Monthly Archives: December 2010

Opium and cocaine as recreational garden plants and drugs


Growing Papaver somniferum (right pics) in your garden is legal in the UK but not in the US. Converting it to opium or morphine is illegal in both countries. Erythroxylon coca (left pics) is the source of cocaine, which was a legal ingredient in Coca Cola until 1903. Opium was banned in China, in 1799. The British fought a war to have it re-legalised, which happened in 1860. The disadvantages of opium and cocaine are well known but, one wonders, might their worldwide re-legalisation bring any advantages? Yes: (1) the wicked drug dealers would be put out of business (2) recreational drugs could be taxed, like alcohol, to raise government revenues (as American states are increasingly doing with sales taxes on cannabis) (3) the US and UK prison populations, as examples, could be halved (4) the Taliban could be put out of business and the coalition of the increasingly-unwilling could withdraw from Afghanistan and stop smashing up ancient villages with Predator drones (5) innocent drug users would not be poisoned by impure contaminated drugs (6) countries like Columbia, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru and Mexico would benefit from the demise of their drug cartels, criminal gangs and private armies – the drug trade is immensely harmful to civil society in the producer countries (7) sex workers with a drug habit to fund could turn to healthier and more productive occupations (8) crime could he halved, because funding drug purchases is the predominant motive for property-related crime (9) police relieved from ‘the war on drugs’ could prevent more socially harmful crimes – and police corruption would be reduced (10) with fewer wars to fight, the US and the UK could begin to re-rebalance their budgets.


My own experience of taking dangerous drugs is as follows (1) smoking – and inhaling – tobacco as a student (2) limited use of orally administered alcoholic drinks as an adult (3) I was once given a marijuana joint. If it contained any of the illegal substance I did not notice the effect. But the scene is engraved in my memory. Mustafa, a girl and myself were at the top of a deserted Roman amphitheatre at midnight. The mountains to the north and the glittering sea to the south were bathed in moonlight. We laughed a lot and our voices rang round the marble amphitheatre. The location (Side, Turkey) is shown in Sean O’Sullivan‘s photograph. Though I did not become addicted to drugs, I did acquire a serious lifelong addiction to ancient sites, beautiful landscapes and laughter. Since this blog post is published on Christmas Day, it is worth remembering that the date of Christmas probably derives from pagan celebrations of the solstice (eg the Roman Saturnalia) and that sacramental wine is used at Mass.

The landscape setting of Dun Carloway Broch, Lewis, Outer Hebrides

Brochs are a unique building form, dating from the 1st century BC and indigenous to Scotland. They had internal wooden floors and they were inhabited. This is clear. But how they were located and why they were built is unclear. Gordon Childe interpreted brochs as fortifications from which chiefs ruled subject populations. Since no evidence for this could be found, this was followed (in the 1980s) by a theory that they were prestige dwellings for important families, but again there was a lack of evidence and it is often the case that brochs are not located in good agricultural land. But many brochs do have significant positions in the landscape, near cliffs, in valleys and by narrow stretches of water. This suggests, to me, that like so-called hill-forts and stone circles, they had a symbolic and aesthetic role in proclaiming that an area of land was in the ownership of a clan of closely related families. Brochs are early examples of Scottish landscape architecture.

Thank you to Maciomhair for his beautiful black and white photograph of Dun Carloway Broch in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. The building form made good use of local materials and gave a high level of protection from wind and rain. Since travel by boat was easier than travel on land, the west coast of Scotland had relatively good links with Celtic Europe. The crofts on the left of the photograph are a survival of a medieval building-and-farming settlement type. When the brochs were built, other families lived in circular huts with mud or stone walls and thatched roofs.

Garden history as a word-and-image subject

John Dixon Hunt has edited journals on Word and Image and Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes. I am an enthusiastic supporter of the link between the two disciplines, both of which are comparatively modern. As a practitioner, Ian Hamilton Finlay is notable for combining words with garden images. But the subject is very much larger than this and I would like to see schools and universities introducing courses in word and image communication. The Ancient Egyptians scarcely distinguished between the words and images and advent of electronic publishing will re-establish these links. The adage that ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is thought to come from an article about the use of images in advertisements (in a 1921 issue of Printers’ Ink). There is a particular need for word-and-image specialists in publishing and in garden history but they would surely would find jobs in many industries. I am puzzled by the limited graphic skills of most book editors and most garden historians. They need to be able to draw, both by hand and with graphic software, and they need to be able to use words to explain and analyze visual designs. And they need practical experience of photography and picture research. Our multi-media world requires multi-media skills. Courses in ‘media studies’ are too much like courses in ‘English literature’. They deal with criticism more than with creativity and technology. Graphic designers are interested in the topic but tend to have more skill with images than with words.
This post was prompted by reading a book on Baroque garden cultures: emulation, sublimation, subversion ed Michel Conan (Dumbarton Oaks, 2005). I enjoyed it. Conan is an erudite and interesting man but his skills are more with words than with images, while few periods in the history of art are as much in need of a word-and-image approach as the Baroque. There is good explanation of images in the accompanying text but the links between words and images are difficult to follow. For example, an old plan of Chantilly (Conan’s Fig 1) is used to make the points that ‘the garden was not subordinated to the house, that it was off the house’s axis, that its design had not been made to be seen from a particular room in the house, nor the basons to mirror it’. A specially drawn plan could have highlighted the house, the axis, the rooms and the basons.
The BBC has been broadcasting some brilliant word and images studies, but without the images. They should convert the History of the World in 100 Objects to a multi-media format.

Gardens as models for landscape urbanism, urban design and city planning.

As the above and below photographs show, it is a good idea to test ideas at the small scale and the human scale before building them at full scale. This also applies to city building: ideas should be tested at the garden scale before being built at the city scale. There are three advantages to this procedure. First, city building is immensely complicated and therefore requires even more testing than engineering design. Second, working with garden-scale models creates an opportunity for piecemeal planning, working from details to generalities and from small to large (see post on gardens and landscape urbanism). I argued for this in an essay on The Tradedy of Feminine Design and, though not happy with the method being described as ‘feminine’, I remain convinced that the small-to-large design process is a necessary counterweight to the far-too-popular Master Planning approach. It is also very well suited to the garden-and-landscape way of thinking. Detail decisions can be conceived as planting ‘seeds’ which will grow into cities. This is, let us not forget, both the way most of the worlds cities began and also the way they have grown. The third advantage of using gardens as laboratories for city design is that gardeners always and instinctively deal with ecological, hydrological, recycling and climatic issues.

Above photo of wind tunnel testing of a model of a plane courtesy QinetiQ Group.

Parterre with plate-bande in compartment garden, shown in Stoke Edith Wall Hanging – and landscape urbanism

This tapestry (dated 1710-20)  was rescued from a fire at Stoke Edith Park  in 1927 (see aerial photo of Stoke Edith today). It shows a garden which may have belonged to Stoke Edith House and which may have been designed by George London. It is the principal section of a compartment garden, designed for walking and for displaying the owners valuable statues and valuable flowers. The planted ribbons (plate-bandes) and the nature of their planting are clearly shown, as are the citrus fruits in tubs, placed outside for the summer to scent the air and provide fresh fruits which were otherwise unobtainable. The building at the far end of the parterre is an orangery.The design style is that of the Late Renaissance.
The use and the layout remind one of the squares of eighteenth century London and Paris (eg the Place des Vosges) – which were, in effect communal parterres. I see the urban examples as landscape urbanism in the sense of city plans inspired by garden and landscape plans.
When the Stoke Edith parterre was made the surrounding settlements (eg Hereford) were, presumably, densely packed and grubby almost-medieval towns. Their ‘shared space’ would have been roads for riding: unpaved and strewn with animal dung. For fine ladies in fine clothes they were not suitable places to take the air – so they needed gardens with gravel walks, statues and flowers to admire. The social use of the garden space is evident.

A Stoke Edith gate lodge (built in 1792) survives on a bend in the road between Ledbury and Hereford.

Images courtesy Wikipedia. See photograph of Stoke Edith garden and parterre before 1927

Specialised public open space enriches urban landscape design


The ‘urban squatters’ skateboard park on the South bank in London is one of my favourite examples of a highly specialised, and unofficial, public open space. Benighted planners have as unimaginative an approach to POS as they do to education. It is ONE SIZE FITS ALL – a national curriculum and a national provision of ‘public open space’. The historic standard was ‘7 acres of open space/1000 people’, to go with a national diet of one glass of milk, four slices of bread, meat and two veg, with a fish on a Friday. Cooks have liberated us from wartime diets but wartime POS provision continues. ‘You can have any POS you want, so long as it is green’. But, as the video shows, London’s young, dynamic, agile and multi-ethnic youngsters have other ideas, other tastes, other skills and a harlequin love of coloured space. My conclusion is that the age of Generalised POS is over. The age of Specialised POS has begun. The above example cost the authorities nothing to make and costs them nothing to maintain. It is therefore more SUSTAINABLE than a stupid patch of neglected grass.
Notes (1) other examples of specialised POS welcome (2) I’m not sure but I think the urban space in the video is a consequence of the architecture professions onetime love of pilotis.

Tirtagangga water garden: the garden that time forgot

The Tirta (Holy Water) gangga (Ganges) water gardens in Bali are composed of three main elements: water, sculpture and gardens. They were originally built by the
late King of the Karangasem in 1948. However in 1963 with the eruption of the volcano Gunung Agung much of the palace was destroyed leaving only the bathing pools. The garden is said to be designed in a mixture of Balinese, European and Chinese styles and have undergone reconstruction.

Holistic urban water management in Chinese urbanisation: Atelier Herbert Dreiseitl in Zhangjiawo New Town

River Park in Zhangjiawo New Town

River Park in Zhangjiawo New Town

中国城市化进程中的整体城市水管理:张家窝新城设计—Dreiseitl工作室   Thinking about the urban development which has taken place in mainland China since Deng Xiaoping repudiated the Cultural Revolution in 1977, the words which come to mind are: fantastic, astonishing, unbelievable and unprecedented. If, however, a laowai 老外 may be allowed a word or two of criticism (1) the work has been a little rushed (2) too few landscape architects were involved in the urban design (3) it is a pity that so much was learned from America in comparison with what was learned from Europe (4) nature in general and water in particular have suffered from the urbanisation (5) the work could have been done in a more Daoist way than it has been, with the reverence for nature which was traditional in Daoist and Buddhist culture.
With these thoughts in mind I was very pleased to read that Atelier Dreiseitl have completed a project in Zhangjiawo New Town. As noted in a review of Dreiseitl’s book on Recent Waterscapes, his work has the virtue which Lewis Mumford attributed to Ian McHarg of combining ‘scientific insight’ with ‘constructive environmental design’.
‘The Chinese seem to have been the first to perceive the relationships joining the flow of water with the shape of land and with the social and philosophical milieu.According to Joseph Needham, China produced two opposing schools of thought in hydrological engineering as in virtually ever other area of human endeavor: the Confucian and the Taoist. The Confucians were disciplinarians who believed in strict rules and strong measures of control. They advocated ‘high and mighty dykes, set nearer together’… The Taoists, or expansionists, were more inclined to let water take its own course as far as possible, giving it plenty of room to spread. The result was a very complex network of flow. An early Taoist engineer, one Chia Jang, wrote over 3000 years ago that ‘those who are good at controlling water give it the best opportunities to flow away; those who are good at controlling the people give them plent of chance to talk’ (John Tillman Lyle, Design for human ecosystems: landscape, land use, and natural resources (1999, p.236)
The American approach to water management was Confucian, in the sense of regulatory. But McHarg introduced a more Daoist approach in the famous project for Woodlands, Texas. It proved to be more beautiful, more effective and more ecological. And it came in at 25% of the cost of the US engineers ‘Confucian’ system. As McHarg observed ‘there is no better union than virtue and profit’. I therefore hope Dreiseitl is re-pioneering a Daoist approach to holistic urban water management in the formerly Daoist Middle Kingdom. Continental European cities, because so many of them were founded in the Middle Ages, have a long tradition of incorporating open water channels within the fabric of the city. American cities, because so many of them date from the nineteenth century, have tended to put as much urban water as possible into underground pipes. China seems to have done things the American way, so far.

Images courtesy Tian Yuan