presley Associates of Cambridge developed a master plan formalizing the entry area, improving parking and adding a gift shop.


I return to that girl on a bicycle who slipped through the wooden gate to a small and somewhat secret garden many years ago. There were seldom many, if any, people there and like Mary Lennox I developed a deep, affection for this place, which was unlike any I had experienced. It’s particular magic never failed to enchant.   The images below of the front and side garden, converted from slides, are from 1988.



The Gardens are open from mid-May to mid October, seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For additional information visit: The 2015 adult ticket fee is $9.00.


Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Augustus Saint-Gaudens: A Sculptor and his Garden


As summer slips away I have been working on my list of local garden visits which, like my summer reading list, is often overly ambitious and unfulfilled. Most recently I traveled to Cornish, NH where at the turn of the century an artist’s colony flourished with American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens at its center.


Painting of Saint-Gaudens by Kenyon Cox, 1908

For those of us who live in Boston Saint-Gaudens is revered for the magnificent Shaw Memorial, sited on the Boston Common across the street from the Bullfinch-designed state house. Deemed “sculptor of the American Renaissance” his portfolio of civic projects is complemented by his other work which includes portrait reliefs, medals and coins.


Studies for the Shaw Memorial (seen above) as well as a plaster portrait relief of author and poet Robert Louis Stevenson (seen below) are examples of Saint-Gaudens’ work displayed at the site.


Saint-Gaudens summered in Cornish beginning in 1885 and purchased Aspet, named after his father’s birthplace in France, in 1892. In 1900, after being diagnosed with cancer, it became his permanent home. The view below, of the Pan fountain, is from an undated postcard.


During the time Saint-Gaudens lived at Aspet he and his wife, Augustus Fisher Homer, transformed the grounds adding gardens, hedges and recreation areas including a golf course, bowling green and swimming pool.  According to his son, Homer Saint-Gaudens, “. . . there was hardly a week in all the time my father spent on this place during twenty
-two years that he did not have something rebuilt or regraded to his intense enjoyment.”


His niece, Margaret Shurcliff (wife of landscape architect Arthur Schurcliff) wrote “Uncle Augustus took a great deal of joy in landscaping the grounds, and was the first to plant rows and rows of pine hedges. He surrounded the flower garden, the vegetable garden, the clothes yard and the swimming pool with pine hedges, thickened with a few scattered hemlocks. Like many a genius, Uncle Augustus was never satisfied. He was always rearranging his sculpture, and he liked to rearrange the hedges.”


The complex of buildings on the property includes the house and an ensemble of studios and galleries. All are connected by a series of outdoor rooms which provide the setting for sculptures sited within the landscape.  The simple elegance of the plan, seen below, shows the contrast of the formal landscape with its natural setting.


While the grounds reflect the personality of Saint-Gaudens they also collectively embody an example of the style of house and garden popular in Cornish during this era in which the indoor and outdoor environments of the many artists and writers living in the region served as an extension of their art.


The complex of buildings and the various components of the landscape, including views of Mount Ascutney, recall the artist and his way of life.  The intimacy of the natural world and the beauty of the changing landscape provided Saint-Gaudens ongoing inspiration.


The gardens are a well-preserved example of the type of garden favored in this country in the early years of the 20th century which, as noted in the property’s cultural landscape report, were Italian in inspiration but highly personal in detail, where flowers and other plants were used profusely more for “aesthetic effect than as collections of horticultural rarities.”

A plan of the garden, along with several photographs, was included in the 1908 book American Gardens, edited by Guy Lowell.

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More than one hundred years later the white curved bench that terminates the formal garden remains.


The Italianate styled flower garden is formally aligned with the rear of the house and enclosed by pine and hemlock hedges.  Old fashioned perennials line each side.




Designed by architect George Fletcher Babb the Little Studio, seen below, replaced a studio originally built in 1884.  It is here that Saint-Gaudens worked independently creating sketches to be enlarged and completed by his assistants.  The piazza was designed by Saint-Gaudens following a trip to Italy and lined with Doric columns.



Allées of birch trees connect the Little Studio to the Picture and New Galleries and Atrium.  Sited within are sculptural elements from the Shaw and Adams memorials.


These include a detail from a recast of the bronze funerary sculpture of Clover, wife of  historian Henry Adams, seen below. The original is sited in Washington, DC’s Rock Creek Cemetery and called by Adams,”The Peace of God.” “The Mystery of the Hereafter …..beyond pain and beyond joy” was the name given the work by Saint-Gaudens.


The New Gallery, Picture Gallery and Atrium are an ensemble of buildings connected by a circular courtyard. Remodeled in 1948 to include exhibition galleries they feature a Roman style atrium and pool.



Formerly the vegetable garden, the cutting garden is planted with historic varieties of annuals.  These are used by volunteers for floral arrangements throughout the house and studios.



A rustic ravine studio was used by Saint-Gaudens’ assistants for marble carving and sculpture production.  Built about 1900 it is sited at the beginning of a self-guided quarter-mile ravine trail following an old cart path along the Blow-Me-Up Brook which culminates at the Temple.  Designed in 1905 the Temple, originally a stage set for a play celebrating the 20th anniversary of Saint-Gaudens arrival in Cornish, houses the family ashes.




In 1902 Saint-Gaudens served on the MacMillan Commission charged with the beautification and redesign of the Mall in Washington, D.C. and the selection of a site for the Lincoln Memorial.  In 1904 he was chosen as one of the first seven members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  The photo below taken at the Little Studio is from 1906 and is found in a brochure celebrating the Lincoln Bicentennial.

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In 1965, Saint-Gaudens home and studios became the first site in the National Park Service to commemorate a visual artist and remains the only National Park site in New Hampshire.


The park is open daily from Memorial Day weekend through the end of October and exhibits more than 100 of Saint-Gaudens works.  During the summer series of 2 p.m. Sunday concerts, sponsored by the Trustees of the Saint-Gaudens Memorial, continue a tradition begun by Saint-Gaudens, who often held concerts in his studio for family and friends. The concerts are included with the paid admission to the site of $7.00 per person.


For additional information visit the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site.

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

The Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen


I recently spent several days in Hanover, Germany. I didn’t do any planning before my arrival and didn’t have an agenda or itinerary, instead hoping for a serendipitous convergence of parks and gardens of interest open during my visit. As is often the case when one has limited expectations, I was completely charmed by a city with one of the largest urban forests in Europe, a comprehensive network of greenways and public spaces, an amazing zoo and a beautiful city park celebrating its 100th anniversary, which fortuitously happened to be contiguous to the hotel in which I was staying.

However, none of this prepared me for my visit to the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen, described as among the finest ensembles of gardens and parks in Europe and which, embarrassingly, despite my forays into the study of garden history, I was unaware of.

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Containing one of the few Baroque gardens to survive in its essential form (despite the fact that 90% of Hanover was destroyed in World War ll) the gardens reflect the vision of a creative and powerful woman, Electress Sophie of Hanover. A keen intellectual, she was heiress to the British crown to which she nearly ascended.

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“The garden is my life,” professed Sophie and indeed she was an equal partner with her gardener, Martin Charbonnier, in its creation and design evolution. Raised in the Netherlands, Electress Sophie found inspiration in the Baroque gardens of her childhood and wished to replicate their qualities at Herrenhausen.

Fittingly, it was on a walk in her beloved gardens that the electress succumbed to heart failure in 1714.  The sculpture below, a memorial to Electress Sophie, stands on the southern edge of the garden.


At Herrenhausen three distinct gardens form an ensemble where art and culture coexist. The Baroque Great (Grosser) Garden, the Berggarten, with its botanical collections and the Georgengarten, a picturesque landscape in the English style that is the site of the Wilhelm Busch Museum for Caricature and Drawing Art.

Kolorierte Foto-Postkarte, 1908: Hannover-Herrenhausen. Großer Garten Herrenhausen. Am Goldfischteich.

“Everyone is allowed to seek diversion in the royal gardens …..” was inscribed in 1777 on the Prince’s Gate (although clear distinctions were made between the “common” people and those of rank). Today the gardens host an extensive calendar of festivals and events that are at the center of Hanover’s cultural offerings.



The Great Garden:

While work on the 50 hectare Great Garden began in 1666 it was laid out in its present form under Electress Sophie’s supervision between 1696 and 1714. To fool the eye the garden’s layout is skewed by 2.8 degrees underscoring its artificiality as a work of art in which nature is shaped by man.


The Great Garden from the north, as depicted on a copper engraving by N. Parr, around 1745

A masterpiece of Baroque design, the Great Garden contains the Great Parterre, planted between 1674 and 1678, as well as eight rectangular beds and water features, including four swan ponds.  Originally dug in 1697 as fish ponds the swan ponds were modified during the garden’s restoration in 1937.


The Great Parterre is connected to the larger landscape by a central axis (designed to represent eternity) and embellished with a series of water features including the Bell Fountain containing 164 water jets and the Grand Fountain whose 82 metre jet of water is purported to be the tallest in Europe.



Thirty-two pieces of sandstone sculpture are sited throughout the Great Garden including those representing the four continents, the four seasons, the four elements and the gods of the ancient world.


The design of the planting beds follows an idealistic program with ornamental box trees and more than 30,000 summer flowers.  A series of eight themed gardens date from 1936/1937 when portions of the garden were reconstructed and four of them trace the development of garden art from the Renaissance to the Rococo.


Germany’s first garden theater, created between 1689 and 1682, is framed by gilded lead statues enclosed in hedging. The first “hedge theatre” in Europe, it is the only one of its kind to survive to the present day.


One of the garden’s oldest surviving structures is the grand cascade dating from around 1670. Sited at the entrance to the Grand Parterre, the cascade balances the garden’s other oldest feature, a grotto originally designed in 1676 by grotto-maker (yes, it was a specialty) Michael Riggus.


The view of  the grand cascade below is included in Twelve Principal Views of Herrenhausen by Johann Sebastian Müller & publisher Robert Sayer; London; 1751-52 available at the British Museum.


Inaccessible for almost 250 years, the grotto was reimagined by the contemporary artist Niki de Saint Phalle who has a special connection with the city of Hanover. In her final declaration of affection for Hanover she transformed the three grotto rooms into a unique artistic experience. Begun in 1996, the grotto was formally opened in March 2003 and is her last major work.

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The Great Garden is surrounded by a canal accented by tree-lined walkways.  At each southern corner garden pavilions in the French classical style are sited.  Designed by court architect Louis Remy de la Fosse at the beginning of the 18th century they appear identical yet one is built of wood and one, having been rebuilt after a fire in 1752, is of stone.



A pedestrian bridge, which was not open during my visit, connects the Great Garden to the Georgengarten, the 50 hectare English landscape style park designed to contrast with the strict formality of the Great Garden.   Laid out between 1835-1841 and 1859-1860 by Royal master gardener Christian Schaumburg it is named after the Hanoverian King George IV.


Although I did not have an opportunity to visit the Georgengarten (which is fully public while the Great Garden and the Berggarten share an entrance fee) the map below details the relationship of the two landscapes.

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The Berggarten:

Located across from the Great Garden, the Berggarten (Mountain Garden) originally provided “useful plants for the sovereign’s table and pocket.” Here everything from rice to tobacco was experimented with until 1790 when the cultivation of fruits and vegetables was moved off site and it became solely devoted to “higher purposes” as a botanic garden.

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The Berggarten includes a series of greenhouses, both historic and modern, the library pavilion and a collection of themed gardens that include American and African desert plants; the iris, rock and pergola gardens; ornamental and herbaceous shrubs and perennials; moor and heath plantings; flowering meadows; cacti, tropics and orchid exhibition houses; a paradise garden and an ornamental and subtropical courtyard.
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The glasshouses include a collection of more than 800 flowering orchids and exotic plants from around the world.


Seriously damaged during World War ll when more than 111 bombs fell on the garden destroying all but one greenhouse, much of the garden has been rebuilt. In 2000 a Rain Forest House (Regenwaldhaus) opened on the site of the Great Palm House and in 2007 the Sea Life Aquarium was built.


The Mausoleum:


Erected for Queen Friederike and King Ernst August in 1842-1847, the royal Mausoleum is also the final resting place of George I, the only English king to be buried outside the British Isles since the Middle Ages. In the off-chance you are wondering, George I’s great-great-great-granddaughter was Queen Victoria, whose great-great-granddaughter is the current Queen Elizabeth whose great-granddaughter is Princess Charlotte.


Framed by majestic oaks transported from a forest north of Hanover, the royal mausoleum is on axis with the palace and terminates an allee of Dutch lindens (which are currently being replaced) dating from 1727.

The Palace:

The Berggarten and Great Garden have been owned and operated by the city of Hanover since 1936 and were fully restored in 1937.  During World War II  the palace and much of the gardens, with the exception of the Gallery and Orangery, were destroyed.  The restoration has been phased with the gardens restored for their tercentenary in 1966.  The palace, reconstructed with financial support from the Volkswagen Corporation reopened in 2013 as an international center for academic science, conference center and museum.  The entrance to the Great Garden is through the wooden doors seen below.



The Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen are, and always have been, a meeting place for the arts and sciences – an “open-air ballroom” where the high aristocracy of Europe were entertained with spectacular festivals, carnivals and artistic productions.  Today that legacy continues and the gardens host a renowned series of events including the International Fireworks Competition.  From May to September, the Great Garden is illuminated on selected evenings. To see an illumination visit:


The Great (Grosser) Garden/Berggarten  are open daily from 9am to 8 pm May to August otherwise until dusk. During the winter season and for special events the opening times are restricted. As open parkland the Georgengarten is open at all times.

For additional information visit:

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park


While public debate continues regarding Boston’s bid to host the 2024 summer Olympics, I recently spent a weekday visiting London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Described as a lasting legacy of the 2012 summer Olympics at 560 acres in size, it is the largest urban park constructed in Europe in more than a decade.


The issue of legacy aside, the park is part of a comprehensive scheme to transform a contaminated river and post-war industrial site into a new urban district of nearly 7,000 homes, cultural facilities and economic development opportunities integrated within a visually spectacular landscape which, among other attributes, includes 25 acres of wildflower meadows, purported to be the largest area of annual meadows ever to have been used in a park setting.



Within the park eight permanent venues from the 2012 Olympics have been repurposed to support community and recreational activities and in the case of the stadium, provide a new (and not entirely uncontroversial) home for the West Ham United futbol club. A cultural quarter, including a branch of the V&A Museum and a Sadler’s Wells auditorium, is being planned and a summer beach was scheduled to open shortly after my visit.

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Developed in phases, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park evolved through a lengthy series of master planning and design processes.

Master planning by EDAW (which later became AECOM) in concert with a partnership between LDA design and Hargreaves Associates provided a framework for the public realm and park design.  The plan below is from LDA design and shows the park’s two distinct sections connected by the river.

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Inspired by Victorian and post-war pleasure gardens, the park’s design includes “sweeping lawns, a promenade, access to the river, ample seating and public spaces throughout the park that showcased live screens during the Games” (Hargreaves Associates). The photos below show how the river is accessed in the southern formal area of the park and the northern, naturalistic area.



Following the Games James Corner + Field Operations, in partnership with Piet Oudolf, redesigned the south park as part of the site’s transformation for the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). According to Dr Philip Askew, post-Games architect and landscape planner in the July 11th article Parklife – Exploring the changing landscape of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park , Oudolf is responsible for the landscaping in the park, which ranges from wild meadows of hollyhocks, ornamental onions and foxtail lilies to “wonderfully imperfect, English” black pines.


The park supports a diversity of landscapes and within its 560 acres are 250 acres defined as metropolitan open space, 112 acres of biodiversity action plan (an internationally recognized program addressing threatened species and habitats designed to protect and restore biological systems) 15 acres of woodlands, hedgerows and wildlife habitats, 4 miles of waterways and 4,300 new trees.

There are four themed walking trails – London 2012, Biodiversity, Art in the Park and a children’s trail – 525 bird boxes, 150 bat boxes and 26 permanent artworks. Below is the guide for London 2012 “Trail of Glory.”

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The southern portion of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park includes a formal and rather uninspiring entry that is easily accessible from the Stratford tube station (after passing through the Westfield Stratford Shopping Center).



Designed to support civic events it is organized around a central promenade with plazas, fountains, play areas, a carousel and The EastTwenty Bar & Kitchen.



The southern section of the park includes the Olympic Stadium and Britain’s largest piece of public art, the 114.5 meter (376 feet) high Arcelor Mitttal Orbit, designed by artist Anish Kapoor, engineer Cecil Beaton and architect Kathryn Findlay.



In keeping with Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’s mandate to focus on native biodiversity and ecological systems, the southern portion of the park contains the 2012 pleasure gardens, a living timeline of British plant history that celebrates contemporary horticulture drawing upon the distinctive characteristics of plant communities found in the wild in Europe, North America, the Southern Hemisphere, and Asia. Planting design consultants for the 2012 pleasure gardens (as well as the park) included Nigel Dunnett, James Hitchmough and Sarah Price.


The Great British Garden, the result of a public design competition overseen by the Royal Horticultural Society and London 2012, contains three themed gardens that reflect the colors of the Olympic medals and are designed to encourage a voyage of discovery.

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The park’s northern section, follows the river valley and integrates wetland habitat within an extensive network of walking and biking trails accented with open areas for sitting and informal gatherings.



This is a serene and naturalistic environment with an undulating topography that frames the architectural features and provides a refreshing contrast to the somewhat overly active southern portion of the park which was described as “the visual equivalent of several mobile ring phones going off at once” by architectural critic Rowan Moore in the the April 5, 2014 article Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park review – no medals for visual flair.


A new community hub, the Timber Lodge (managed by a social enterprise) includes a cafe as well as meeting rooms for public events and is sited next to the innovative Tumbling Bay Playground.



Olympic venues repurposed in the northern section of the park include the Copper Box Arena and the Lee Valley Velopark (the only place in the world where where one can experience all four types of Olympic cycling).


The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park integrates green technology with elements of British park design to create something totally new that is, as a landscape, still evolving. It has become a popular destination (visited by more than four million people last year) that in a dense, expanding  city like London “is the sort of place is a really necessary safety valve, a place people can come out to,” according to Dr Asker. “It’s a great place to play and learn.”


Which brings me back to Boston. Perhaps it is a landscape vision that is lacking in the current plan which, as I read it, proposes 15 new acres of permanent parkland at Widett Circle, the completion and expansion of Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace from Franklin Park to Columbia Road and improvements to the parks and open spaces that would be used, and thus impacted, as venues.

Additionally, according to the Bid 2.0 planning document (which I may not be fully understanding) that while permanent “open space” would be created in multiple phases, a legacy park would be constructed in phase 7 (2040).


Let’s imagine that Boston’s Olympic legacy as a bold new way to reinterpret the city’s landscape and use the Olympic bid as an opportunity to reshape the city and its public realm.

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Book Review: HUMMELO: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury

Hummelo cover-1

“In 1982 Piet and Anja and their two boys – Pieter, then aged nine, and Hugo, aged seven – moved into an old farmhouse on an acre of land outside the village of Hummelo, in the province of Gelderland, in the eastern Netherlands.” From this opening sentence, which feels rather like the beginning of a fairytale, the unlikely story of how, through the singular focus and extraordinary talent of celebrated plantsman Piet Oudolf, the manner in which gardens are designed changed forever.

Piet in 1992

Written to mark Oudolf’s 70th birthday, HUMMELO: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life is a lavishly photographed celebration of all that happened following the family’s move to Hummelo. While showcasing the evolution of Oudolf’s work and design philosophy, it is also the story of a place, the nursery he and his wife founded to grow plants that, at the time, were unavailable for purchase elsewhere. While the nursery flourished, drawing visitors from throughout the world, so too did Oudolf’s practice.


Floral labyrinth at the Trentham Estate, Stoke-on-Trent, 2005, Photo: Piet Oudolf

A gifted plantsman, Oudolf is at the center of the movement in planting design that focuses on ecological considerations and the use of native perennials and grasses. Combining plants naturalistically, Oudolf deftly balances complexity and coherence, anchoring his designs with enough of a given plant to provide visual impact while also using a diverse palette of plant varieties. Form, texture and seasonality matter as much to Oudolf as color and his planting plans create landscapes that are often ethereal in their beauty, appearing deceptively natural despite being carefully designed.


Pensthorpe Nature Reserve in winter, Photo: Piet Oudolf

Homage is paid to both the people and places that shaped Oudolf’s career introducing the reader to influential German and Dutch designers and horticulturalists. It is fitting that Oudolf would share his story so generously as throughout the book his independence as a designer is complemented by close collaborations and partnerships with others, including architects and landscape architects, patrons for whom he has created gardens and most critically those who maintain them.

Described as an artist first and a designer second, Oudolf eschews the trappings of a professional office and staff maintaining sole responsibility for his work. Planting design is by its nature a highly individualized and specific skill and according to close friend Rosie Atkins, former editor of Gardens Illustrated Magazine, Oudolf, “cannot delegate the design process any more than a composer could delegate a composition.” As a result he now completes approximately eight projects a year.


The High Line, Manhattan, 2009, Photo: Piet Oudolf

The book’s final section Crossing the Atlantic, explores Oudolf’s North American work including Chicago’s Lurie Garden and New York’s Battery and High Line. Fittingly, these highly lauded public projects have brought Oudolf additional acclaim. In 2013 he was awarded the premier Dutch cultural award, the Prince Bernhard Fund, for “achievements in the field of gardening and landscape design,” particularly his “significant impact on developments on The Netherlands and abroad.” In keeping with Oudolf’s dedication to integrating natural landscapes into urban settings the award’s prize will be used to establish “Green in the Neighborhood” for community- based volunteer projects in urban neighborhoods.

Planting at Hummelo- Photo- Piet Oudolf

Planting at Hummelo- Photo- Piet Oudolf

Told in partnership with frequent collaborator Noel Kingsbury, HUMMELO: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life is part biography, part social history and part design manual. While the narrative is structured around three broadly defined sections with a brief introduction the book also includes plans, notes on topics relating to planting design and a listing of places to visit.

HUMMELO: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life
Written by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury
The Monacelli Press: 2015

This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, June, 2015.

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved


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