Book Review: Oxford College Gardens

Oxford College Gardens

While staying in London last June I took the train to Oxford to visit the Botanic Garden. It had been nearly thirty years since I was last there and I had fond memories (and somewhat fading slides) of the garden, the Broad Walk and Christ Church Meadow, a riverine environment that for me at the time embodied all that is special about the English landscape.

The Botanic Garden, founded in 1621, is the oldest in Britain and easily found. Not so the myriad assortment of gardens and landscapes hidden behind the perimeter walls of the 38 self-governing, financially independent colleges which comprise the University.

Merton college, Oxford. Ceanothus trained on wall.

Merton College, Oxford. Ceanothus trained on wall: c/o Frances Lincoln, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group

In Oxford College Gardens landscape historian Tim Richardson shares the secrets of what lies behind those storied walls. It is here that the physical fabric of the University, informed by the synergy of its of landscape and architecture, has been shaped by time and the imprint of those who have lived and worked in each college.

While every college is distinct, informed by its own history and character, at the heart of each is the landscape; lawns, private ‘fellows’ gardens, groves, walks, meadows, lakes and deer parks. These are shared with the reader through Richardson’s lively text and brought to life by Andrew Lawson’s full-color photographs. Maps, historical images and contemporary plans of each college are also provided.

Worcester College, Oxford

Worcester College: Oxford c/o Frances Lincoln, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group

The breadth of garden styles portrayed within Oxford College Gardens is sweeping, ranging from the conventional quadrangles of University, Merton and Balliol Colleges to the modernist landscape of Saint Catherine’s College, designed by Danish architect Arne Jacobsen as a “landscape with buildings set within.” Eschewing judgement as to their design or landscape history, Richardson presents colleges alphabetically, beginning with the aptly named All Souls and concluding with Worcester College.

Special attention is paid to the gardeners who over time have both designed and lovingly tended individual college landscapes including Balliol head gardener Christopher Munday who in 2013 propagated a vivid magenta dahlia specimen to celebrate the college’s 750th anniversary which can be seen today in the college’s front quad herbaceous border.

George Harris, head gardener of Saint Hugh’s, is quoted upon his retirement in 1972 after 45 years of service as responding to the sentiment that the garden would never be the same without him, “You can’t expect it to be.” An appendix provides a list of head gardeners as of 2014.

At more than 300 pages in length Oxford College Gardens is a large book, just over 5 pounds in weight. Would that it were smaller and could serve as a guide to carry when visiting the spaces it depicts with such grace and erudition.

All Souls College, Oxford

All Souls College, Oxford:  c/o Frances Lincoln, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group

That said, there are many who will enjoy this compendium of all things Oxford, a place where “windows open onto other worlds” including its gardens.

Oxford College Gardens by Tim Richardson with Photographs by Andrew LawsonFrances Lincoln Limited, London: 2015

This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, April, 2016.

Oxford Botanic Garden

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Oxford, where windows open into other worlds……..

It’s quite possibly a very good thing that I had not read the book I am currently reviewing, Oxford College Gardens, before my visit to the University’s Botanic Garden last June. Written by garden historian Tim Richardson the more than three hundred page volume exhaustively documents thirty-four individual garden landscapes that, in the words of the author, “help shape the identity” of the place.

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Oxford is indeed busy, ever the more so since serving as a setting for the Harry Potter movies.  The frenetic nature of its public spaces is offset by the worlds within worlds existing within individual colleges and their gardens secreted behind the walls which famously enclose them. It’s not that you can’t find them, it’s just that, like for Alice, they may reveal themselves in a somewhat curious fashion.

The images above and below are from Balliol College.  To take a virtual tour visit: https://www.balliol.ox.ac.uk/about-balliol/virtual-tour

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Richardson asserts, that a landscape or a garden can affect the mind and its layout will help shape its identity.  The layout of Oxford has been shaped over time through both its physical and imaginary qualities.  The map below is from the book Lyra’s Oxford by Philip Pullman.  It depicts the bench within the Oxford Botanic Garden which plays an important role in His Dark Materials Trilogy as the site where Will and Lyra meet each year at noon on Midsummer’s day to feel each other’s presence between their spirit worlds.

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The Oxford Botanic Garden, founded in 1621, was the first of its kind in Britain; a physic garden where botany, medicine and practical gardening were linked in a systematic manner.

Founded as a “nursery of simples” the original garden was sited on five acres of meadowland outside the city walls leased, by Sir Henry Danvers 1st Earl of Danby, from Magdalen College.

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Sir Henry’s 5,000 pound gift built the walls and archway but were not sufficient to employ anyone to cultivate the garden requiring that the first Superintendent Jacob Bobart work both as gardener and innkeeper to support his employment.

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The Danby Gate, designed by Nicholas Stone and built between 1632 and 1633 commemorates Sir Danby’s gift.

An eccentric character who according to garden historian Mavis Batey was often accompanied by a goat, Bobart was deemed an “excellent Gardener and Botanist.” During his tenure the first catalogue of plants, containing 1,600 different species, was published.  Upon his death in 1679 he was succeeded by his son, also named Jacob, who started an annual botanic garden seed exchange through which gardens continue to acquire seeds they wish to grow.

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By 1734 an endowment left to the University provided support for the teaching of botany and plant science and a Keeper of the Garden, assuring its legacy as a research institution.

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Today the Garden includes three sections illustrated on the map below.

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Within the walled garden plants are classified thematically, including by country of origin, botanic family or use. These are arranged in family borders originally based upon the Linnean System of classification and modified through the years to reflect changing attitudes towards evolutionary relationships between groups of plants. Included are the Plant Heritage National Collection of Euphorbias and a medicinal plant collection.

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Between the walled garden and Cherwell River is the lower garden. While this area has accommodated various uses, it’s current design reflects a 2009 plan by Kim Wilkie Associates to more formally integrate the area with the Walled Garden and illustrate the role of the Botanic Garden in the 21st century.

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The lower garden includes a fruit, vegetable and herb collection which connects the garden to its historical uses as well as the English Herbaceous and Merton Borders.

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The English Herbaceous Border, planted in 2007, is designed to look best in the summer months.

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The Merton Borders, the garden’s most recent addition, are also one of its largest cultivated areas. Planted for year round interest, these include grasses, bulbs and annuals, biennials and perennials bordered by fruit trees. The borders are dynamic and change each year. Cut back in the spring they provide visual interest throughout the winter months.

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Originally constructed in 1926, The Rock Garden is divided between plants that are both European and reflective of the rest of the world.

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For more than 300 years there has been a glasshouse associated with the garden, a prominent feature sited along the River Cherwell’s banks. Within are lily, arid, palm and alpine, fernery and insectivorous houses.

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A walkway along the river provides access to  Merton Field, The Broad Walk and Christ Church Meadow,  popular walking and picnicking spots.

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In keeping with its original mission “to promote the furtherance of learning and to glorify nature,”  the garden continues to support the study of plant biology and conservation while providing educational programs for people of all ages.

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As a botanic garden it is committed to the successful implementation of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation which works to ensure that the world’s biological diversity is preserved.

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The Oxford Botanic Garden is open throughout the year with varied hours of entry depending upon the season. A modest fee is charged.

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Copyright © 2016 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Book Review: Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood by Judith Tankard & Martin Wood

Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood

Within the canon of landscape history a collection of gardens exists that has revolutionized the profession, shaping, and shaped by, genius and sense of place.

Munstead Wood, the home of Gertrude Jekyll, stands at the apex of this collection. It was here that the woman described by eminent historian Christopher Hussey as the “greatest artist in horticulture and garden planting that England has produced,” collaborated with architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to build a house and garden.

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Jekyll’s ideals were deeply rooted in a love of the Surrey countryside, cottage gardens, vernacular building traditions, the Arts and Crafts Movement and her training as a fine artist. The creation of Munstead Wood embodied the perfect expression of her ideals, providing a canvas for Jekyll’s craftsmanship and experimentation with garden design.

Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood, by Judith Tankard and Martin Wood, is a redesigned edition of the Pimpernel Garden Classic first published in 1996. It recreates Munstead Wood as it was in Jekyll’s time, introducing the reader to the “activities and enterprises” around which her daily life evolved.  Neither a biography nor an assessment of Jekyll’s well documented contributions to the field of garden design, it is instead a compelling and intimate portrait of Jekyll and the home and gardens that she created for her own pleasure.

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In 1920 Sir Edwin Lutyens commissioned this portrait of Jekyll by William Nicholson.

There is much to savor in this eminently readable account of the talented, paradoxical Jekyll who, if you’ll pardon the expression was, in her day, the “rock star” of the gardening world. Her talents were remarkable and wide reaching: carving, modeling, painting, silversmithing, carpentry, gilding, embroidery, herb and flower knowledge. She mastered them all, laying a foundation for her acclaimed gardening career.

While deeply rooted in her finely orchestrated country life at Munstead Wood, Jekyll was a prodigious communicator, the author of more than a dozen books and 1,000 articles. So great was Jekyll’s fame, and so voluminous her fan mail, that she drafted a form letter advising that her “oculist forbids letter writing.”

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My edition of WOOD AND GARDEN, purchased at Goodspeed’s Book Shop and previously owned by Mary Currie, Clewer Hill House.

Jekyll seldom ventured far from home, designing more than 400 gardens during her career (although records for only 250 survive) yet rarely traveling to any of them. Instead she developed designs from site plans supplied by her clients, many of whom were wealthy industrialists whose fortunes were made at the expense of the countryside she so loved.

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Plan from Jekyll’s COLOUR SCHEMES for the FLOWER GARDEN, 1983 edition. Introduced and Revised by Graham Stuart Thomas.

It is these details that delight, revealing the most extraordinary Jekyll in an ordinary light. While her fame as a garden designer and writer is widely celebrated, her management and business skills were also equally impressive.

Drawing upon Jekyll’s photographs (yet another of her highly evolved talents), scrapbooks, correspondence and the recollections of her contemporaries, the authors chronicle Jekyll’s many enduring personal and professional relationships. Chapters are devoted to both the design of Munstead Wood and her commissions as a professional garden designer. These are listed alphabetically and by architect and included as appendices.

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Despite its fame, Gertrude Jekyll’s garden at Munstead Wood lasted for only 50 years as she made no plans to preserve it after her death. While it lives on through books, articles, photographs and the recollections of those that visited it, the garden was a personal endeavor, created by and for Jekyll herself.

How fortunate then that Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood provides a glimpse of Munstead Wood at its prime, as well as an opportunity to understand Gertrude Jekyll’s garden design enterprises within the context of the practical and creative arts to which she was deeply devoted.

By Judith Tankard & Martin Wood
Pimpernel Press Limited, 2015
Distributed by Trafalgar Square Publishing, www.ipgbook.com

This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, February, 2016.

Copyright © 2016 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Arboretum Trsteno

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It is always humbling to practice what I describe as reverse travel exploration. Despite best intentions I often visit a landscape with only a cursory understanding of its history.  Risking the possibility that I might miss something really important (and indeed I have) this allows me to experience each place I explore through my own lens.

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Last summer I revisited Dubrovnik and spent a morning at Arboretum Trsteno located 15 miles west of the city on the littoral coast, a region rich in natural resources and beauty. I didn’t know much about the arboretum except that a really large tree graced its entrance and when I inquired about parks and gardens in Dubrovnik this is where I was encouraged to visit.

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Early 20th century postcard

The tree in question, an Oriental Plane (Platanus Orientalis), is large indeed, possibly the largest in Europe.  It is located at the arboretum’s entrance and, according to the website Monumental Trees, may have been brought to Trsteno by a 16th century diplomat from Constantinople, one of five, planted near a natural spring.  According to legend, the tree famously saved the city of Dubrovnik from an attack by Napoleon’s army in 1806 when one of its limbs fell onto the road taking two days to clear and blocking their advance, thus allowing for a negotiated truce.

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The Arboretum Trsteno, founded in 1494, is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) arboretum in Europe.

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It is also one of the major filming locations for the enormously popular television series Games of Thrones where, as the gardens of King’s Landing, it is a principal setting in which the main protagonists “weave their plots” and exchange secrets, according to the series’ website.

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In the scene above, filmed in the arboretum’s pavilion (seen below without staging) Sansa meets with Lady Tyrell. (http://www.kingslandingdubrovnik.com/game-of-thrones-scenes/season-3)

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Sited between the road and the sea, Arboretum Trsteno includes approximately 70 acres of land.  Its central plateau, lined with terraces, supports the principal structures, gardens and agricultural landscapes while the land leading to the coast is steep and rocky.

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Historically, the arboretum and its gardens represent the sole remaining example in Dubrovnik of a “ villeggiatura” a rural or suburban retreat from the city that integrates cultural and agricultural uses. As a cultural landscape it is known for its historical gardens and collection of Mediterranean and exotic species.

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Its landscape is a mix of gardens, orchards, meadows, farmlands, olive fields, groves and natural forests of oak, pine and cypress. Eleven structures are integrated within the landscape forming an ambient whole that seamlessly blends the domestic arts with the natural world.

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As the summer home of the Gučetić-Gozze family (members of the noble class of citizens of the Dubrovnik Republic which included bishops, poets, artists, mariners and lovers of horticulture and gardening) Arboretum Trsteno developed incrementally with each owner adding structural and horticultural elements.  Formal paths lined with hedging integrate individual gardens and cultivated sections of the property.

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Sketch of the Renaissance gardens and vegetation by Maja Anastazija Kovačević, published in Ana Deanović’s “Perivoj Gučetić u arboretumu Trsteno – pitanje njegove reintegracije i prezentacije”, Rad JAZU 379, 1ww978

Arboretum Trsteno’s central axis developed throughout the late Renaissance and Baroque periods providing a cohesive and formal framework for the estate’s early structures, directly connecting the landscape to the sea.

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The property contains eleven architectural features, all of which have been preserved in varying states of restoration. These include the summer villa, wheat and olive mills, storage and cooking facilities, a chapel, a Baroque fountain and a 70 meter long stone aqueduct.

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Arboretum Trsteno was the only estate in the region with a water supply (thus the aqueduct) allowing for the development of the gardens and supporting agricultural activities.

An elaborate Baroque fountain, the largest in Dubrovnik, was added in in 1736 featuring a cave/grotto, frescoes and a pool presided over by Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.

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Arboretum Trsteno is described as a hotspot of biological diversity in Dubrovnik with, according to research carried out between 1995 and 2000, the confirmed presence of more than 400 species of cultivated plants and 528 autochthonous species.

Collected over five centuries from around the world these include flowering cactuses, eucalyptus, palms, Aleppo pines, holm and cork oak, persimmons and laurels. While the collection is richest in Mediterranean and European species reflecting its Renaissance origins. Seventeen percent of the plants are of American origin and twenty-two percent of Asian origin.

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In 1948 (20 years after the photograph below was taken) the estate was placed under legal protection as an arboretum and protected by law as monument of garden architecture.

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Managed by the Croatian Academy of Science and Arts, the activities of the arboretum focus on the “protection and preservation of cultural, historical and natural monuments,  the study and protection of cultural diversity, the development of a live collection in terms of protecting genetic diversity, and on research into the history of garden architecture.”

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This relationship of man to nature is a guiding theme of the Arboretum Trsteno and is reflected in a Latin inscription from 1502 sited on a wall in the garden translated as: “I am proud of my neighbors, but I am even more proud of water, the gentle climate and my owners. Visitors, behold the traces of human hands, whose excellent skills have tamed the wildness of nature.”

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Additional information about Arboretum Trsteno can be found in the scientific paper, Arboretum Trsteno – the Gardens of a Renaissance Villa by Mladen Obad Šćitaroci and Maja Anastazija Kovačević.

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Arboretum Trsteno is open from May to October from 7:00 to 19:00 and November to April from 8:00 to 6:00 with a nominal entrance fee. It is accessible from Dubrovnik by the public bus system.

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Copyright © 2016 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

The King’s Garden at Rosenborg Castle: Copenhagen

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It’s ominously close to the end of the year and as I reflect on my travels I am compelled to revisit the places I experienced that I really enjoyed and did not have the time to write about. This includes The King’s Garden (Kongens Have) at Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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Located in the center of the city, The King’s Garden is an urban open space that effortlessly merges historic identity with contemporary uses, providing a green oasis for residents while accommodating tourists visiting Rosenborg Castle.

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With meticulously tended formal gardens, tree-lined avenues, generous greenswards, cafes, and event spaces, it is both a park and garden; the very best type of civic amenity.

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The oldest park in Copenhagen, The King’s Garden dates from 1606 when King Christian IV (1577 – 1648) created a Renaissance style pleasure garden on land outside of the city’s East Rampart.

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Portrait of King Christian IV by Dutch painter Karl Van Mander from 1638 with Rosenborg Castle in the background.

Here kitchen and ornamental gardens were combined providing fruits, vegetables and flowers for the Royal household, a use that continued until the late 19th/early 20th century.  It is known (according to signage within the garden) that apples, pears, cherries, plums, quinces, figs, walnuts, vines, mulberries, peaches and almonds were cultivated and by 1624 there were as many as 1,400 different plants.

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The original gardens, compared to the Tuileries in Paris, were expanded as detailed in the 1649 plan (above) by Otto Heider. The image below, attributed to 1749, illustrates the formality of the plan.

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Rosenborg Castle in 1749 – Showing the kitchen garden and orangery. (from Onsite Sightseeing – Copenhagen).

A small pavilion in the garden became the site of Rosenborg Castle. Today, the greensward in front of the castle is planted with crocuses, a highlight of the early spring.

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The gardens were redesigned and expanded continuously incorporating features with Baroque influences. These included a maze and path system focused upon a central area with an octagonal summer-house at its center. By 1710, the Royal family had shifted their favor to other accommodations and the property was eventually opened for public use and enjoyment. The castle, repurposed as a museum, houses The Royal Jewels.

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The plan below, dated 1784 details the garden’s evolution showing formal parterre gardens contiguous to the castle and the addition of tree-lined pathways and lawn areas.

København, Rosenborg og Kongens have %22Plan over Rosenborg Hauge opmaalt Aar 1784 af de kongelige Landcadeter og tegnet af C. Hauch%22

København, Rosenborg og Kongens have “Plan over Rosenborg Hauge opmaalt Aar 1784 af de kongelige Landcadeter og tegnet af C. Hauch”

While the gardens have changed over time they have retained key features and organizing elements, balancing intimate formal gardens that serve as outdoor rooms with graceful avenues framed by stately trees.  Although two hundred and fifty years separate the plans seen above and below and many of the formal gardens have been converted to other uses, much of the garden’s circulation framework remains intact.

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This includes the Knight’s Path (Kavalergangen) and the Lady’s Path (Damegangen).

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The Hercules Pavilion, refurbished in 1999 as a cafe/cultural venue dates from the founding of the park in 1606.  Among other uses the pavilion, which in its current Neoclassical style showcases a statue of Hercules acquired in Italy by King Frederick IV, has served as a hermitage, ale house, concert venue, residence for the head gardener and a storeroom for a folk dancing club.

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An adventure playground, added to the park in 1998, is contiguous to the Hercules Pavilion. Inspired by the park’s history it includes dragons guarding their eggs, wooden poles depicting a forest and a sandpit with a suspension bridge.

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Close by is a statue of Hans Christian Andersen by sculptor August Saabye added to the garden in 1880.   According to text in Insight Guides: Explore Copenhagen, while the statue was designed and cast during Andersen’s lifetime it was installed after his death and it was he who objected to having children included in the piece, remarking he “hated having anyone sitting or staying close to him when he read” and that his stories were intended as much for adults as for children.  The image below is from a print dated 1949.

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The formally planted Rose Garden is a popular feature guarded by a somewhat austere sculpture of Queen Caroline (1796-1881).  I was unable to locate any specific information as to her involvement with the garden to understand why this particular piece is placed in this location.

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The plan below, of the rose garden, is dated 2007 and taken from the master planning document, Perspektivplan Kongens Have.  I have included a link to the plan at the end of this piece.

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The King’s Garden contains what is described as Northern Europe’s longest herbaceous border ( 240 meters or  787 feet) referred to as “The English Garden.”

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In 2001, a symmetrical Renaissance style garden, with roses. espaliers and pavilion, named the Krumspringet (‘The Caper’) was completed.  A contemporary interpretation of the garden’s historical elements, the Krumspringet pays homage to a 17th century maze depicted in earlier plans.  Its name translates as “dodge” referring to the ability to avoid unwanted encounters when walking within its circuitous path system.

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I haven’t focused on the garden’s sculptural elements although there are many, each with its own story.  As a vibrant urban open space, new and innovative features including temporary pavilion installations similar to those at The Serpentine Galleries in Kensington Park, are incorporated into the garden.  The lion below, one of a pair, guards the entrance to the castle.

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At 40 acres in size, the King’s Garden is not an exceptionally large space (as an example Central Park covers 843 acres while Boston’s Common, a space founded approximately thirty years after The King’s Garden, contain 50 acres).  However, as one of Copenhagen’s most popular parks/gardens it balances a multiplicity of uses that combined embody a unique sense of place.

The King’s Garden is maintained by the Danish Agency for Palaces and Cultural Properties.

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As I was researching the history (specifically searching for a plan of the rose garden) I found a master plan, the Perspektivplan Kongens Have (seen below) from 2007.   Without any ability to read the text I am adding a link as it includes excellent photographs and plans which by themselves offer a compelling overview of this well-tended national treasure.

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Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Good Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Edmund Hollander Design

 

The Good Garden 5in-2
According to landscape architect Edmund Hollander, “a powerful landscape unfolds like a story” with a narrative of sequenced, choreographed movements transitioning the public to the private realm. Here “your land is your home, and within that home is the house”, whose material culture of wood, brick and stone is animated by plant materials.

The Good Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Edmund Hollander Design, details how that story is told from a landscape perspective using a holistic design process that integrates ecology, cultural history and a sense of place.

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For Edmund Hollander Design that place is, by and large, located within 200 miles of New York City where for more than twenty-five years he, and his business partner, Maryanne Connolly have practiced. While they maintain a robust list of international clients, it is within this particular geography that they have created hundreds of landscapes, rooted in the distinctive ecology of the region.

Deeply influenced by Ian McHarg, the Scottish landscape architect and regional planner who founded the department of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania where Hollander and Connelly met as students, their work employs an ecological approach to every project. This is informed by three elements: nature, including topography, soil and climate; human, or the way in which a client “pictures”living on the property; and architectural, including the house and related built structures.

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Elegantly designed and exquisitely photographed in full-color, The Good Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Edmund Hollander Design features a selection of the firm’s private gardens from throughout the Northeast. These are thematically arranged according to individual design elements. Chapters are devoted to plantings that complement architecture, plants as architecture, specialty gardens, and landscapes inspired by nature.

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Within each chapter are subheadings that explore design elements and principles, providing a framework for landscape design and a reference for the home gardener. These range from the intimate (gateways, stairs and pathways) to the landscape scale (dunes, meadows, shorelines, woodlands and greenswards). For each a series of annotated photographs provides additional detail and planting information.

Written in collaboration with New York Times and Landscape Architecture columnist Anne Raver, The Good Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Edmund Hollander Design is a beautiful book filled with beautiful landscapes designed in an environmentally sensitive manner for a very particular clientele, with the financial resources to maintain them. With nary a leaf out of place they provide the ultimate gardening fantasy.

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Try as I might I could not find any direct reference explaining how the book’s title, “The Good Garden” was chosen. Hollander’s purports that the ability to “shape the landscape as a whole separates the landscape architect from the gardener” with a successful landscape based “primarily on the spatial quality that is created and the use of plants to shape spaces, particularly as you get away from building architecture.” Perhaps that’s good enough.

The Good Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Edmund Hollander Design
By Edmund Hollander and Anne Raver, with principal photography by Charles Mayer
Monacelli Press: 2015

All Photos © Charles Mayer. Courtesy of The Monacelli Press.

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

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

 

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved