“Can a great society generate the concerted drive to plan, and having planned, execute great projects of beauty?” Lady Bird Johnson
I recently spent a long weekend in Austin,Texas and had the opportunity to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. As part of a research project on urban parks and landscapes I had read “The Proceedings of the 1965 White House Conference on Natural Beauty” and as a result had become completely smitten with Lady Bird Johnson. Dubbed the nation’s “Environmental First Lady” she co-chaired the conference (with Laurence Rockefeller), a two-day affair that brought together 115 of the nation’s leading design practitioners, theorists and political leaders including Jane Jacobs, Edmund Bacon, Garret Eckbo, Charles W. Eliot ll, Grady Clay, Christopher Tunnard and John O. Simmonds. The goal was to develop a comprehensive agenda to “beautify” America exploiting the synergy between parks, townscapes, highways, waterfronts, scenic roads, farms, utilities and the “new suburbia.” It was an ambitious undertaking.
Beauty. It’s a word not often used when discussing the design of public spaces or “placemaking.” Often shunned as simplistic or by the even more damaging term elitist, beauty was at the core of Lady Bird’s agenda. She wrote:
“Though the word beautification makes the concept sound merely cosmetic, it involves much more: clean water, clean roadsides, safe waste-disposal, and preservation of valued old landmarks as well as great parks, and wilderness areas. To me, in sum, beautification means our total concern for the physical and human quality we pass on to our children and the future.”
Believing that the physical landscape of the country, rapidly changing through suburban expansion, was in danger Lady Bird called for measures that combined conservation and protection with restoration and innovation. In the introduction to the conference it states, “…the increasing tempo of urbanization and growth is already depriving many Americans of the right to live in decent surroundings. More of our people are being crowded into cities and being cut off from nature. Cities themselves reach out into the countryside, destroying streams and trees and meadows as they go. A modern highway may wipe out the equivalent of a 50-acre park with every mile. And people move out of the city to get closer to nature only to find that nature has moved further from them.”
Lady Bird’s love of nature was formed in childhood. She grew up in the country and found companionship in the natural world. Her experiences, whether exploring the cypress lined blackwater lagoons of Caddo Lake or the wildflower meadows of the Texas Hill Country, reinforced her belief that nature has the power to enlarge man’s imagination, relieve his spirit and restore his dignity. For her, the joy and solace she found in nature was essential to her well-being and a gift that she believed should be available to all.
Of her many ventures, including the Committee for a More Beautiful Capital, the Landscapes and Landmarks Tour, the White House Conference on Natural Beauty, the Highway Beautification Bill, the promotion and expansion of the National Park System and once she returned to Austin, the development of a hiking and biking trail along Town Lake (later named Lady Bird Lake in her honor), it is the Lady Johnson Wildflower Center that is, perhaps, her greatest legacy. Located southwest of Austin, the Center is a tangible reminder of her vision – the nation’s foremost public botanic garden dedicated to native plants and sustainable design, renowned for research, education and information about native plants and native landscapes.
In 2012 the U.S. Postal Service commemorated the centennial of Lady Bird Johnson’s birth with the commemorative stamp seen below, endorsed by five former first ladies. For more information about the centennial and Lady Bird Johnson visit: http://ladybirdjohnson.org/about-lady-bird-johnson/.
Founded in 1982 by Lady Bird Johnson and the actress Helen Hayes the Wildflower Center began as a modest endeavor on sixty acres of land with a small house east of Austin and $125,000 donated by Mrs. Johnson. Two years later the Center had initiated research projects and established an academic portfolio. By 1988 the first edition of Wildflower, the journal of the Wildflower Center, was published as well as the book Wildflowers Across America (of which I have a copy) co-authored by Lady Bird and Carlton B. Lees.
In 1995 the Wildflower Center moved to its current location southwest of Austin gradually expanding to include 279 acres of land supporting 12 acres of gardens containing 650 plant species and 100,000 plants. Formally dedicated as the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in 1995, the Center includes 2 miles of trails and an arboretum. Central irrigation is fed by a 70,000-gallon rainwater collection system and cisterns and ponds collect water for re-circulation.
Designed by Overland Architects and J.R. Anderson Landscape Architects the Center sits lightly on the land. The architecture of limestone, wood and metal provides a regional response to the sensitive landscape of the site and reflects the history of Texas by using forms reminiscent of San Antonio missions as well as the craftsmanship of farmhouses built by German settlers of the Texas Hill Country and the vernacular features of Texas ranch compounds.
In the Landscape as Mentor issue of the journal Places landscape architect Darrell Morrison describes his love of the Texas Hill Country and its influence on the site plan of the Wildflower Center which was inspired by the forms of live oaks and the textures of native grasses (there were 663 trees on the site six inches or greater in diameter). The architects, according to Morrison, were “sympathetic to letting the landscape influence the design of the buildings …..by focusing on views of specific trees through certain windows….and (let) the landscape win in the end.”
A mission statement for the project developed by Rick Archer and Tim Blonkvist of Overland Partners reinforces this point of view: “By design and context, the Center shall elucidate for the visitor a fundamental understanding of ecological issues, nature, and site specific environment, and in all ways the Center shall acknowledge the physical and transcendent value of native landscapes, and, by extension, the fragile precious natural Hill Country.”
In the rendered plan above, from the Journal Places, the relationship between architectural form and landscape features is visible. Dedicated to teaching people about the environmental necessity, economic value and natural beauty of native plants the Center’s educational facilities, including a botanical library and research facility are accessed through a central courtyard.
A naturalistic garden connects the courtyard to the display gardens bordered by greenhouses and a series of theme gardens. A learning center and butterfly gardens as well as a series of trails have been added to the facility since the original plan was completed. The plan below, from the website, shows how the Center has expanded since its founding.
Throughout the Center water features and shade structures are used to complement the interplay of natural and built form.
The Center’s newest addition is the 16 acre Mollie Steves Zachry Texas Arboretum the centerpiece of tree-related educational and research programs. Its extensive Oak Collection reflects the species’ diversity within Texas where 74% of all Oak species in the US are found.
Affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s applied research and demonstration projects advance the mission “to increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes. In addition “its goals are national and ambitious: to learn as much as we can about wildflower propagation and growth and to be a clearinghouse to spread that knowledge to developers, park managers and private citizens everywhere.”
The Center is one of five U.S.organizations participating in the Millennium Seed Bank Project established by Kew Royal Botanic Gardens (http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/save-seed-prosper/millennium-seed-bank/). It supports a landscape restoration program as well as an online native plant information network containing 27,000 native plant images available at the “Explore Plants” section of the website, www.wildflower.org.
In 2005 the Center developed the Sustainable Sites Initiative, an interdisciplinary effort to create voluntary sustainability standards for landscapes nationwide. Designed to motivate site developers and landscapers to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of landscape, the initiative uses market-based incentives and techniques to encourage the use of storm water management, biodiversity protection, pollution reduction and other varieties of resource stewardship activities. Partners include the American Society of Landscape Architects and the United States Botanic Garden. For more information about the initiative visit: http://www.sustainablesites.org/.
The Center’s newest project, the Luci and Ian Family garden to be completed in 2014, is a pilot of the sustainable sites initiative. Designed by W. Gary Smith of TBG Partners as part of a 2005 Master Plan the garden is 4.5 acres in size integrating concepts of biology, botany, geology, hydrology and ecology into its design. Features in the garden include a maze, grotto and a giant play lawn.
Before I conclude with an overview of individual gardens and features within the Center I wanted to return to the idea of beauty and the need to consider its value in the built environment.
I have been spending a great deal of time lately balancing between the worlds of “Placemaking” and World Heritage Management. World Heritage sites are places acknowledged for their Outstanding Universal Value while placemaking was recently described as the deliberate shaping of an environment to foster social interaction and improve a community’s quality of life….. placing people ahead of efficiency and aesthetics. Somewhere between the two lies another possibility,where beauty is integrated into the everyday lives of all through the design of the public realm.
As for beauty Lady Bird observed:
“Getting on the subject of beautification is like picking up a tangled skein of wool – all the threads are interwoven – recreation and pollution and mental health, and the crime rate, and rapid transit, and highway beautification, and the war on poverty and parks…….It is hard to hitch the conversation into one straight line, because everything leads to something else.”
Indeed it does.
Additional Noteworthy Gardens and Facilities in the Center include:
Opened in 2013 the kiosk was assembled off-site and is designed of sustainable materials. It’s 100% recycled green roof is planted with native prairie plants and its west-facing green wall provides shade from the late afternoon sun with plantings that are irrigated by condensate water from the building’s mini-split air conditioning unit.
Modeled after a mission courtyard, the central gathering space is surrounded by facilities including an auditorium, visitor’s gallery, library, cafe, children’s center and gift shop. A simulated Hill Country stream is at its center.
The Cafe Garden features plantings that replicate a mid-grass prairie community in a semi-formal design.
A gift from Lady Bird’s San Antonio friends the Observation Tower serves as a 10,000 gallon cistern while providing views of the Center and surrounding landscape.
Containing 23 themed beds highlighting the use of plants native to Texas the display gardens are enclosed by limestone walls and bordered by a shaded arbors of Texas Wisteria, Coral Honeysuckle, and Mustang Grape.
A series of homeowner’s inspiration gardens provide an opportunity to see plant combinations in a variety of settings including naturalistic, formal and a Texas mixed border.
Ann & O.J. Weber Butterfly Garden:
Designed by Judy Walther of Environmental Survey Consulting the Butterfly Garden contains more than 350 plant species arranged by habitats to create a healthy ecosystem for butterflies and other invertebrates throughout their life cycles. The garden demonstrates the codependent relationship of plants and insects and the critical role of pollinators in sustaining biodiversity.
The 15,500 square foot Trailhead Garden provides a transition from the Center’s formal spaces to its trail network. From here one can visit the new Arboretum, John Barr and Research Trails.
And while the Lady Johnson Wildflower Center is indeed beautiful I was reminded to…..
Additional information can be found at: www.wildflower.org.
Copyright © 2013 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
The gardening season has barely ended when they arrive in the mail – seed and nursery catalogues touting tantalizing descriptions and images of new and improved plant varieties. Within every page lies a promise for the coming year of an improved and possibly perfect garden, enhanced by the latest wonders of the horticultural industry.
If you are seduced by the photos of amazing plants in miraculous shades of transcendent color and mesmerized by the graceful prose and practical advice that the seed and nursery catalogues contain don’t fret. They have been enticing American gardeners for more than a hundred years.
In America’s Romance with the English Garden, Thomas J. Mickey traces the evolution of the American garden style through the lens of the nursery and seed industries and the associated publications they developed, including catalogues, books and gardening magazines. Their profound influence on the American public had an impact on all levels of garden fashion, from the seeds and plants that were planted to the landscape designs that graced suburban homes. These designs, based upon the English Garden style with its verdant lawns, artfully sited trees and shrubs and planting beds adorned with native and exotic species, remain popular today.
The book is divided into four thematic sections beginning with an overview of British influences on American horticultural practices from the colonial period through the mid-nineteenth century. From the onset, Americans adopted British techniques and lacking professional gardeners relied upon their European counterparts. British horticultural societies, parks, rural cemeteries, botanic gardens and publications provided additional models for American interpretation.
What America lacked in gardening expertise was overcome by the entrepreneurship of the seed and nursery companies who, aided by advances in printing techniques, transportation and mass-marketing, transformed gardening from an act of utility to a social activity attractive to an emerging middle class. A well kept garden added value to the home and an aura of respectability. Everyone wanted one.
America’s Romance with the English Garden, provides an insightful overview of an aspect of American garden history that is under-appreciated. Today, it is difficult to imagine the profound influence that the seed and nursery industry wielded in defining gardening tastes for mainstream culture. The companies, mostly family run, were intensely personal endeavors and the catalogues with their anecdotes, testimonials and stories were both literary masterpieces and practical guides.
The book concludes with a chapter titled “Landscape Design According to the Catalogues” in which detailed landscape instructions and American home landscape examples, including those based upon the English precedent, are explored. A more critical question posed by Mickey on the very last page concerns Americans ongoing infatuation with the English Gardening style, an unsustainable model that continues to be promoted by the horticultural industry.
The advertisement below, depicting a home landscape with traditional English elements, is from Joseph Breck and Sons a Boston-based company founded in 1818. In the 1950′s the company was transformed into a Dutch bulb importer and flower bulb company by the fifth generation of the Breck family. Today Breck’s is the largest importer of Dutch flower bulbs in the U.S.
At 230 pages in length, America’s Romance with the English Garden is a thoughtful book with appeal for the gardener and historian alike. For those wishing to learn more there are extensive notations and a comprehensive bibliography. Generously illustrated, each chapter concludes with a bonus – a “featured plant” from Mickey’s own garden chosen based upon its relationship to the chapter’s contents and available to the home gardener.
America’s Romance with the English Garden by Thomas J. Mickey is published by Ohio University Press: Athens, Ohio, 2013.
This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, October, 2013.
Copyright © 2013 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
If parks have personalities Kensington Gardens, envisioned by three queens (Mary, Anne and Caroline), birthplace of another (Victoria) and forever linked to Princess Diana, would be described as serenely elegant. Adjacent to and formed from land that was once part of Hyde Park, when one enters the garden (and please do not call it a park) they are transported into a realm more akin to a private estate than a public space, a fitting reminder of the garden’s royal pedigree.
I’m backtracking on my travels as I write this having visited Kensington Gardens last May. I was in London for several days and realizing it was a Royal Park that I had not spent much time in decided to rectify that oversight. I had read about the redesign of the landscape surrounding the palace by landscape architect Todd Longstaffe-Gowan as well as the restoration of the Italian Water Gardens with funding from the Tiffany Foundation. At that time I was blissfully unaware (possibly one of the few in the universe) that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George would be taking up residence in Kensington Palace.
Above all else, the history of the Palace is intimately linked to the development of the gardens and landscape that surround it – a landscape defined by its relationship to royal families and shaped by and beloved by queens and princesses alike.
The sculpture of Queen Victoria seen below, presides over the Broad Walk. It was sculpted by her daughter Princess Louise and presented by the Kensington Golden Jubilee Memorial Executive Committee in 1893.
The gardens are also forever linked to the innocence of childhood through their association with Peter Pan and the addition of the Princess Diana Memorial playground, opened in 2000 near the site of an earlier playground that had been funded by the author J.M. Barrie. Barrie lived close by and used Kensington Gardens as the setting for his children’s book, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, published in 1906.
The playground, designed by Jenette Emery-Wallis of Land Use Consultants, eschews traditional play equipment and instead focuses on imaginative play informed by characters and places in Barrie’s books. One of three play areas within Kensington Gardens, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground is located along the Broad Walk within view of Kensington Palace. Features in the playground associated with Peter Pan’s adventures include a pirate ship, beach cove, indian camp, musical garden and a rock with the imprint of a mermaid’s tail.
The world of the imagination and the appeal of Kensington Gardens for children is further enhanced by a popular bronze statue of Peter Pan, a gift from J.M. Barrie to the children of London. Located next to the Long Water between the Serpentine Bridge and the Italian Gardens the statue was mysteriously installed in 1912 by Barrie who took out an ad in a London newspaper reading:
“There is a surprise in store for the children who go to Kensington Gardens to feed the ducks in the Serpentine this morning. Down by the little bay on the south-western side of the trail of the Serpentine they will find a May-day gift by Mr. J.M. Barrie, a figure of Peter Pan blowing his pipe on the stump of a tree, with fairies and mice and squirrels all around. It is the work of Sir George Frampton, and the bronze figure of the boy who would never grow up is delightfully conceived.”
The map below of Peter Pan’s Kensington Gardens, presents an enchanting overview of the places important to Peter and provides a roadmap to those seeking to explore his imaginative world.
Kensington Garden was identified as the home of Peter Pan in the Underground Poster below, in the off-chance you arrived via the Tube.
Kensington Gardens is full of surprises and there is something very special about a landscape in the middle of the city that can amuse and delight both children and grown-ups alike. The family in the photo below is searching for butterflies (or perhaps fairies) within view of the Palace.
While writing this post I became hopelessly lost in research. So in order to finish (and work on other pieces) I’ve provided some preliminary history and social commentary augmented with impressions of my visit. The history focuses on the roles of the three queens who are most credited with the garden’s landscape transformation and an examination of the gardens evolution from a private to a public space. I conclude with some recent additions to the gardens as a reminder of their continued role as a canvas for creativity within London.
Somewhat fittingly the history of the Gardens begins with a royal couple looking for a peaceful place to live away from, but close to, London’s core.
In 1689 King William III and Queen Mary II purchased Nottingham House in what was then the village of Kensington to escape the “foul air” of the city proper. William was asthmatic and he and Mary had recently undertaken a similar project at Het Loo in the Netherlands.
To improve and enlarge the property they hired the preeminent architect of the time, Christopher Wren and embarked upon a series of landscape improvements. Wren, who is credited with designing 57 churches within London including St. Paul’s Cathedral, is attributed with the design the Wren Building at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, the second oldest institution of higher education in America (after Harvard), founded by William and Mary in 1693.
According to The Gardens of William and Mary written by David Jacques and Arend Jan van der Horst the original property was 40 acres in size with a paddock and a few small gardens including a mount, a banqueting house and bowling green.
Under Mary’s direction George London was retained to create plans for a southern garden of 12 acres with a great walk in line with the Elm Avenue. Dutch in style with clipped yews, holly and topiary the gardens are described as “ a collection of elaborate unsymmetrical parterres and wildernesses which, although smaller, were even more intricate than any bosquet at Versailles,” Kensington Palace and Gardens transformation from a modest country estate to a residence befitting the royal family had begun in earnest.
The illustration below depicts the garden’s formal parterres.
To facilitate William’s safe passage to Whitehall an illuminated private road was cut through the gardens and Hyde Park. The Rue de Roi or “King’s Road,” labeled as The King’s Private Road on the Schmollinger Map of 1833 became known as “Rotten Row” the name it retains to this day.
In 1702 Mary’s sister Anne became Queen. Like Mary before her Anne loved gardens and immediately set about enlarging Kensington’s grounds. She appropriated thirty acres of land from north of the garden in 1704 and in 1705 acquired an additional one hundred acres from Hyde Park to create a paddock for deer and antelope.
Anne commissioned landscape designers Henry Wise and George London (who had begun working on the gardens during the reign of William and Mary) to create an English-style garden within the park. Anne built the Orangery, designed by Vanbrugh (seen below) added a sunken garden and built a mount.
The Orangery, a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, remains a popular destination. It is available for large events and in particular weddings for those harboring royal aspirations. “You’ve got your prince we’ve got your palace,” is advertised on its website.
In 1705 Anne commissioned Wren to create a covered seating area, known as the Queen’s Alcove. Moved to its present site in 1867 the Alcove is located near the Italian Water Gardens between Marlborough Gate and Buckhill Lodge and provides a welcome, if somewhat grand, site for a chat.
It is Queen Caroline to whom much of the present day character of Kensington Gardens is attributed. Working with Charles Bridgeman and later William Kent Caroline continued the work of previous monarchs while transforming the landscape into a fine example of the English Garden style with “wiggly walks” and glades of trees.
Caroline, who also established the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, is fondly remembered for her role in creating two of the gardens most iconic features, the Round Pond and the Long Water/Serpentine. She is memorialized in Hyde Park.
During Caroline’s reign plans developed by Charles Bridgeman, appointed Royal Gardener in 1728 (with Henry Wise) were realized. Bridgeman, a seminal figure in the development of the English Garden style promoted the use of the ha-ha, a sunken invisible wall that allowed for uninterrupted, picturesque, landscape views. Royal Gardener for ten years Bridgeman also designed or redesigned the gardens at Windsor Castle, Hampton Court, St. James and Hyde Park.
The plan of Kensington Gardens below, attributed to Bridgeman, dates from 1733. The Round Pond, on access with the Palace is surrounded by wilderness with “wiggly walks.”
At Kensington Gardens Bridgeman installed a ha-ha and new wall boundary with Hyde Park, developed additional gardens, and constructed the Round Pond and the Long Water or Canal also known as the Serpentine.
Flower borders developed during Anne’s tenure were removed and replaced by lawns, plantations, promenades and vistas advancing the transition of Kensington Gardens layout to the English Garden style.
It is also during this period that the Gardens became fashionable for promenading, first by the monarchs and court and later, on a limited basis, to the public. According to Susan Ladsun in The English Park: Royal, Private and Public, Kensington Gardens were first opened to the public in 1733 once a week while the King and Queen were at Richmond. It would be almost one hundred years later, in 1837 during the reign of Queen Victoria that Kensington Gardens would be fully open to the public.
To place the concept of public access to the Royal Gardens within context it is useful to remember that the first publicly funded civic park was opened at Birkenhead, outside of Liverpool in 1847 more than one hundred years (and one American Revolution) after the public was first allowed access to Kensington Gardens.
The Gardens were fashionable and popular. Upwards of 50,000 people were said to have been seen taking the air at one time in Hyde Park and the Gardens and in the winter of 1813 – 1814 more than 6,000 people, chiefly skaters were counted on the Serpentine.
They also provided inspiration as a setting for notable fictional encounters. An example is Jane Austen (1775 – 1817) who wrote about visiting them in her letters and used them in the novel, Sense and Sensibility.
In the guide, The picture of London for 1808 : being a correct guide to all the curiosities, amusements, exhibitions, public establishments, and remarkable objects in and near London ; with a collection of appropriate tables, two large maps, and several other engravings Kensington Gardens are described as:
“……..one of the most delightful scenes belonging to this great metropolis….. The spacious gravel roads, within the park, are, on a fine Sunday, covered with horsemen and carriages, from two till five o’clock’jn the afternoon. A broad foot-path, that runs from Hyde Park corner to Kensington Gardens, is frequently so crowded during the same hours, with well-dressed people passing to, or retiring from the gardens, that it is difficult to proceed.”
The Gardens did however retain an air of exclusivity with Feltham noting that:
“All the doors of Kensington Gardens are open only from spring till autumn; and from eight in the morning till eight at night. There are four gates belonging to these gardens: two that open into Hyde Park, open all the year; one opening into the Uxbridge Road; and another opening into a road belonging to the king, and leading from the palace into Kensington. The last of these gates, called the Avenue Gate, is open till nine at night, all the year. No servant in livery, nor women with patterns, nor persons carrying bundles, are admitted into the gardens. Dogs are also excluded.”
Being well-dressed while in the Kensington Gardens was important, so much so that in the August 1807 edition of La Belle Assemblee (or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies) published between 1806 and 1837, Kensington Garden dresses were advertised.
As the Gardens transitioned to a fully public space new features and amenities, including water fountains and rest stations were introduced. The South Flower Walk was added in 1843 and the Italian Water Gardens in 1861. Combined with The Albert Memorial, unveiled in 1872, these new features added a Victorian flourish to the 18th century landscape.
The South Flower Walk:
A 500-yard-long path leading from the Albert Memorial to the Palace and Broad Walk the South Flower Walk is accessible via the Hyde Park Gate.
Each side of the walk is lined with flower beds accented by flowering shrubs, roses and ornamental shrubs. The South Flower Walk, one of the most popular features in Kensington Gardens, is gated and allows for a sense of tranquility from the city proper.
In the 1903 book, The Fascination of London : Kensington, the South Flower walk is described as the “quarter most patronized by nursemaids and their charges.”
The Italian Gardens:
Located near Lancaster Gate, the Italian Gardens are believed to be a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria. Albert, a keen gardener, designed similar gardens at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight where the Royal family vacationed. Many of those features, including raised terraces, fountains, decorative urns and geometric flower beds, were replicated in the Italian Gardens, attributed to James Pennethorne and completed in 1860.
The gardens are centered on a Pump House where a steam engine, designed to operate the fountains, was housed. Combining utility with ornamentation, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s initials are etched on one of the walls.
As can be seen in the photo above the Italian Gardens remain a romantic setting and it is fitting that Tiffany and Company supported their restoration in 2011 through Tiffany – Across the Water a program of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation established to enable Americans to support the natural history and heritage of London’s Royal Parks.
The restoration was extensive and included the repair of severe frost damage, clearance of silt from fountain basins and ancient pipework, and removal of build-up of green algae from the Portland stone and marble. The cost was close to $800,000.
Work was completed on the Tazza Fountain, which overlooks The Long Water and ornamental marble decorative features throughout the garden. The project also improved the parks’ ecology and landscape architecture teams designed a display of aquatic plants, sited in the four perimeter basins, to reflect the garden’s historic design.
Vintage postcards were used to detail how the basins were originally planted and provide a framework for the updated planting scheme reflective of the original Victorian intent.
The Sunken Garden:
Created in 1909, the Sunken Garden was modeled on an 17th century garden at Hampton Court for Edward VII by historian Ernest Law.
The garden is terraced with an ornamental pond containing fountains, surrounded by paved walkways and seasonal, ornamental flower beds.
Located close to Kensington Palace and the Orangery this is perhaps one the most photographed areas of Kensington Gardens. Unfortunately, on my visit the seasonal flower beds were in the process of being replanted.
The plan of the Sunken Garden is below and with its relationship to the Palace and Orangery detailed. A Wiggly Walk (perhaps a tribute to Queen Caroline) leads from the Palace’s public entry court to the Orangery accommodating a change in topography.
A restoration of the cradle walk, an arched arbour of red-twigged limes affording views to the central sunken garden, has been ongoing following damage during a storm in 1987.
Tours of the sunken garden are offered twice a week and for additional information visit:
I wanted to also share two elements of Kensington Gardens which are, if you will, more modern – a testament to the ability of the landscape to continue to change and evolve over time
The first, the Henry Moore Arch was installed in 1980, 2 years after the sculptor’s 80th birthday celebration at the Serpentine Gallery. The six meter high sculpture, sited on the north bank of The Long Water, has recently been restored and when viewed through the right perspective provides a framed view of Kensington Palace. For a photo of the view visit: http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington-gardens/kensington-gardens-attractions/the-arch-by-henry-moore
Established in 1970 the Serpentine Gallery is housed in a tea pavilion dating from 1934. Focusing on modern and contemporary art and architecture, the Serpentine Gallery annually commissions an artist of international acclaim to design a pavilion on its lawn.
The 2013 pavilion ( under construction in the photo above), by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, will be on exhibit through October 20th. The design intent of the pavilion, a lattice structure of steel poles, is described by the architect below:
“It is a really fundamental question how architecture is different from nature, or how architecture could be part of nature, or how they could be merged…what are the boundaries between nature and artificial things.”
For additional information about the Serpentine Gallery visit: www.serpentinegallery.org . The image below is copied from the Serpentine Gallery Website: (Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013, Designed by Sou Fujimoto © Sou Fujimoto Architects, Image © 2013 Iwan Baan).
For me the pavilion is a fitting reminder of Kensington Garden’s landscape evolution, influenced by the most prominent garden designers and architects of their period. Almost three hundred years ago Queen Caroline’s temple, designed by William Kent was similar in its innovative quality described by historian Roy Strong as a structure that:
“..marked a revolution in royal – garden making : by cutting a swath through the avenue of trees west of the Serpentine, Caroline was given an uninterrupted vista that sloped to the water’s edge, while from the opposite bank the Temple could be seen across the reflective waters in the setting trees.”
Kensington Gardens are managed by The Royal Parks. For additional information visit: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington-gardens
For additional background information on Kensington Garden’s History visit British History Online: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/
To listen to a literary tourist podcast by The Guardian visit: http://literarytourist.com/2013/01
Copyright © 2013 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
Landscape Architect Laurie Olin has been awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government to artists and art patrons “… deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States.”
Olin, the fourth landscape architect to be acknowledged in twenty-seven years, was recognized for his “acute sense of harmony and balance between nature and design.” His portfolio of projects is noteworthy and includes; Bryant Park, Battery Park City and Columbus Circle in New York; the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles; and the National Gallery of Art of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C.
In Boston Olin is responsible for the design (in partnership with Carol R. Johnson) of an important project, the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse Harborpark. Yes, it’s a long name and often is referred to simply as the park at Fan Pier.
Prominently located at the entrance to the emerging Seaport/Innovation District the park, one of the earliest (if not the first) open spaces in the area was designed in an intensely collaborative, public process with the client (the federal government) the architect (Harry Cobb of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners) and the community (through a task force and advisory committee mandated by the Office of Coastal Zone Management within the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs).
The result, by all accounts a success, is a welcoming and thoughtfully designed public space that according to Olin, was intended to ” stimulate our senses and our spirit and educate our minds about Boston’s encounter between land and sea.”
As the first project to be built on the Fan Pier the park established a standard for future public spaces and the Harborwalk. This remains a relevant consideration as the Seaport/Innovation District is developed and new parks and open spaces are built by the private sector without benefit of the intense public process that vetted the design of the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse Harborpark. That process ordained that a landmark park be created on the site with a unique identity within Boston’s park system employing public art and plantings as significant elements in the design.
Located on a prominent site contiguous to the Northern Avenue Bridge, the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse Harborpark is at the entrance to Fort Point Channel. Despite its proximity to the downtown the district, a thriving shipping area during the early part of the twentieth century, remained undeveloped until the past twenty-five years. Now it is one of the city’s most active development areas.
The view below, from the nineteenth century, shows the distinctive shape of the Fan Pier, the terminus for railway lines used to transport raw materials, including wool, stored in the district’s brick warehouses.
When the decision was made to construct a new federal court house on the Fan Pier, deemed “the most beautiful site in Boston,” it was controversial. Critics were concerned that the building’s scale would be oppressive and the landscape inadequate (which somehow seems quaint given the scale of the development that now dwarves the building). According to Olin, a courthouse on this parcel of land was seen “by certain vocal critics as the wrong way to begin the rehabilitation and transformation of this derelict waterfront property,” part of a larger development scheme yet to be realized.
(The image below is from Childs Engineering Corporation the consultant responsible for the project’s marine components including the floating docks and piers).
To offset these concerns half of the 4.5 acre site was dedicated to a public park and the landscape and building designed to “welcome, encourage and enrich” the public experience of the site. The dramatic views of Boston, where the city meets the sea, remained accessible and the civic nature of the building and space were conceived as a harmonious unit, a distinct challenge given the security considerations of the courthouse.
Following the park’s completion in 1998, The Meeting of City and Sea: A Guide to the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse Harborpark was published. This document, combined with the Final Recommendations of the Federal Courthouse Special Task Force published in 1993 provides remarkable insight into the process through which the park was designed.
Included are essays by historian William M. Fowler Jr. and Hon. Gerry Studds on the site’s history and the clean-up of the harbor and an introduction by Hon. Stephen Breyer and Hon. Douglas P. Woodlock, the justices representing the courts in the design of the courthouse and park.
The Meeting of City to Sea: A Guide to the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse Harborpark also serves as a guide to the interpretive themes integrated throughout the park providing additional insight into the thought processes supporting the design.
Three key areas are highlighted; the history of Boston and the harbor during the 200 year period in which the federal courts were established; the use of horticulturally diverse plantings found along the New England shore; and the inclusion of a vantage point to view the harbor and learn about the federal litigation responsible for its clean-up.
All three themes are realized in the design and highlighted in eleven interpretive panels sited throughout the 2.3 acre park. ”The Way to a Clean Harbor” and the “Future of Boston Harbor” are below.
Olin’s essay, “Simple, Clear and Strong” underscores his enthusiasm for designing a park “to make available to every citizen the extraordinary experience of the site at which, by virtue of its close encounter with Boston, the meeting of city and sea is most vividly dramatized.” He further notes that the park is designed “to show how civic building and civic space, conceived together, can each confer meaning and value on the other.”
The plan, seen above, illustrates how the concept “Simple, clear and strong” is realized in the design of the park and its relationship to the building and harbor.
The key organizing element is a 850 foot long waterfront promenade providing panoramic views of the inner and outer harbor. To create the promenade the granite seawall was rebuilt and edged with additional granite detailing to create a broad cobblestone and brick paved walkway. A floating dock provides access to ships
The promenade, the first section of the continuous public walkway around the entire Fan Pier was designed by Olin to be “robust” and serve as a prototype for future Harborwalk segments.
Two outdoor rooms, depicted on the map as the “Courthouse and East lawns” overlook the harbor and provide distinctly different experiences. Described by Olin as a circle and a lozenge these spaces “produce comfortably scaled rooms in which to stroll and sit between the wide-open expanse of the harbor and the tall building behind.”
The Courthouse lawn, supports programmed activities, as seen below and the trees which are planted on its periphery, provide shade while serving as sculptural elements during the winter months.
The East Lawn provides an intimate setting with gracefully curving paths and benches set within the landscape.
Plantings pay homage to the New England seaside, a hardy mix of species found throughout the coastal region with an ability to withstand the site’s harsh climatic conditions and endure potential challenges in long-term maintenance. While chosen for their durability these are also plants of great beauty and character with deep associations to the history and horticultural identity of the region. Hardy plants are sited nearest to the harbor and provide a buffer to the interior plantings.
Rosa rugosa, blueberry, bayberry and pines are planted in the park as well as other non-native species that are commonly planted along the New England coast. In “Simple, Clear and Strong” Olin makes the case that just as American society has benefited from cultural diversity, so too, has the plant world pointing out that our landscape is “a cultural phenomenon built up over decades and centuries, like our cities, our way of life, and our legal system” and that “purist’s views that demand the use of only native species in the an urban region are limiting or worse…..fraught with contradiction and distortion, as any other doctrinaire form of “ethnic” or “original” purity when dealing with living systems.”
The plants are labeled individually and on interpretive panels.
Olin concludes “Simple, Clear and Strong” with the observation that as the initial phase of a vast urban project to be realized by many designers over time it was important that the park design be “simple and clear” without attempting to be all things to all people. Simple is not to be confused with utilitarian , for it is clearly noted that this park, the first in a new urban district was intended to an optimistic expression of future opportunity, designed to stimulate the senses and spirit elevating and educating our minds about Boston’s “encounter between land and sea.”
In both its creation and execution the park is a model to be emulated in a district of the city that is rapidly developing with an ambiguous strategy for the public realm.
For additional information about the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse visit: www.moakleycourthouse.com.
To hear a recent interview with Laurie Olin visit: http://www.theolinstudio.com/blog/architecture-by-other-means/
Copyright © 2013 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
It has been unbearably hot and humid in New England so much so that it is almost impossible to be outside during the day. As a result I have spent an inordinate amount of time “organizing” things around the house including my collection of garden and landscape history books and images. It’s an eclectic mix and in the midst of my summer torpor (perhaps predictably so) I find myself drawn to one particular genre – books about country places and “summer” estates.
One of these books, The Villa: Form and Ideology of Country Houses, by the architectural historian James S. Ackerman, traces the evolution of the “country place” from ancient Rome through twentieth-century France and America. Ackerman observes, “the villa is a building in the country designed for its owner’s relaxation. Though it may be the center of an agricultural enterprise, the pleasure factor is what essentially distinguishes the villa residence from the farmhouse and the villa estate from the farm.”
As a setting where rural life is idealized, the “country place” provides a retreat from the travail of urban life where natural and cultivated landscapes coexist in harmony, as illustrated in the photo below.
Although it is most likely that the elite Boston families who owned country estates outside of the city thought of them as “gentlemen’s farms” rather than villas the desire to cultivate land for pleasure rather than utilitarian purposes is at the heart of both enterprises. It was to sanctified rural landscapes that the affluent residents of Boston’s Back Bay and Beacon Hill retreated during the summer months to connect with nature, recreate New England’s agrarian past and socialize with like-minded “gentlemen farmers.”
Fortunately for me there is one such property very close by that I visit often, the Stevens-Coolidge Place in North Andover. Owned and managed by the Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) , the Stevens-Coolidge house and gardens embody a rural ideal where architecture, landscape design and agriculture merge into an art and country living is a virtue to be both practised and admired.
On a recent visit the raspberries were almost ready to pick.
Located approximately 30 miles from downtown Boston, the Stevens-Coolidge Place is situated on 90 acres of grasslands, wet meadows and woodlands. Owned since 1792 by descendants of John and Elizabeth Stevens (who migrated from England in the 1640′s) the property was originally named Ashdale Farm, possibly after a great White Ash Tree that is a commanding presence on the site to this day.
The “farm” passed through generations of the Steven’s family until it came into the sole ownership of Helen Stevens Coolidge in 1914.
Married to diplomat John Coolidge, a descendant of Thomas Jefferson and nephew of Isabella Stewart Gardner, Helen devoted her life to the preservation and improvement of the Stevens-Coolidge property, spending summers there until her death in 1962. It was during her tenure that the farm was transformed into an elegant agricultural estate in the Colonial revival style.
To realize their vision for the property the Coolidges employed the prominent preservation architect Joseph Everett Chandler who between 1914 and 1918 reconfigured the house to reflect its current neo-Georgian Colonial revival style. Chandler’s work included the restoration of many important 17th and 18th century buildings in the greater Boston area including the Paul Revere House and the House of the Seven Gables in Salem.
In The Colonial House published in 1916 Chandler devoted a chapter to gardens and the process through which the ideal, a home which expresses the owner’s individuality, is attained through the embellishment of both interior and exterior spaces noting,”an astonishingly large part of this sought-for ensemble is found to be that of proper horticultural adornment.” Chandler extols the use of formal lines and garden architecture where “an occasional widening of lines in square, rectangle or circle with perhaps a central features of urn, decorative flower pot, statue or pool at once furnishes the subject for the picture – provided it be backed by a background of foliage sufficiently varied in form and color.”
Chandler partnered with the Coolidges for twenty-six years, a collaboration that produced, according to TTOR, “an exemplary Colonial Revival estate showcasing his own talents as an architect and landscape designer while expressing the Coolidges individual personalities and tastes.”
The plan below, provided by TTOR, shows the layout of the gardens illustrating how, as a series of outdoor rooms, they relate to both the house and landscape. The individual garden spaces are connected through a series of paths and cartways linking the formal and natural landscape through carefully articulated vistas and views.
Contiguous to the perennial garden is a walled rose garden designed by Chandler in 1926 at the request of Helen Coolidge. Located on the site of the property’s barn, pig sty and cow yard the rose garden is an intimate space with a circular pool set in a lawn panel and an ornamental fountain. Enclosed with stone walls and wrought iron gates the rose garden, although close the house, is at a lower grade, allowing for privacy from the surrounding landscape.
In 1931 a French garden and serpentine wall were added to the property. Designed by Chandler the garden reflects an interest in chateau gardens developed by the Coolidges who, as a result of John’s diplomatic career, lived in France during World War I.
TTOR restored the garden in 1999-2004 using historical records and today it is planted with herbs, vegetables and annuals.
An upper terrace, also designed by Chandler, was added in 1940 to provide a perspective view of the rose garden and connect to the greenhouse complex. The upper terrace represents Chandler’s last known project in the garden culminating his twenty-six year involvement with its completion.
The property is graced with a series of views and vistas that connect the formal gardens to each other and provide an opportunity to experience the designed landscape within the framework of the natural landscape of fields and meadows surrounding the property. As much as I love the gardens when I visit I am drawn to the places that connect the two where architectural elements placed within the landscape connect artifice with nature.
In 2011 TTOR completed a management plan for the property that among other goals sought to enhance its value as a community resource while conserving and managing its natural areas, historic buildings, collections and designed and agricultural landscapes. The possibility of developing a sustainably focused agricultural operation on the property was proposed on 17 acres of land and although this has yet to happen on my visit last week I was told that a herd of cattle would be arriving the following weekend.
For more information about the Colonial Revival style of architecture and gardens visit Historic New England’s style guide: www.historicnewengland.org/preservation/your-older-or-historic-home/architectural-style-guide#colonial-revival-1880-1955
Additional information about the property and the work of The Trustees of Reservations can be found at: www.thetrustees.org.
Copyright © 2013 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill: Creating Green Spaces in Urban Places written and published by the Beacon Hill Garden Club with photography by Peter Vanderwarker and Thomas Lingner/The Able Lens (2013)
On the third Thursday in May members of Boston’s Beacon Hill Garden Club welcome garden enthusiasts to their neighborhood to attend one of the city’s most popular horticultural events, the Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill tour. The first tour, held in May of 1929, included eleven “backyard gardens” and successfully raised more than one thousand dollars for civic initiatives. Eighty-five years later the tradition continues offering a unique opportunity to visit intimate private gardens otherwise concealed from public view while supporting environmental projects.
The hidden gardens of Beacon Hill are diminutive in scale, irregular in size and most often shaded. It is these challenges and limitations and the design elements that are used to ameliorate them that provide the framework for Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill: Creating Green Spaces in Urban Places, the fifth in a series of publications written collaboratively by members of the Beacon Hill Garden Club.
Like the gardens themselves this is a small book full of surprises. At 88 pages in length the full-color hard bound volume features more than fifty gardens exquisitely photographed by Peter Vanderwarker and Thomas Lingner. Although they share common features the gardens vary in character through the use of thoughtful and creative design elements tailored to accentuate their individuality. These elements, around which the book is structured, include paving, wall treatments, changes in levels, gates, doors, ornaments, furniture, light, color and plant material. A list of plants that succeed in the gardens is provided.
Each chapter of Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill: Creating Green Spaces in Urban Places highlights a single design element. Introductory text and a series of photographs follow illustrating the use of that element in multiple gardens. This technique provides a new lens in which to view the gardens as an ensemble of individual spaces within the context of the larger Beacon Hill community. By focusing on design elements rather than individual gardens the book provides a useful template for solving problems in other highly constrained urban spaces.
The ability of gardens and landscape to foster community is further illuminated in an introductory chapter detailing the history of the Beacon Hill Garden Club as a civic and philanthropic organization. Committed to improving the urban environment through horticulture and education members of the Beacon Hill Garden Club are involved in a wide range of landscape projects and have designed and currently maintain four downtown Boston gardens. These include the Old North Church garden in the North End and the grounds of the Peter Faneuil House on Beacon Hill.
The net proceeds of Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill: Creating Green Spaces in Urban Places as well as the annual Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill garden tour are donated to local, state and national horticultural and conservation organizations with a focus on urban landscape within Boston and beyond. Since its formation the Beacon Hill Garden Club has donated more than one million dollars to such organizations providing support to important landscape projects and initiatives that include the renovation of the Brewer Fountain and Liberty Mall on the Boston Common and the replacement of willow trees on the Charles River Esplanade.
The book concludes with a brief history of Beacon Hill, a neighborhood of 9,000 residents that is described as quirky, convenient, livable, neighborly and sustained by its gardens whose natural beauty provides quiet space “remote from the hustle and bustle of city life.” A street map of the neighborhood is included as well as a list of active club members with gardens featured in the book.
Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill: Creating Green Spaces in Urban Places is thoughtfully written, beautifully designed and expertly photographed. The book succeeds on multiple levels and is both a guide and visual record of the gardens of Beacon Hill as well as a resource for the creation of similar spaces in the urban environment.
To order a copy email the Beacon Hill Garden Club at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include “Book Order” in the subject line.
The review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, July 2013.
Copyright © 2013 Patrice Todisco – All Rights Reserved
I have just returned from a week in Stockholm where I attended an international conference on the “Future of Places.” While the topic is significantly broad to allow for multiple interpretations a primary objective of the conference is to develop a “people centered agenda” highlighting the creation, design and management of public space as a priority for consideration at the UN-Habitat conference in 2016.
One of the most pressing issues facing the urban environment today is an appreciation and understanding of the role the natural world plays in shaping the public realm. Curiously absent as a topic of conversation at the conference, this need is heightened by the demographic shift of rural populations to cities where access to quality public open space is highly constrained.
This leads me to my day with Linnaeus, Sweden’s most famous natural scientist.
Born in 1707, Carl Linnaeus’ affinity for the natural world began in early childhood. His father, a Lutheran minister was an avid gardener providing Linnaeus with a love and fascination of plants that would consume him for the rest of his life.
Like many great naturalists it is Linnaeus’ early affiliation with nature that informed his study of living systems, ultimately leading to the development of a new classification of the plant kingdom based upon sexual characteristics. Linnaeus’ method of naming plants and animals, the binary nomenclature, remains in use throughout the world.
The instinctive bonds between human beings and living systems is the underlying principle of Biophilia, a concept developed by E.O. Wilson, the distinguished American naturalist who shares with Linnaeus an intense interest in observing and understanding the natural world. Like Linnaeus, Wilson’s genius and acute powers of observation were nurtured during childhood. Today, Biophiliac design is informing a new “nature movement” that transcends traditional environmentalism to connect children and adults to the natural world informing the manner in which cities are designed as integrated ecosystems.
In Biophilia, published in 1984 Wilson writes, “to the degree that we come to understand other organisms, we will place a greater value on them, and on ourselves.” A visit to the botanic garden of Linnaeus, the living textbook used in his teaching and research, provided me with a perfect opportunity to consider the importance of the natural world in the development of place and more specifically how the design of botanic gardens might inform the discussion of UN-Habitat 2016.
The botanical garden of Linnaeus is located in Uppsala 45 miles north of Stockholm. It is here in 1741, at the age of 34, Linnaeus was appointed professor of medicine and botany at the University of Uppsala. In this role he assumed management of the university’s botanical garden, the oldest in Sweden, and the accompanying residence where he would live, write, lecture and raise his five children.
One of his first projects was to restore the neglected botanical garden designed in 1655 by Olof Rudbeck, senior and damaged by fire in 1702. Through neglect the number of species in the garden had declined from 1,870 to 300 and Linnaeus complained that the residence and garden alike resembled a messy owl’s nest.
According to Uppsala University the famous architect Carl Hårleman was commissioned to lay out the garden and greenhouse while Linnaeus filled them with plants in accordance with his scientific and teaching methodologies.
The image below depicts the garden in the mid-1740′s after changes instituted by Hårleman and Linnaeus. It is from the dissertation Hortus Upsaliensis’ 1745, from the Linnaeus Museum collections and can be found on the web page of the Swedish Linnaeus Society, www.linnaeus.se/eng/index.html
Two and a half acres in size, the garden was designed using Baroque principles with plants arranged scientifically, some by family and others by geographic region. Today the garden contains 1,300 plants most of which are species that Linnaeus chose, collected and planted himself. The plants are labeled for identification.
Below is the label that identifies Linnaeus’ favorite plant, the twinflower (Linnaea borealis) which was named by his close friend and teacher Jan Frederik Gronovious in his honor.
Linnaeus is credited with naming nearly 8,000 plants. He also provided names for many animals as well as the scientific designation for humans: Homo sapiens. He chose the names of his supporters as inspiration (including his mentor Olof Celsius of centigrade fame) often naming the most beautiful plants in their honor. Common weeds or unattractive plants were named for his detractors.
The garden is divided into two parterres of perennial and annual plantings (seen in the map below as areas 6 and 7). The parterres resemble an outdoor library with four sections containing rows of planting beds enclosed by low hedges.
The perennial parterre is planted according to the 24 classes in Linnaeus’ sexual system providing early seasonal color in April and May. The annual parterre (which also contains biennials) follows a design used by the botanical garden in 1864.
Three small sunken gardens (numbers 9, 10 and 11 on the map) replicate river, lake and marsh ecosystems.
The main garden walkway, which connects the Orangery to the entrance gate is lined with plants chosen for their vibrant hues and association with local heritage using species popular in 18th century Sweden.
The garden is entered through a gate located along Uppsala’s main street. A forecourt visually connects the Director’s Lodge, where Linnaeus lived from 1743-1778, with the information shop and cafe.
The Director’s Lodge, opened as a museum in 1937, contains many of Linnaeus’ personal belongings including textiles, household furnishings and his medicine chest. Portraits of Linnaeus and his family as well as botanical specimens and notes from his travels throughout Sweden are also on display.
The upper floor of the lodge was dedicated to Linnaeus’ scientific work. It is here that he stored his extensive natural history collection and conducted lectures.
The proximity of the Director’s Lodge to the garden allowed Linnaeus to closely study the plants and animals at every hour and within every season. At night, lamplight in hand, he observed the plants while they “slept” and later wrote a dissertation on the subject. A prolific writer Linnaeus is credited with more than 180 works including books on the flora of Lapland and Sweden.
Constructed between 1742 and 1743 the Orangery was designed (with an advanced heating system) by Carl Hårleman to house plants unable to tolerate Sweden’s harsh winter climate. The image below is by artist Anita Mattsson.
Today the Orangery contains meeting areas as well as a permanent exhibition about the garden.
On either side of the orangery, Linnaeus planted spring and autumn parterres (12 and 13 on the garden plan). The autumn parterre contains many North American species, including asters. In late June the autumn parterre is a mass of verdant green foliage.
Exotic, potted species, which must be kept indoors during the cooler months are placed in the forecourt space between the spring and autumn parterres during the summer season.
During Linnaeus’ tenure the garden was home to a menagerie including peacocks, parrots, cranes, monkeys, hedgehogs and guinea pigs that lived partly in the Orangery and partly in a house and yard specifically designed for them in the north of the garden.
Monkey huts mounted on poles remain in the garden and can be seen in the historic engraving depicting the garden in 1770 below.
Linnaeus was particularly fond of a tame raccoon named Sjupp that entertained visitors to the garden. A gift from King Adolf Fredrik he was imported from New Sweden, a colony on the Delaware river in North America.
Linnaeus had a deep interest in America and Sjupp served as an icon for the exhibition Come into a New World: Linnaeus & America held during the Linnaeus tercentenary at the American Swedish Historical Museum. Fond of eggs, almonds,raisins, sugared cakes, sugar and fruit Sjupp, is said to have surprised visitors to the garden in search of such treats.
Upon Sjupp’s untimely death in 1747, Linnaeus, ever the scientist, dissected the remains and published a description.
Following Linnaeus’ death in 1778 his son Carl briefly managed the garden. In 1787 King Gustaff donated Uppsala Royal Garden to the university and the functions of the botanic garden designed by Linnaeus were moved to this new, larger site. With little care the garden was transformed into a romantic park and the Orangery was converted into a student clubhouse with architectural modifications.
In 1917 the Swedish Linnaeus Society was founded with a mandate to restore Linnaeus’ garden and home to its 1745 condition using the detailed descriptions provided through Linnaeus’ extensive records. Today the Society provides tours and manages the museum while the garden is maintained by Uppsala University.
The garden, museum, exhibition and shop are open from May through September and you can find updated information on activities and events at: www.botan.uu.se.
Linnaeus is buried in Uppsala Cathedral. When he died his collections and books were sold to Sir J. E. Smith, the first president of the Linnean Society of London.
The Society also purchased Linnaeus’ manuscripts and correspondence and maintains an extensive website including 40,000 original specimens from Linnaeus’ collection that are digitized and available on-line. The specimen below, is Linnea borealis, Linnaeus’ favorite plant.
E.O. Wilson wrote, “nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.” As we ponder the future of cities I can think of no better way to end my visit with Linnaeus.
Copyright © 2013 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved