Monthly Archives: May 2011

Chelsea Flower Show Trends 2011 – and the Chelsea Fringe Garden Show

Sustainable and theatrical themes at Chelsea help argue the case for an Unofficial Chelsea Fringe Garden Festival





Amongst other things, garden design an arena for fashion. This tempts the critic to look for trends and what I noticed was more an extension of previous trends than anything completely new:

  • the visual language of sustainability is becoming stronger, with green walls and green roofs tending towards the norm
  • there is more use of food plants each year, as in the above photograph (of a design by Bunny Guiness)
  • the interest in green roofs is trending towards high-rise gardens: Sarah Eberle designed an accessible roof garden; B&Q designed a multi-storey garden; Dairmud Gavin hung a garden from a crane [see 2011 Chelsea review]
  • the financial trend is to more-and-more money being spent on the show gardens each year

The financial trend reminds me of a previous suggestion: the Official Chelsea Flower Show should be supplemented with an unofficial fringe event. We therefore renew the proposal, made in 2005, for a Chelsea Fringe Flower and Garden Show. The advantages of a Chelsea Fringe would include:

  • there could be sustainably Permanent Show Gardens, as well as Temporary Show Gardens. People often remark on what a waste of money it is that Chelsea Show Gardens are only on view for a single week. The Chelsea Fringe would allow some of the show gardens to become permanent.
  • many summer visitors to London, who cannot get tickets for the Official Chelsea Flower Show, would be able to see wonderful gardens. The gardens could be opened in sync with the official show and would then be at their best for the whole summer.
  • the Chelsea Fringe would re-inforce London’s position as the World Capital of Gardening
  • the Chelsea Fringe Show Gardens could be combined with theatrical and other events, as in the above photograph
  • there could be Floating Chelsea Gardens on the Battersea Reach of the River Thames

Here are the 2007 proposals for the type of events which could be brought within the umberalla of a Chelsea Fringe Flower and Garden Show Events.


Shimmering on the water

The floods have done something amazing to the inland Australian landscape that is perhaps only rivalled by the fabulously unique underwater landscapes that are rarely glimpsed by the landbound. It is a rare event that mostly only occurs in La Nina weather patterns: the overflowing of Lake Eyre.

And where is all this additional water coming from? Tropical cyclones, with their destructive winds, which develop over the Pacific Ocean as far away as Fiji. So out of natural disaster (as we call it because of our cities and human settlement patterns) comes a natural wonder.

Is there a better way for us to accommodate the cycles of nature within our human environments?

Waffle levee flood planning for the Mississippi

I was pleased to see that our post on Waffle cities: landscape planning, urban design and architecture for flood-prone regions and global warming has been verified as feasible. The snippet (courtesy of London Evening Standard 20.05.2011) shows that a homeowner in Vicksburg has made his home into the ‘cell of a waffle’ and that the self-build levee protected his home from the Mississippi floods of spring 2011. Congratulations!

Monty Don on the best garden in the world: Ninfa?

Monty Don, in a recent TV series on the gardens of Italy, remarked that his friends know he has visited a lot of gardens and often ask him ‘What is the best garden in the world?’. So, while visiting Ninfa, he told us: ‘This is it’. I too have visited a lot of gardens and, though I could not name a ‘best garden’ have ventured a list of The World’s Top Ten Gardens. My list does not include Ninfa. Nor have I been there, but I would like Monty to be questioned or psychoanalysed to discover the reasons for his choice. My theory is that Monty Don is more interested in plants and planting than art and design. I like him as a presenter but despair of his garden history and regret his being such a gusher. Critics should be critical and, to be fair, he did visit Isola Bella to say ‘it’s kitch but I love it’.


Image courtesy sunshinecity

Grow your own food with sunlight – instead of eating oil

It takes four glasses of oil to make one hamburger


Most of the oil is used to produce the nitrogen used to grow the ingredients for the burger – according to Michael Pollan. The alternative is to eat locally grown food for which the energy comes from the sun – and from human labour. If there was to be a return to ‘sun-grown’, instead of ‘oil-grown’ food then agriculural employment would have to rise again after a long fall.
The other point about a burger-rich diet is that it is extremely bad for your health. The US healthcare crisis is said to be is a consequence of the US diet which is a consequence of the US pattern of agricultural subsidies. In Europe, the pattern is similar but not so severe.
Landscape architects and garden designers can do a little to ameliorate the problem: they can include food plants in their planting designs.

Above image courtesy Pete Foley. Below image, of a local garden in Berkeley, California, courtesy hfordsa

Gardening on ice: a mammoth project

It is not often that you see a proposal for a substantial indoor garden, still less one located on an ice tundra, however this is what Leeser Architecture, (who also imagined the engaging Helix Hotel in Abu Dhabi) have proposed in their design for the World Mammoth and Permafrost Museum in Yakutsk Siberia. Yakutsk is the world’s largest city built on permafrost with temperatures ranging from -45degF to 90degF.

The extensive and intensive indoor gardens have been designed to “promote a sense of year-round natural life even in the desolate winter months.”

Not much is said of the about the construction of the landscape elements and gardens. This is a competition afterall, so details will undoubtedly be required later.

The exterior gardens are described as “naturally patterned by the effects of shifting permafrost cycles.” Cells will be planted with native grasses. Mosses and trees will be reintroduced to the landscape to reflect the existing topography and improve site hydrology.

While the interior gardens cascade “at the perimeter of the building’s interior with lush thick mats of moss and lichen” grown between a latticework of pathways.” Moss and lichen are the natural insulators of permafrost ground. The gardens have a number of important functions including to 1) add color 2) insulation value 3) filter indoor air and 4) maintain air humidity.

In one of the gardens floats a cafe, while other gardens can only be viewed from above by visitors but are accessible to researchers.

Bet Figueras' last garden design

Bet Figueras, died of cancer in 2010 at the age of 53. Bet was a pioneer of landscape architecture in Spain. Her work included the Rose Garden in Cervantes’ Park, Barcelona, a private garden for Oscar Tusquet, the Bodegas Bilbainas winery in Haro, La Rioja, hotels in Barcelona, the Barcelona Olympic Village (1992). Her best known project was the Barcelona Botanical Garden (with the architects Carlos Ferrater and Josep Lluís Canosa, the horticulturalist Artur Bossy and the biologist Joan Pedrola). The planting relates to the world’s five Mediterranean regions, with the plants grouped according to ecological affinity. Another objective was to relate the planting to the local topography. For a delicious experience of a Bet Figueras landscape see the surroundings of El Bulli restaurant, preferably after a swim and before a meal by the famous chef Ferran Adrià. Bet Figueras’ last project was La Casa dels Xuklis, which helps anyone affected by cancer. We thank Gabino Carballo for an article about this garden. He sees her as ‘the preeminent Catalan Landscape designer in the transition from the 20th to the 21st century’.

Above image courtesy SharonK Below image, of El Bulli, courtesy IanL

Is Turenscape's Qiaoyuan Park in Tianjin a model for Chinese landscape architecture? 请看一看土人景观事务所的作品-天津桥园公园


Please have a look at Turenscape’s photographs of Tianjin Qiaoyuan Park – you can see why the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) gave Tianjin Qiaoyuan Park an award.  Then please consider the above photographs. They were taken on a crisp Sunday in April: the park is bare, dry and without people. Did the ASLA act in haste? Did the ASLA judges visit Tianjin? Are the ASLA judges regretting their decision? If the design was as good as it looks on the designers’ photographs, shouldn’t it be full of people on a spring day?  North China has long hard winters. When spring arrives, everyone wants to warm their bones, stock up on Vitamin D, and admire the spring blossom. So where were all the people? Presumably they are in other parks, with water features which do not dry up and with flowers which smile at their admirers in spring.
My second thought concerns the sources for the design ideas. Designers always borrow, so where might the  ideas have come from? I sense three parents, which is an unusual number: (1) Bernard Tschumi’s design for Parc de laVillette (2) Peter Latz’ design for Duisberg Nord (3) Herbert Dreiseitl’s Waterscape approach. The use of red paint is traditional in China but it is also found at Parc la Villette.
My third thought is that borrowing visual imagery is rarely enough to make a good design. Duisborg Nord relates to the industrial history of Germany. Parc de la Villette relates to the structuralist theorizing of Gitanes cigarettes and Left Bank Paris. The Dreiseitl Waterscape approach may have a worldwide relevance – but it must be adjusted to the rainfall regimen of every locality: water cannot, should not, must not be the aesthetic focus of a design if a place which is going to be dry for half the year.
My conclusion is that the Single Agreed Law of Landscape Design should be applied as rigorously in China as in ever other square millimetre of land which the gods have made. Alexander Pope expressed it thus:

That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
Or helps th’ ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
Now breaks, or now directs, th’ intending lines;
Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.

请看一案土人景观事务所设计的天津桥园公园的照片, 然后你就知道为什么美国风景园林师协会授予天津桥园公园授奖。然后请再考虑一下上面的几幅图片。这组照片拍摄于今年四月一个舒爽的周日:天津桥园公园几乎是“赤裸裸”,干旱而鲜见游客。是不是ASLA草率地授奖了呢?ASLA的评审专家是否来天津参观过呢?ASLA的评委现在是不是在对他们的评审懊悔不已呢? 如果这个设计真的像设计师所拍摄的照片那样,为什么在春季美好的日子里公园中不是充满了游客呢?中国北方的冬季漫长而寒冷。当春季来临,每一个人都希望到户外晒晒太阳,贮存更多维他命D,并欣赏花开。但是,这里的人们都哪里去了呢?或者,他们都去了其它公园了吧,那里有春水和鲜花的微笑。

我的第二点思考是关于桥园公园设计理念的来源。设计师们总是喜欢“借用”。所以这个公园设计理念从何而来呢? 我感觉它至少有三个“家长”,这个数量还挺不寻常的:(1)伯纳德·曲米的維葉特公園设计 (2)彼得·拉兹的杜伊斯堡·诺德设计(3)赫伯特·德莱赛特尔的理水方法。红色是中国传统的象征,但是在维葉特公园也使用了红色。

我的结论是“园林设计单一约定法规”应该在中国被严格执行,正如在上帝创造的其余哪怕是一平方毫米的土地上执行一样。正如亚历山大·蒲柏(Alexander Pope)所言。

White elephant museum in Granada

What should this white elephant be used for?

It is nice for Granada to have a Museum of Memory designed by Alberto Campo Baeza. The idea for the Cultural CajaGRANADA Memoria de Andalucía was to mimic the much un-loved courtyard of the Palace of Charles V in the Alhambra, ‘to which it pays aesthetic tribute’. The only review on Tripadvisor says ‘I’d rather have a tour of Granada see something interesting’. The design has a sculptural quality but, in sharp contrast to the old buildings on the Alhambra plateau ignores garden and landscape considerations. History should speak. This is a dumb project – can anyone think of a better use for the building? I suggest healthcare. They should have wrapped the museum round a beautiful garden cafe. Images courtesy Landahlaut and José Agustín

Robert Holden and Jamie Liversedge Construction for Landscape Architecture – book review

Holden and Liversedge have produced the best book on landscape architecture construction. It is well written and well illustrated. More important, it is well conceived and based on the authors’ personal experience of design projects and construction sites. The authors describe their book as ‘an introductory text’. It is true that no prior knowledge is assumed but the scope of the book is not limited to introductory matters. Robert Holden is the leading European landscape architecture critic of his generation. The book contains much wisdom and sets a new standard for this type of book by combining:

  • technical principles
  • design judgment
  • knowledge of materials
  • sustainability considerations
  • weathering and life cycle considerations
  • examples of construction/site/weathering problems

The illustrations, which are excellent, include analytical hand-drawings, photographs of traditional details, modern details and sequential photographs showing stages in the construction process. I particularly commend the annotations on the drawings. Instead of giving near-useless data (eg “200mm layer of 10mm pea shingle”), the captions are explanatory (eg “filter media improves fast filtration”).
One aspect of the book deserves a sharp criticism: the front cover shows is ugly. It shows an inexplicable CAD drawing tinted in what a friend used to call “architects’ green”: an insipid vomity yellowish-green. WHY? Publishers need to be nice to authors: the age of the eBook is upon us and it will be as easy for authors to cut publishers out of the loop as it will be for recording artists to cut the record labels out of the loop. Authors are less dependent on the marketing skills of publishers than musicians. Authors may prefer receiving 70%+ of the cover price from Googlebooks to receiving the 10%+ ‘royalties’ currently on offer from traditional print publishers. One can’t be sure.
I look forward to future books on specific aspects of landscape construction and recommend giving priority to a book on the construction design for water and water features.
When I was a landscape student we only had one good book on landscape construction: Elizabeth Beazley’s Design and detail of the space between buildings, for which I retain an affection. It combined photographs of high-quality designs with over-detailed technical information. Since then, many landscape construction books have been published – most of them with too many specifics and too few explanatory principles. Here is a list:

• David Langdon Everest, Spons External Works and Landscape Price Book 2009
• Pitman, Phil External Works, Roads and Drainage: A Practitioner’s Guide Spon: 2001
• Stephen Bird External Works (ENDAT standard indexes) : annual
• Charles W. Harris and Nicholas T. Dines Time Saver Standards for Landscape Architecture: McGraw Hill: 1998
• Alan Blanc Landscape Construction and Detailing Batsford : 1996
• Black and Decker Complete guide to landscape construction : 60 Step-by-step Projects for Creating a Perfect Landscape Creative Publishing International: 2006
• J.William Thompson and Kim Sorvig Sustainable Landscape Construction: A Guide to Green Building Outdoors Island Press: 2008
• James Blake Introduction to Landscape Design and Construction Gower: 1999
• Derek Lovejoy, C.A. Fortlage,Elizabeth Phillips, Landscape Construction: Earth and Water Retaining Structures Ashgate:2001
• David Sauter Landscape Construction 2e Delmar Learning: 2004
• Harlow C Landphair and Fred Klatt Jr Landscape Architecture Construction Prentice Hall: 1998

Understanding density?

Density is much more complex than its seems. U-Thant 7 Residences in Malaysia are described as luxury “low density condominiums.” In terms of their built form they would usually be considered a medium density form of living. The context, however, is more typical of low density or even rural or semi-rural settings with a formal park-like foreground setting and a natural background setting.

Undoubtably there are many more examples of this kind. The Cultural Centre design by Paul Eluard in Cugnaux, France attempts to address the contemporary needs of an historical low density city within the landscape.

Dublin is considered to be a low density city. The economic challenges it faces and the resulting contemporary waves of youth emigration suggests that Dublin may remain low density for some time into the future.

So, are we really viewing a population redistribution in global terms with some areas de-populating and others re-populating or increasing in population? What does this trend suggest for the future of our cities, for greenspaces and for wilderness?