In the Royal Domain: Drottningholm


While we might never be royals we can appreciate their proclivity for creating landscapes and gardens that are available to the public, particularly those that are free of charge.

Sweden’s first World Heritage site, the Royal Domain of Drottningholm, is such a place; an ensemble of architecturally significant structures comprised of a palace, a perfectly preserved theater dating from 1766 and a Chinese pavilion set within 315 acres of gardens, parks, farmland and natural areas.


The Theater Complex

Deemed the best royal residence built during the 18th century in Sweden, Drottningholm is also the finest example of a northern European royal residence inspired by the work of French landscape designer Andre Le Notre.


Known as “The Domain” Drottningholm’s palace and landscape have evolved throughout three centuries of ownership by the Swedish Royal Family.  Portions of the palace and all of the gardens and landscape are accessible to the public year round. I visited last June.

I am embarrassed to share that until I glimpsed an aerial view of  Drottningholm on my flight into Stockholm it was not a garden with which I was familiar.  What I did discover is that the magnificent Baroque gardens, so visible from the air, are complemented by a series of aditional landscapes including a romantic garden in the English style. The gardens from each period remain intact and provide a rare opportunity to experience the evolving taste in landscape styles.  The plan below illustrates the two garden plans with the formal and naturalistic gardens visible.

img052Records reveal that Drottningholm has been owned by the Royal family since the 16th century. The name Drottningholm (“Queen’s islet”) derives from this period when a stone palace was built by John lll of Sweden for his queen, Catherine Jagellon.

Catherine, on the left in the image below, was the first of three Queens whose imprint can be found on the gardens today. Dowager Queen Eleonora Hedvig (1636-1715), center, is credited with the grand vision evident in the palace and layout of the Baroque gardens while the Chinese Pavilion and gardens were a birthday present for Queen Louisa Ulrika, (1720-1782) on the right, in 1753.

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In 1661 Queen Eleonora Hedvig, 23 years of age, initiated planning for the palace and accompanying grand garden after an original structure, begun in 1576, was destroyed by fire. To achieve her vision she employed Sweden’s most famous architect, Nicodemus Tessin the Elder (1615 – 1681). His design for the landscape, heavily influenced by André Le Nôtre’s work at Vaux-le-Vicomte in France, included formal avenues, embroidered parterres and a series of canals.

The image below, “The Noble Swedish palace to Drottningholm against the garden” is attributed to Jean Benoit Winkler, 1700.

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Nicodemus Tessin the Younger (1654-1728) assumed responsibility for the garden’s completion upon his father’s death and expanded the original design so completely that the work is considered his own independent creation.  The image below, a wall fresco at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm by Swedish artist Carl Larsson, depicts architects Nicodemus Tessin the Younger and Carl Hårleman.

Slottsbygget med Nicodemus Tessin dy och Carl Hårleman.

Influenced by Le Nôtre, Tessin the Younger traveled extensively in Europe studying in Italy, England and France.  On a visit to Versailles it is reputed that he toured the garden with King Louis XIV. It is also speculated one of Drottningholm’s garden plans (dated 1665) was drawn in France under the supervision of Le Nôtre. The sketch plan of Vaux le Vicomte, seen below, is attributed to Tessin the Younger.


Laid out in the 1680‘s the Embroidery Parterre with its borders of flower beds, grass, gravel, crushed brick and black hyperite stone was the first area of the Baroque Garden to be built. It combines with a water parterre to create a series of outdoor rooms extending the Palace’s interior into the landscape. The parterre was restored in 1998.



The Baroque garden, extends from the Palace westward in four sections. A formal parterre connects to the water garden followed by cascades and bosquets leading to a large wilderness known as the star.


The Crown Fountain, sited on the central axis of the garden is a pivotal feature in the garden. It is by Flemish sculptor Adriaen de Vries.


Avenues of European limes form a three-dimensional framework for the Baroque Garden reinforcing its longitudinal axis.


Originally planted in 1684 the avenues took 40 years to complete and contain 792 trees arranged in ditches dug and filled with soil, fertilizer and peat. Between 1997 and 2011 the National Property Board, which manages the Palace property, rejuvenated the lime avenues one section at a time. As part of the project cuttings were taken from trees near the Palace and force grown until they were large enough to plant in later stages of the restoration.

Garden of the Chinese Pavilion:


In 1753 on a rise in the hunting park, a Chinese Pavilion and park were constructed as a birthday gift for Queen Lovisa Ulrika. She  described her delight in a letter to her mother;

“He led me to one side of the garden and suddenly to my surprise, I found myself gazing upon a real-fairy tale creation, for the King had had a Chinese palace built, the loveliest imaginable.”


Queen Lovisa Ulrika, founder of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities was a formidable collector of art and natural history objects.  Within the Palace she created a forum for scholarship and intellectual exchange. The Chinese pavilion, sited at a distance from the Palace and designed in a new, informal style offered refuge from the rigidity of Palace life.

The pavilion, built in 1769 to replace a wooden pavilion from 1753, is considered one of the most important examples of this type of structure conserved in Europe. The French Rococo architecture has an exotic character, with Chinese and oriental elements, the height of fashion during the period. The interiors are considered among the most splendid in Swedish Rococo. The exterior of the Chinese Pavilion was renovated in 1943-55 and the interior in 1959-68.


The garden with flower beds surrounded by box hedges included aviaries, pheasantries and a menagerie complemented by walks lined by chestnut trees.  Its naturalistic design contributed to its appeal.


Seating, promenades and viewing areas were arranged within the surrounding woodlands where, as a complement to existing conifers, large stands of deciduous trees were planted.  Queen Louisa Ulrika and architect Carl Frederik Adelcrantz collaborated on the landscape design.  The plan below, was drawn by surveyor Lars R. Kokeritz in 1779.


When the Chinese Pavilion was rebuilt the garden was modified to include a series of lime bosquets adapted to the contours of the land.  Aviaries and trellis pavilions planted with honeysuckle, lilacs and mulberries added to the romantic, secluded feel of the landscape  providing a sense of being in a cabinet de verdure, a secret green room.

Today the landscape areas near the Chinese Pavilion include a series of educational gardens and displays.


The gardens designed for the Chinese Pavilion provide a transition for the English landscape garden that was to follow.

The Landscape Garden:


In 1777 King Gustav III assumed possession of Drottningholm and began work on an “English Park” in an area north of the Baroque gardens.  While an active participant in the design process, Gustav  collaborated with Adelcrantz and architect and landscape designer Frederick Magnus Piper.

Piper, like Tessin the Younger before him, traveled extensively in Europe, spending time in England where he apprenticed with William Chambers a Scottish-Swedish architect based in London. Familiar   with the theory and practice of the “new” English style of gardening Piper visited and recorded Stourhead, Painshill and The Leasowes and used his experiences to inform the design of the new landscape park at Drottningholm.


IMG_2361Nature reigned supreme and the formal paths of the Baroque landscape were modified to complement a series of picturesque elements including ponds and islands. Access was by meandering footpaths through meadows and fields punctuated with artistically sited stands of trees and classical sculptures.



Sculptures acquired by Gustav in his travels abroad were artfully juxtaposed within the natural landscape. Buildings and monuments were added to the landscape including a Gothic Tower in 1792.


In 1797 Piper developed a master plan of the gardens and grounds of Drottningholm. The watercolor drawing below depicts site lines as well as the formal elements sited within the naturalistic landscape.


During the 19th century the park and gardens were not well maintained and the manicured French character of the landscape was partially lost. Inscribed a World Heritage site in 1991, the landscape and gardens continue to be restored.


The 2007-2012 Drottningholm World Heritage Site World Heritage Management Plan notes the area is an important garden and park environment. The palace establishment “includes three distinct stylistic ideals, with the Baroque garden, the gardens around the Chinese pavilion in Rococo style and the English Romantic landscape park.The gardens and parks with their clear characteristics bear witness to both changing style ideals and long continuity.”

Accessible by ferry from Stockholm Drottningholm receives more than 500,000 visitors a year.



Copyright © 2014 Patrice Todisco  — All Rights Reserved



The Avenue Gardens Regent’s Park


The last several days have been particularly gloomy and damp adding to the sense that the seemingly endless winter will not relent. To add insult to injury it is May, the month when the “sweet April showers….do spring May flowers.” At least in theory.

As an antidote to the capricious New England weather, I have put aside the piece I have been writing to share a brief overview of The Avenue Gardens in Regent’s Park, London which I visited last weekend. The Regent’s Park is one of my favorite public spaces, a verdant refuge in the heart of the city. It is also a horticultural delight where riotous displays of ornamental planting beds, artistically designed, are displayed.


As I wrote in an earlier post, The Regent’s Park is preserved as public open space by the failure of an early nineteenth century development scheme that sought to build garden villas and a summer palace for the Prince Regent on the site.  When conceived, the development scheme incorporated the park into the design, carefully integrating it within the surrounding residential fabric.  It is possibly one of the first parks to have been created in such a manner, providing an early model for subsequent garden cities. For additional information about The Regent’s Park visit:


According to the The Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill Management Plan Draft (2014 – 2024) by Burns+Nice, The Avenue Gardens represent the only formal avenue shown on John Nash’s 1811 master plan for the development scheme that was implemented, part of a concept for “a grand carriage drive through north London linking Carlton House through Regent Street and Portland Place to a proposed guingette (a tavern where friends and families gather to eat, drink and dance) for the Prince Regent’s residence in Regent’s Park and to the villas around and beyond.”

Regent's Park c. 1833

The Schmollinger Map of 1833 depicts Nash’s formal, tree-lined avenue aligning with Park Square.

The Avenue Gardens date from 1861 when advice was sought from horticulturists regarding the trees planted as part of Nash’s design. William Andrews Nesfield (1794-1881), a prominent Victorian garden designer/landscape architect, whose extensive work includes Castle Howard and the planting beds, radial avenues and parterres outside the Palm House at Kew Botanic Gardens, was engaged to redesign the area. His plan, for a formal Italianate/Victorian garden, set within the framework established by Nash, featured ornamental fountains and urns. Completed in 1864, it became known as the Italian or Avenue Gardens and immediately became a popular sensation.

I pause here for a moment for a word about Nesfield who according to Nina Antonetti in the essay, William Andrews Nesfield and the origins of the landscape architect, notes that Nesfield, “helped initiate the evolution of landscape gardener to landscape architect; redirected Victorian thought and design by instigating fresh ways of articulating old ideas; led his generation in the revival of formal gardens during a great period of modernization; and worked in tandem — as an equal — with the great country house architects of his generation.”

More importantly though, is that according to Antonetti, “Nesfield practiced at an opportune time in landscape history to perpetuate a shift in the focus of the practitioner from the private rural estate to the public urban park.” To read more about Nesfield visit:

The undated plan of The Avenue Gardens below is from A Family Affair: The Avenue Gardens and Picturesque Shrubbery, Regent’s Park, London by Dr.  Shirley Evans.  It can be found on The Garden History Society’s web page:


The design of The Avenue Gardens is strictly formal with a promenade accentuated by vistas and axes bordered by flower beds that contain both annual and perennial plantings. Topiarized evergreens provide visual identity and evergreen hedges create a sense of enclosure from the park.


There is a rhythm to the planting beds which while formal are not symmetrical. These are ornamented with a series of vases, pedestals and Tazzas, the most prominent of which, the Lion Tazza by Austin and Seeley, acts as a centerpiece to the garden.



Despite their popularity The Avenue Gardens were not immune to decline and according to Burns+Nice by the early 1990s few of the original elements of Nesfield’s scheme remained. In 1996 The Avenue Gardens were restored reestablishing “the elaborate and exuberant formal character of the gardens with its colorful and ornate bedding schemes.” Twenty-four garden ornaments were recast to their original designs including eight fountains and the lion tazza centerpiece.

According to the management plan,“The Avenue Gardens will be conserved and maintained with their current historic and restored design to the very high standard of maintenance and horticultural excellence demanded.”



Among other objectives this will be achieved by managing the shrub and tree plantings to ensure they remain in scale and not become over-mature; controlling the design and color-schemes of the bedding to ensure the gardens retain a high and consistent standard of quality whilst allowing for seasonal variation and variation between years to maintain visitor interest and delight; maintaining the axial relationship of Broad Walk and Park Square and coordinating with the Crown Estate Paving Commission to establish a visual connection between the park, Park Square and Park Crescent.

If like me you wonder how a public space can be maintained to such high standards both The Regent’s Park with Primrose Hill Operations Plan and Landscape Management Plan are available at

A Landscape Maintenance Contractor, Veolia, plc, provides all of the day-to-day landscape maintenance work employing a minimum of 48 full-time staff with seasonal staff as required during busier periods. R.A. Meredith & Son (Nurseries) Ltd supplies the bedding plants (for all of the Royal Parks) which are grown, the The Regent’s Park on-site nursery, to specific requirements.


The design of the Avenue Gardens contributes to the essential character and “genius loci” of The Regent’s Park, where a sense of grand internal spaciousness is augmented by the strong formal relationships of the garden elements. It is also a reminder that gardens, gardening and gardeners play an important role in public spaces.


Frieze London Contemporary Art Fair will take place in Regent’s Park from Wednesday 15 October to Saturday 18 October, 2014.

For a panoramic view of the gardens visit:


 Copyright © 2014 Patrice Todisco  — All Rights Reserved





Savannah: City of Parks and Squares


“A Sense of Urgency and a Need for Simplicity.”  That is what Birgitte Svarre, coauthor of the book How to Study Public Life, posits in a recent post about cities and the field of “public life studies” on Gehl Architects’ blog, Cities for People.   You might be thinking (since more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities) that of course, cities are for people and wonder what the sense of urgency is all about.  Or you might wonder how public life studies, which according to Svarre “deals with people’s behavior, the built environment and how we can make cities better for people” relates to simplicity.

That’s why a visit to Savannah was such a delight.   Last May I attended the symposium “The Historic Center and the Next City: Envisioning Urban Heritage Evolution” sponsored by US/ICOMOS.  A goal was to advance recommendations adopted in 2011 relating to the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL), an initiative encouraging the use of a landscape approach to study, conserve and inform decisions for future development in cities, their broader urban contexts and geographical settings

Savannah, a city whose cultural identity is intimately linked to its historic squares and parks, provided the perfect backdrop in which to explore the ideas discussed at the symposium.  Here, more than two hundred and seventy-five years ago a plan, widely lauded as the most intelligent grid in America (if not the world), was developed that in its simplicity became a model for the integration of open space and built form.



Designed by Colonel James Oglethorpe in 1733, Savannah’s layout is simple, elegant and innovative.  It provides, according to urban planner and author Edmund Bacon, “one of the finest diagrams for city organization and growth in existence.”


Perched on forty foot bluff overlooking a bend on the Savannah River, Savannah was founded by Oglethorpe as the last colonial capital established by Britain in the United States.  An English philanthropist and member of Parliament, Oglethorpe was involved in prison reform and hoped, according to Elizabeth Barlow Rodgers in Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History,“to transport incarcerated debtors who wished to seek a fresh start in life as well as persons experiencing religious persecution and others eager for economic opportunity.”  His social philosophy, elucidated in his democratic design for Savannah, was informed by ideals of the enlightenment.

Wards, 600 feet to a side in the north-south direction, and 540 feet to 600 feet in the east-west direction were established and streets and building lots within each ward were organized around a central open space or square. Each ward was named and organized as an urban neighborhood with garden and farm lots sited in an expanded regional plan system. Individual house lots were 60 x 90 feet with a 5 acre garden plot. Four “trust” lots on the east and west sides of each square were reserved for public buildings, including churches.

The image below, of Peter Gordon’s 1734 engraving depicts the city a year after it was founded with the first four wards, squares and building plots.


As the city expanded squares were added at regular intervals. Today twenty-two of the original twenty-four exist providing a green infrastructure that, in its logic and accessibility, is a model for the design of cities today.


Johnson Square, the largest, was laid out in 1733.  Named for the Royal Governor of South Carolina when Georgia was founded, it served (like many of the early squares) “as a marketplace and haven for people and animals in the event of an attack by the Indians or by the Spanish of Florida.”


The square contains two fountains, an obelisk commemorating Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene and a sundial, dedicated to Colonel William Bull, credited with assisting Oglethorpe in the layout of the city and after whom Bull Street is named.  It is seen below in an undated postcard.


Selected by the American Planning Association as one of the Great Streets of America, Bull Street serves as Savannah’s central spine.  Four squares, Johnson, Chippewa, Madison and Monterey are located along its route before it terminates in Forsyth Park.


J.W. Hill’s 1855 birds-eye view of Savannah looking north from Monterey Square up Bull Street to the State House.

Although conceived as a whole, each square has a unique identity based upon its history and embellishments which vary depending on the age, location and civic function of the space.  For those who like their history tidy keeping it all straight can be a bit of a challenge. For example although there is an Oglethorpe Square the monument commemorating Oglethorpe graces Chippewa Square.

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Oglethorpe by American sculptor Daniel Chester French dated 1910

While there is a Greene Square Nathanael Greene is buried in Johnson Square.


Johnson Square

Although there is a Pulaski Square the monument to Pulaski is located in Monterey Square.


Georgia troops parade before the Pulaski Monument in Savannah (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, 1861)

Monterey Square is also the location of the Mercer House the setting for the 1994 John Berendt novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  The house, visible at the right in the photo below, is open to the public.


Wright Square, the second square established in 1733, provides a particularly poignant example of how, over time, each space has evolved.  Originally named for Lord Percival, 1st Earl of Egmont, who as a colleague of Oglethorpe with an interest in prison reform became the President of the Trustees empowered by George ll to found Savannah in 1732, the square was renamed in 1763 in honor of James Wright, the last of Georgia’s Colonial Governors.


More poignantly the square was also the burial site of the Creek Native American Tomochichi, friend of Oglethorpe, who ceded the land upon which Savannah is built. Upon Tomochichi’s death, at the direction of Oglethorpe, he was buried in what was then Percival Square.  ln 1882 a monument to William Washington Gordon was erected in the square and Tomochichi’s remains were relocated.   A monument to Tomochichi was later added to the square.



While all of the squares contain civic elements some are more deeply embedded in neighborhoods with a more intimate feel. Troup Square, completed in 1851, contains a large iron armillary sphere, mounted on six turtles. While I am unaware of the significance of the turtles, the sphere is described as a “modern” feature.  Named for Georgia Governor, Congressman and Senator George Troup, the square is the site of the Myer’s dog fountain, the centerpiece of an annual “blessing of the dogs.”



Whitfield Square, completed in 1851, was the final square to be built.   A gazebo serves as its focal point.


Forsyth Park, 30 acres in size was begun in the 1840’s in response to the southern expansion of the city.  It is one of the city’s most popular spaces and an important component in the open space system.


As noted in the sign above, the park’s original 10 acres of land were donated by William Hodgson.  The park was expanded to its current size through a land contribution by Governor John Forsyth and named for him in 1851.


With a distinctly European feel, Forsyth Park was thoughtfully designed to provide a dramatic “green” terminus to Bull Street.  Its  broad tree-lined promenade leads to an ornate water fountain installed in 1858 and modeled after a water feature found in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

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While Forsyth Park contains walking paths, a cafe, children’s play space, a fragrance garden for the blind and Savannah’s Confederate war monument it is the open areas and remarkable trees that are (at least for me) its most compelling feature.



According to the Forsyth Park Arboretum Self-Guided Walking Tour, Savannah’s history is intimately linked with its trees and the city, along with Philadelphia, was the first in America to ‘plant trees in an organized manner along streets and boulevards and in parks and squares.”   Savannah takes its trees seriously with an advocacy organization, The Savannah Tree Foundation empowered to promote “through direct action and education, an awareness of trees as vital environmental resources and an important part of our cultural heritage.”

The diversity of trees planted in Forsyth Park is evident in the plan below.

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Savannah is beautiful with a simple and clear plan that integrates open space and built form within a framework that, through its legibility, allows for creativity.  Its squares share a simple form yet are profoundly unique, informing a sense of place in which that which is ordinary becomes extraordinary.

For more information about Savannah’s Squares:

New Georgia Encyclopedia: Savannah City Plan

Visit Savannah: Squares and Parks

City of Savannah: Tour Guide Manual

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Copyright © 2014 Patrice Todisco  — All Rights Reserved

Book Review: Queen Elizabeth in the Garden: A Story of Love, Rivalry, and Spectacular Gardens by Trea Martyn


Two gardens, one queen and a competition fueled by passion, power and politics.  In the meticulously researched book, Queen Elizabeth in the Garden: A Story of Love, Rivalry, and Spectacular Gardens, Trea Martyn recounts the decade-long struggle between Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and William Cecil, Baron Burghley to win the favor of Queen Elizabeth I by building lavish gardens and providing extravagant entertainments.

Elizabeth’s passion for gardens was legendary.  Each summer she and her court abandoned London for the countryside where they would lodge, often for weeks at a time, with noble families. These visits were highly coveted by Dudley, a close confidant harboring romantic intentions, and Cecil her chief political advisor intent on keeping Dudley at bay. To entice Elizabeth to visit, and amuse her once she arrived, they created gardens and landscapes of increasing complexity, each bolder and more elaborate than the next.  The end results were masterpieces of Renaissance design.


Queen Elizabeth l and the Earl of Leicester at Kenilworth by Dirck Hals (1591 – 1656).

Of the two Dudley was the more flamboyant combining sensory experiences with landscape improvements on a grand scale.  On one visit he was rumored to spend what would today be more than ten million dollars improving Kenilworth Castle and grounds, building towers with deluxe suites and creating wide-open open spaces resembling piazzas.  Elaborate firework displays and entertainments lasted for hours and entire villages were submerged to create a lake on which a dramatic, emotionally-charged performance designed to woo the queen was enacted.  A sensational Italian garden, filled with exotic flowers, herbs, statuary and fountains added to Kenilworth’s allure.


The painting of Kenilworth Castle (after a fresco dated 1620) is from the English Heritage Photo Library.

Not to be outdone Cecil hired English botanist John Gerard to oversee the gardens at Theobalds Palace.  Gerard, the leading expert on herbs and rare plants had contact with the greatest plantsmen in Europe and he slowly established the garden with such delicacy and seasonal subtlety that it resembled a paradise on earth.  Elizabeth, devoted to herbal cures, had a refined sense of smell and particularly enjoyed visiting Theobalds Palace during the spring season.

First published in 1597 Gerard’s Herbal was dedicated to Cecil.  His garden at Holborn was one of the earliest botanic gardens in Europe and the Herbal the most widely circulated botany book of the 17th century. Illustrations from two editions are seen below.



Queen Elizabeth in the Garden: A Story of Love, Rivalry and Spectacular Gardens contains multiple plot twists as the two battle for Elizabeth’s affection.  She, ever the monarch, “played on off against the other” and in the process changed the course of English garden history.

Sadly, there are no remaining Elizabethan gardens in England.  Martyn notes that Theobalds Palace does not even exist on a modern map and is now subsumed by a public park, The Cedars, laid out in the 18th century landscape style.  While plans are afoot to develop a conservation plan for Theobalds Palace, the garden at Kenilworth Castle, overseen by English Heritage, has been recreated utilizing advances in garden archaeology and a 1575 description of the garden (the last year Elizabeth visited). It opened to the public in May, 2009 and additional information and a garden plan can be found at:


Providing a new perspective on landscape history, Queen Elizabeth in the Garden: A Story of Love, Rivalry and Spectacular Gardens, reveals the importance of gardens and horticulture during Elizabeth’s reign.  As political currency gardens and landscapes provided a  powerful expression of status upon which to pursue both romance and drama.

The book is extensively notated with a select bibliography.  In the epilogue Martyns brings the past into the present, reminding the reader that the gardens were indeed fit for a queen.

This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, February 2014.

Copyright © 2014 Patrice Todisco  — All Rights Reserved

Park Angiolina: Symbol of Opatija


January is often a month for reflection.  Named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings, gates and doors, it provides an opportunity to look at the past and future simultaneously.


Republican coin, a silver didrachm from Rome or south Italy dating to 225-12 BCE

During 2013 I attended conferences and symposiums in two professional spheres. “Placemaking” brought me to Detroit and Stockholm (might two places be more different?), where a coalition of organizations met to develop a “new urban agenda around people and places” with a goal of informing UN Habitat III in 2016. Focusing primarily on urban development, the conferences explored how the quality of public spaces including streets, parks and markets fosters social, cultural, economic and environmental convergences that are just and equitable.

While the “Placemakers” consider an international platform regarding urban public space, UNESCO, through the auspices of the World Heritage Program and its partner organizations, continues to pioneer the conservation of historic and cultural urban and vernacular landscapes using models designed to promote a balanced and sustainable relationship “between the urban and natural environment… the needs of present and future generations and the legacy of the past.” Perhaps in 2014 the two initiatives will converge.

If all this sounds somewhat bureaucratic let me assure you that it is.  Which is why I frame my posts within the context of places that I visit exploring the elements I know best – parks, gardens and the public realm. To begin the New Year I am backtracking to share  some of these, which leads me (in the midst of an endless cold spell) to Opatija – the “heart” of Croatia’s Riviera.


“Maiden with the Seagull” by sculptor Zvonko Cav, completed in 1956, is considered an emblem of Opatija. 


Located southwest of Rijeka, Opatija is situated at the gateway to the Istrian peninsula on the Gulf of Kvarner.  Supporting a mild climate ideally suited for horticulture Opatija’s geographic location, just over two hours by car from Venice and four hours by car from Salzburg, is augmented by a physical beauty accentuated by a  rugged coastline connecting historic villages framed by gently sloping mountains.

The poster below, “The Pearl of the Adriatic” is from the period in which Opatija was part of Italy and referred to as Abbazia. Throughout history the region was also part of Yugoslavia.  In 1991 Opatija became part of Croatia.  Vestiges of all three cultures can be found in the architectural and landscape elements of the region.


Opatija’s early history is closely tied to the development of the Benedictine abbey of St. Jacob mentioned as early as 1453.  St. Jacob, protector of pilgrims and travelers, is Opatjia’s patron saint, a fitting reminder of the role of tourism in the city’s evolution.


St. Jacobs was built about 1420, renovated at the end of the 18th century and expanded in the 1930’s.

Today St. Jacob’s, the oldest building in Opatija, sits within an integrated network of open spaces, gardens, promenades and parks with Park Angiolina, deemed the most beautiful park on the Adriatic coast at its center.


Villa Angiolina constructed in 1844 and renovated in 2000.

Built by Ignio Ritter Scarpa, a wealthy merchant and ship-builder from Rijeka Villa Angiolina, one of the grandest structures in Opatija, houses the Croatian Museum of Tourism.  Scarpa, described as a “lover of nature,” named Villa Angiolina after his wife and the creation of its garden consumed him.


Scarpa’s passion for horticulture was enabled by his profession as a merchant with botanic specimens from China, South America, Australia and Japan acquired for the garden on trading expeditions. One such specimen, the Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica), became the symbol of Opatija.  For the past five years an Association of Camellia lovers, named in his honor, has sponsored an exhibit “Camellias of Opatija Riviera”  in the Art Pavilion Juraj Sporer located in the garden.


Today the garden contains more than 150 plant varieties of trees and shrubs including bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), yulan and southern magnolia (Magnolia yulan, Magnolia grandiflora), windmill palm and European fan palm (Chamaerops excelsa, Chamaerops humilis), Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana), Serbian spruce (Picea omorika), cedar (Cedrus), Japonese pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira), pine (Pinus pinea), cherry laurel (Prunus lauricerasus), olive (Olea sativa), Sylvester date palm (Phoenix sylvestris) and sequoia (Sequoia). The trees are labeled and a map details their location.



In 1852 Ljudevit Vukotinovic described the Villa Angiolina’s garden as,“A lovely park with a beautifully constructed pavilion; a very cosy park of this pleasant summer apartment which is much contributed by the beautiful location by the sea….Paths though the park wind through laurel, fig and olive trees and have in such way all the sweetness and charm of southern parks and that seductive air celebrated by all travelers visiting Italy…..” 


The Scarpas were well-known for their hospitality and the Villa Angiolina and its grounds became a fashionable social destination attracting wealthy guests from throughout the continent.

As Opatija’s popularity grew as a tourist destination so too did its infrastructure.  Amenities, including a modernized water supply and sewage system, were installed enabling the establishment of doctor’s offices, sanatoriums and bathing places. A new railway facilitated access and luxury hotels, spas and villas were built to service the burgeoning tourist trade centered on taking “the cure.”  In 1882 Villa Angiolina was purchased by the Southern Railway Company as part of an overall plan to enhance tourism facilities.


Villa Angiolina circa 1900

Wealthy Europeans flocked to Opatija including the Royal family of Austria, assorted kings and princes and famous writers, dancers and musicians.  These included the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, the German Emperor Wilhelm, the Swedish Norwegian King Oscar ll, composers Gustav Mahler and Giovanni Puccini, the author James Joyce, Noble prize winner Henryk Sienkiewicz, the Russian novelist Anton Chekhov and dancer Isadora Duncan who, according to legend, found inspiration for her dance moves in the fluttering leaves of Opatija’s palms.

Portions of Park Angiolina were reconstructed and additional areas, including St. Jacob’s park created under the direction of Carl Schubert, the head of the Viennese imperial society for construction of parks.


St. Jacob’s Park

Schubert linked Park Angiolina with its Mediterranean feel, palm trees, camellias and exotic shrubs to St. Jacob’s Park, a formal, manicured Viennese-style garden.  Both were enhanced to complement the elegant Belle Époque villas and grand hotels built along the coastline many of which, including the Hotel Kvarner finished in 1884, remain today.

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Hotel Stephanie and Saint Jacob’s Park

The model below created by Milivoj Hrelja in 2012 depicts Opatija around 1900.


Park Angiolina


Park St. Jacob

The original architectural appearance of the parks has been preserved representing two distinct landscape styles and experiences. The informal, curvilinear plan remains in the botanic garden adjacent to Villa Angiolina while formal French/Viennese influenced gardens are sited in front of the Villa and within St Jacob’s Park. Both spaces are ornamented with seasonal flowers


The image of Villa Biedermann by Theodor Blatterbauer depicts the seaside promenade (1892).

Connecting the  3.64 hectares of parks and gardens is an internal landscaped path system and the Lungomare, a coastal promenade linking Opatija to Lovran and the historic harbor, Volosko.



The construction of the promenade, initiated by the Society for the Embellishment of Opatija, began at the end of the 19th century, a visible reminder of  Opatija’s transformation to a tourist destination.  During this period the first travel guide, Abbazia, Idylle von der Adria, was published. Many guides followed as well the travelogue, “Three Months in Abbazia” by noted British explorer and ethnologist Sir Richard Francis Burton who was distinctly underwhelmed by his stay.


In 1889, the first section of the Lungomare was developed simultaneously to Opatjia’s official declaration by the Austrian government as a “climatic health resort.” Twenty-two years later the final section of the Lungomare was complete.


The Lungomare frames the harbor and is characteristically unchanged, as seen in the historic image above and recent photograph below.

The coastline of Opatija is home to aged oak trees that form irreplaceable part of the region’s natural heritage and culture. The trees have been incorporated into the landscape and Opatija remains one of the rare places, within Europe where as many as five species of oak (Turkey Oak, Downy Oak, Sessile Oak, Holm Oak and Cork Oak) grow along the coastline.   An effort to preserve the oaks within Opatija is ongoing.


This combination of formal and informal spaces remains today and it is the contrast of the two historic landscape periods that contributes to Opatija’s charm. When writing this piece I researched how the parks and public spaces are managed and maintained.

According to records in 1968 Park Angiolina and St. Jacob’s Park received special protection as national monuments (monuments of garden architecture – parks) and were listed in the “green book” a register of specially protected natural objects maintained through Croatia’s State Institute for Nature Protection  Their category is defined as the  “conservation of artificially developed areas or trees having aesthetic, stylistic, artistic, cultural, historic, ecological or scientific values.”


The parks are maintained by a company “in social ownership,” “PARKS” Ltd. Opatija incorporated in 1995 to “perform communal activities of maintenance of public areas.”  Responsibilities include: lay-out and maintenance of landscape including parks, public green areas and beaches, cultivation of flowers, decorative plants and seeds, civil engineering, wholesale and retail sale of flowers and seedlings, retail sale of books, newspapers, magazines and stationary and management.  The Company is owned by the City of Opatija and employs an average of 78 employees. Unable to translate the city website it remains unclear to me whether this is a public-private partnership arrangement.


Throughout Park Angiolina works of art and sculpture are sited. The art pavilion “Juraj Matija Sporer” built around 1900 provides space for exhibitions and cultural events.

In 2011 the mural seen below was created on a wall surrounding Park Angiolina’s open air theater.  Dubbed the “Wall of Fame” it depicts the images of famous guests to the city including recent visitors (Robert DeNiro) and historic personages.  For more information about the mural including a slideshow of each image visit:



One space on the mural is empty to provide tourists an opportunity to become part of the picture.  And yes, I was in Opatija, too!


Copyright © 2014 Patrice Todisco  — All Rights Reserved

Book Review: City Parks: Public Places, Private Thoughts by Catie Marron


City Parks: Public Places, Private Thoughts
by Catie Marron with photographs by Oberto Gili
(New York: HarperCollins, 2013)

As a young woman in Paris Catie Marron fell in love with the Luxembourg Gardens.  Here on a “brisk, sunny morning”,  moved by the contrast between the “formal, beautiful setting and its natural everyday humanity,” was born a passion that serves as the inspiration for City Parks: Public Places, Private Thoughts a series of eighteen essays by an eclectic group of contributors that includes well-known authors, designers, artists and one former President.

In her introduction, Marron shares that unable to find books about city parks frequented on her extensive travels, she set out to create her own, in partnership with photographer Oberto Gili.  To highlight favorite parks and cities Marron sought contributors deeply connected to selected spaces infusing individual essays with personal recollections and insights.  Thus, just as every park has its “own soul” formed by the interaction of nature and environment, each essay has its own perspective framed by the perceptions and memories of its author.  As such it is a mixed lot.


Luxembourg Gardens

Architect Sir Norman Foster (Grosse Tiergarten, Berlin) begins his essay with an overview of the role city parks play within the context of civic design, followed by a history of the park and how, in his six years working within the city on the Reichstag, the park, a constant presence, both informed and was informed by the project.


The High Line

André Aciman (High Line, New York), an author and academic, ponders the mystery of then and now, in which an industrial artifact can become a modern park while retaining elements of affected imperfection within a framework of passing time.  Travel writer Jan Morris (Giardino Pubblico,Trieste) describes a garden of “municipal worthies” where the park has absorbed the city’s character and serves as a microcosm of civic meaning.

And then, there are the stories where parks become the repositories of memory, places where personal, and often family, histories are nurtured.  These include essays by  Zadie Smith, who explored the Boboli Gardens in Florence with her father; John Banville, who shared precious memories of Iveagh Gardens in Dublin with his teen age daughter and Nicole Krauss walking her dogs at dawn on the long meadow in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York.   Amanda Foreman recalls being with her grandmother in Hyde Park, London, a living “chronometer” where the seasonal rituals of daily life provide reassurance that memories are not only “visions but also tethers to a previous self that was not lost, simply changed.”


Hyde Park

Given the rich material in City Parks: Public Places, Private Thoughts, it is unfortunate that Marron includes three parks that charge fees and are thus not public in its truest sense: Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C.; Al-Azhar in Cairo; and Parque Ecológico de Xochimilico in Mexico City.  This is not to say that they are not important places, worthy of inclusion (although the essay by Bill Clinton on Dumbarton Oaks is not particularly inspiring), but that the phrase “public places” in the title, while reflecting Marron’s assertion that parks are places where one can be alone “in public,” implies a place available to all without charge.

This a large book generously illustrated with color photographs by Oberto Gill who specializes in shooting interiors and fashion.  Most of the photographs are a full page in size and follow the essay which they illustrate.  Integrating the photos with the text and providing plans would have aided in understanding how individual parks relate to their urban context.


Hyde Park

As I read the essays, I found myself going on line to learn more about how each park relates to the city in which it is located as well as how it is managed and maintained.  Given Marron’s current position as co-chair of the board of directors of Friends of the High Line, placing city parks within the context of current issues would have added an additional layer of meaning to the book.

City Parks: Public Places, Private Thoughts is worthy of consideration and will appeal to both those who love gardens and those who are passionate about the increasingly complex role city parks play within the ever changing urban landscape.  While the essays reflect individual voices and insights as a group they speak to the interconnectivity of place and time and the important role that city parks serve as the setting for richly textured memories.

This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, January 2014.

Copyright © 2014 Patrice Todisco  — All Rights Reserved

Bartram’s Garden: The Oldest Surviving Botanic Garden in the US

IMG_3839_2 “It is no little deed to make a garden,“that greatest refreshment to the spirits of man.” But to make a garden in the wilderness; to make the wilderness a tributary to it; and it tributary to the great centers of learning and thought on another continent: that is a great deed.”  Elizabeth O. Abbott, March 1904

It has not been my intent to focus on botanic gardens.  Yet on a trip to attend a conference outside of Philadelphia I could not help but notice how close Bartram’s Garden is to the airport. Established in 1728, the garden is considered to be the oldest botanic garden in the United States and its founder, John Bartram, the greatest natural botanist in the world (as described by colleague Swedish botanist Karl Linnaeus). I had the pleasure of visiting Linnaeus’ garden in Uppsala last May and was curious to visit its American counterpart.

Located along the west bank of the Schuylkill River, Bartram’s Garden is remarkable for many reasons not the least of which is that it exists at all.   Established almost three hundred years ago the garden borders a dense urban neighborhood and is surrounded by industrial uses.  Challenging to locate, its is a rare example of an 18th century landscape that has been preserved in a most incongruous setting.


Originally more than 100 acres in size today its 45 acres contain  Bartram’s home, coach house and stable, remnants of his nursery with original plantings and pathways, meadows that afford sweeping views of the Philadelphia skyline and a trail system connecting the river and wetlands.



John Bartram (1699 – 1777) was self-taught, a Quaker-farmer who from an early age was blessed with a profound curiosity and reverence for the natural world. From his Philadelphia base he set the goal of the“compleat Discovery of the Native Growth in America” establishing a lucrative business centered on the transatlantic transfer of plants and natural specimens. At the center of a horticultural network that included local as well as international colleagues he befriended the political elite of the day including Benjamin Franklin who published Bartram’s articles in his newspapers and almanacs and with whom in 1743 he founded the American Philosophical Society.


One of his most famous discoveries, the Franklinia alatamaha tree, is named in Franklin’s honor. Bartram is credited with saving the tree from extinction (it was never seen in the wild after 1803).  Today all Franklinias are descended from those grown in the nursery.  To read “America’s First ‘Rare’ Plant: The Franklin Tree” visit:

In recognition of his expertise in 1765 Bartram was appointed Royal Botanist by King George III and in 1769 he was elected a member of the Royal Academy in Stockholm.

Only a single illustration exists from the eighteenth century of the Bartram house and garden, entitled “A Draught of John Bartram’s House and Garden as it appears from the River.  Attributed to William Bartram and dated 1758 it is both a plan and perspective drawing that provides a fair representation of the garden (although not true to scale).

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In the illustration the grounds are divided into two major areas an upper terrace adjacent to the house with a lower area sloping down towards the river.  Upper and lower kitchen gardens are depicted as are common and new flower gardens. Large specimen trees flank the walkway and a pond (seen below) fed by “Springhead convaid underground to the spring or milk house” is in the center of the lower garden.


The garden supplied plants for Monticello and Mount Vernon.  It is also credited with inspiring delegates of the Continental Congress to work together to resolve political differences.  On July 14, 1787 a group of delegates, including Alexander Hamilton and James Madison visited the gardens, where John’s sons, William and John Jr. continued the business founded by their father.  Here, according to  Andrea Wulff in Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation,“the delegates could see how the manifold flora of each state thrived together, their branches intertwined in a flourishing horticultural union.”  Bartram had been the first to collect trees and shrubs from all thirteen states and if they could thrive together so too could the new country.  Two days later a successful vote was taken and as Wulf notes,“it can only be speculation that a three-hour walk on a cool summer morning among America’s most glorious trees and shrubs influenced these men. But what we do know is that the three men who changed sides and made the Great Compromise possible that day had all been there and marveled at what they saw.” The image below, from the early twentieth century depicts a visit by George Washington to the garden.


In this digital age in which information is shared spontaneously it is difficult to imagine a universe where plants and seeds were valuable currency, exotic treasures that were coveted by collectors throughout the world.  The Bartrams propagated more than 4,000 native and exotic plants and shipped plants regularly to Europe where wealthy clients anxiously awaited the arrival of “Bartram’s boxes” 3-by 2 ½-foot containers filled with live plants and seeds packed in sand or moss.


Enthusiastic explorers, John Sr. and William traveled from Florida to the Ohio River, often on horseback. William journeyed throughout the South for nearly four years writing and illustrating Travels Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida.  Deemed a classic volume of American nature writing the book depicts the relatively pristine environment of eight states and provided inspiration for other great American naturalists including Henry David Thoreau and John Muir.  William’s talents as a naturalist were enhanced by his artistic abilities as depicted below in his illustration of the Franklinia (courtesy of the American Philosophical Society).


In 1976 the Bartram Trail Conference was established to locate and record the route of William’s travels and “encourage the study, preservation and interpretation of the William Bartram heritage.”  You can learn more about their work and William’s legacy at:

Many of John Bartram Senior’s travels were funded in part by Peter Collinson, his chief correspondent in London.  Collinson served as a middleman for the exchange of seeds, plants, natural specimens and “curiosities” which were sent to, among other sites, the Chelsea Physic Garden (London), Leiden Botanic Garden in the Netherlands and Linnaeus’ Botanic Garden in Uppsala.  This network of sites (including Bartram’s Garden) is included in a serial cultural landscape World Heritage nomination put forth by Sweden to recognize the “Rise of Systematic Biology” the science based upon the observation, collection and analyzation of organisms promoted by Linnaeus. The nomination spans eight countries and contains thirteen sites that contain extant populations of collections studied by Linnaeus and his peers.

Bartram’s sons John Bartram, Jr. (1743-1812) and William Bartram (1739-1823) succeeded him, expanding the botanic garden and nursery and continuing the international exchange of plants.  According to the “Explorer’s Guide to Bartram’s Gardens” the “third generation of Bartrams in America issued the first printed plant catalogue in America.”


The gardens remained an active nursery managed by descendants of John Bartram Junior until 1850 when financial difficulties led to its sale to a wealthy industrialist Andrew Eastwick who preserved the historic garden as part of a larger estate.  Upon his death in 1879 a campaign was launched by Thomas Meehan and Charles Sargent of the Arnold Arboretum to preserve the garden leading to its acquisition by the city of Philadelphia in 1891.   A non-profit organization, the John Bartram association was founded two years later in 1893 with a mission “to protect and enhance the landmark Bartram’s Garden and House, advance the Bartram legacy of discovery, gardening and art, and inspire audiences of all ages to care for the natural world.”

A 2013 – 2015 action plan, developed by the Association in support of its strategic plan proposes that the gardens remain “a welcoming presence in an ever-changing environment; reminding us how nature shapes the world we live in.”


Today, the garden’s plant collection includes several extant examples dating from the Bartram family, remains of what was once the most varied collection of North American plants in the world. These include the magnificent Ginko (Ginko biloba), seen below, the oldest in North America.  According to the “Explorer’s Guide to Bartram’s Garden” the tree is the sole survivor of three sent to the United States from London by William Hamilton in 1785.


The Bartram oak (quercus x heterophylla) is a rare hybrid of the red and willow oak which Bartram reputedly discovered on The Woodlands, an estate not far the gardens.


The garden’s rectilinear framework, designed and laid out by John Bartram during the second quarter of the eighteenth century is intact as is a cider mill and press carved from bedrock that, most likely used by Bartram, was sited along the river to serve farms on both sides of the river.


Other notable features in the garden include the recently restored barn, the oldest in Philadelphia (1775) which now serves as a function/educational space.



Bartram’s House and Garden and part of his original plantation are preserved in a city park administered by the Fairmount Park Commission and maintained and interpreted by the John Bartram Association.  The site has an active educational program and in 2012 a Community Farm and Food Resource Center was created with a 1.5 acre farm, greenhouse, orchard, and community garden plots.


A Master Plan below, by Viridian Landscape Studios, aims to preserve the garden’s historic core while allowing for enhanced visibility and new uses through the addition of circulation and parking, the siting of a regional bicycle path through the property, a new Visitor’s Center, phased building improvements, educational landscape features and tidal restoration.

For more information about the Master Plan Visit:

For information about Bartram’s Garden visit:

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Copyright © 2013  Patrice Todisco  — All Rights Reserved


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