Category Archives: Garden Design

The skyline, architecture and landscape of the River Thames in Central London


I see the Banks of the Thames as a place where, during the twentieth century, unimaginative planning and selfishly mediocre architecture often conspired to produce designs better suited to a rundown provincial town than to the heart of a great city. Skylines, landscape and architecture should be considered together, looking to the past and looking to the future. ‘Protecting’ views is important but insufficient. Proposals for ‘high buildings’ ‘tall buildings’ and ‘towers’ should be viewed in context, never in isolation. Studies of their visual and environmental impact require scenic quality assessments, a policy context and full testing on a digital model of the city. As the below quotations reveal, London’s river is both a Place of Darkness and a Place of Light.
William Blake, in 1794, found ‘in every face I meet / Marks of weakness, marks of woe’ where ‘the Thames does flow’.
William Wordsworth, 8 years later found the Thames a river of beauty and romance. He declared that ‘Earth has not anything to show more fair’ (1802).
Joseph Conrad, in 1899, knew the Thames as a place of history, romance, toil, darkness and light. He saw London as ‘the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth’, a place which had known ‘the dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires’ and was yet ‘one of the dark places of the earth.’
Since 1945 property developers have seen the Thames as a place to make a quick buck
Since 2000, some wealthy immigrants have viewed riverside apartments as great places to launder the ill-gotten gains of financial scams and miscellaneous corruption.

Recent blog posts about London’s River Thames skyline landscape

See also:  Rem Koolhaas on London’s skyline. Koolhaas remarks that ‘London has always changed dramatically and it’s still is not a very dramatic city. So it can go on. I think that in London whatever you do you do not disturb an earlier coherence. You do not disturb an earlier utopia like in Paris. It can stand a lot of development without suffering’.  I read this comment as a polite way of saying that most of London’s riverside is pretty dull, as the above video shows, it has its moments – but not enough of them.

London's skyline: landscape and high buildings policy – and my apology for postmodern urban design

Junk Urban Landscape: the Walkie Talkie, the Cheesgrater and the Gherkin await The Kettle

Junk Urban Landscape: the Walkie Talkie, the Cheesgrater and the Gherkin are waiting for The Kettle

Postmodern urban landscape design

The words and image (from City as landscape p. 6) were published in 1996. Sadly, I forgot that most designers look at books only for their pictures. Nor did I imagine that London’s designers would see my cartoon as the latest hot trend in urban design. Tragically, as you can see from the 2013 photograph the City of London (above, top), they are hell bent on building the cartoon. But I WAS JOKING. It was not a design proposal. I did not want it to be built. I regret that it is being built. I APOLOGISE TO LONDONERS AND TO LONDON’S URBAN LANDSCAPE. I should have listened to my grandfather: “Take care with whom you joke”.
Regarding the design of the Big Three newbies in the above photo, I think people are right to use simple domestic analogies when GIVING them NAMES. I have no particular dislike, or love, for the buildings. But why on earth didn’t their designers cooperate to compose a harmonious skyline? And why didn’t the town planners make any useful suggestions? And what did the Landscape Institute say about skyline policy? And what happened to form following function? And why are the cladding materials non-functional? They do not generate energy; they make no contribution to surface water management; they are unvegetated; there have no roof gardens; they do nothing for biodiversity. They probably won’t have any bike parking.
Environmentally, the Walkie Talkie may be the best of the three sisters. I can imagine a new urban quarter looking more like mushrooms than matchboxes. The Walkie Talkie’s power supply will come from a natural gas fuel cell. The ‘cap’ of the fungus has both an indoor garden and an outdoor viewing terrace. Best of all, the south-facing curved facade concentrates the sunlight so that pedestrians can fry eggs on the pavement.
Richard Rogers’ Cheese Grater was so-named by the City of London’s chief planner. He recounts that ‘When I first saw a model of the building, I told Richard Rogers I could imagine his wife, Ruthie, using it to grate parmesan. I don’t think he was too happy, but it stuck.’ The developers did not want their building  to be wedge-shaped. It cost them a lot in floorspace and was done to lessen obstruction to views of St Paul’s Cathedral. To me, the views of St Paul’s which matter are those from the Thames – so I think this was an insufficient reason for a cheesy design. Pun intended: cheesy also means ‘Trying too hard, unsubtle, and inauthentic’. And why worry so much the relatively modern cathedral when the Walkie Talkie has such an unfortunate impact on a building of much more historical, architectural and landscape significance: the Tower of London? (see below)

The Walkie Talkie towers over the Tower of London

The Walkie Talkie towers over the Tower of London

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British people care about skylines but the official debate is mostly about the more limited topic of ‘high buildings’. Height is important but it is only one aspect of scenic composition. Wiki has this  article on Composition and About.com has a list of The 8 Elements of Composition in Art:
Unity: Do all the parts of the composition feel as if they belong together, or does something feel stuck on, awkwardly out of place?
Balance: Having a symmetrical arrangement adds a sense of calm, whereas an asymmetrical arrangement creates a sense of unease, imbalance. (See example)
Movement: There many ways to give a sense of movement in a painting, such as the arrangement of objects, the position of figures, the flow of a river. (See example
Rhythm: In much the same way music does, a piece of art can have a rhythm or underlying beat that leads and paces the eye as you look at it. Look for the large underlying shapes (squares, triangles, etc.) and repeated color. (See example)
Focus (or Emphasis): The viewer’s eye ultimately wants to rest of the “most important” thing or focal point in the painting, otherwise the eye feels lost, wandering around in space. (See example)
Contrast: Strong differences between light and dark, or minimal, such as Whistler did in his Nocturne series. (See example)
Pattern: An underlying structure, the basic lines and shapes in the composition.
Proportion: How things fit together, big and small, nearby and distant.

I would like to see these principles applied in the composition of skylines but they relate only to aesthetic matters. In accordance with Vitruvius, we should be think about Commodity and Firmness, as well as Delight.
Here is a selection of links to pdf documents dealing with High Buildings and Skyline Policy in the UK. Most of them concentrate on the narrow issue of high buildings:

  • Greater London Authority GLA 2001 Interim strategic planning guidance on tall buildings, strategic views and the skyline in London [This report was issued by Ken Livingston. It was based on the 1998 London Planning Advisory Committee LPAC High Buildings and Strategic Views in London but watered down. Ken was soft on high buildings]
  • House of Commons report on Tall Buildings (2001-2) has a very good history of high buildings policy in the UK and much expert opinion on the subject
  • Chapter 4 of Boris Johnson’s London Plan 2008 dealt with Tall and Large Scale Buildings.  I am unsure whether this also forms part of the 2011 London Plan.  Boris is said to be much softer than Ken on high buildings.
  • The  City of Edinburgh Skyline Study ( Colvin & Moggridge, Landscape Consultants, 2010) exemplifies  the type of skyline study London should have. But conservation is not enough. We need imaginative contingency plans for the changes which MAY affect to London’s urban scenery and skylines.

Draft policy statement on skyline landscapes and tall buildings (also called high buildings or skyscrpers)

What is the world's best and most influential public park? St James's in London


The excellent PPS.org website has a list of the World’s Best and Worst Public Parks. There are 24 parks on the list and I have visited only 15 of them. One could have a long discussion about which is THE BEST so I have added the word INFLUENTIAL to the title of this post. With this qualification, there can only be one answer: St James’s Park in London. My argument is presented in the above video: St James’s Park influenced the planning of greenspace park open space systems for Adelaide, Paris, New York, Boston, London, Moscow and a host of other cities. With regard to ‘linkage’, London’s open space system was influenced by Le Notre’s north-west projection of the axis of the Tuileries Gardens. So my vote might have gone to the Tuileries – but it is the ‘Tuileries Garden‘. And, as the video makes abundantly clear, the pelicans agree with me. Who can argue with a pelican? After all, ‘What do a vulture, a pelican and a taxman have in common? Big bills!’
The PPS.org comment on St James’s Park is as follows: This wonderful park is a spiritual place, and far and away the best park in the heart of London… It sits between Buckingham Palace and Whitehall with great views to either side. It is spiritual place, and far and away the best park in the heart of London. Its only real rival is Queen Mary’s Gardens, which has many similar qualities, but is buried deep in Regent’s Park. Personally, I do not see Queen Mary’s Gardens as being either the same type of space or half as good as St James’s Park. But we could do with a reliable assessment system for the quality of Public Open Space POS.

London's postmodern skyline needs a landscape policy

Take care with whom you joke

“Take care with whom you joke” was my grandfather’s advice AND I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO HIM. I published the above b&w drawing, in a 1998 book City as landscape: a post-Postmodern view of design and planning. The more exciting designs on my diagram were inspired by a TV set and a kettle (and the trees should have been smaller). In 1998, Postmodern architecture was going out of fashion. Every architect wanted to know what the Next Big Thing was going to be. Obviously, this was it. POST-Postmodern was what the architectural world needed. New skylines take a while to plan, design and build. My diagram is now taking shape, beyond the Tower of London, with help from Rogers and Foster. We’ll have to wait a bit for the kettle but the kitchen metaphor has proved highly influential. Rogers’ wife is, of course, a cook. And when I used to walk to work beside one of his first houses (in Wimbledon) I used to watch his parents cleaning their teeth in the office-style uncurtained bathroom window. My photo of the City of London’s emerging skyline shows: the Walkie-Talkie (Rafael Viñoly), the Cheesegrater (Richard Rogers) and the Gherkin (Norman Foster).
The Gherkin was OK when it stood alone. But I do not look foward to The Pepperpot, The Toaster and the Wooden Spoon jostling for attention on London’s waterfront. Are the designs inspired by envy at the way bankers cook their books so brilliantly? Simon Jenkins asks Who let this Gulf on Thames scar London’s Southbank? Mayor Boris and recalled the raw greed evinced at the RIBA: Talking towers with London architects is like talking disarmament with the National Rifle Association. A skyscraper seems every builder’s dream. At a Royal Institute of British Architects seminar on the subject last April, I faced an audience almost entirely of architects who treated any criticism of tall buildings as nothing to do with aesthetics or urban culture but to do with denying them money. They played the man, not the ball, accusing critics of being elitist, reactionary, heritage-obsessed and enemies of architecture.
To the people of the London I can only say that I am ‘Sorry, very, very Sorry’. I should have kept my diagram in a sealed cabinet.

Note: architects have made London’s skyline what it is, for good and ill. My criticism is that they are reluctant to work together for the public good. In design, it is every man and woman for himself or herself. It is not, primarily, a matter of ‘preserving’ the old skyline, except in certain places, and Rem Koolhaas speaks with wisdom on this point: London has always changed dramatically and it is still not a dramatic city… Drama is not what architecture is about but on the other hand I do not see it has dangers for London.

Garden design ideas

Garden design ideas point to  an overlap between the histories of garden design and landscape architecture:

  • Both disciplines relate ‘the works of man’ to ‘the works of nature’
  • Their design ideas and histories are inter-twined
  • They involve the composition of landform, water and planting with vertical and horizontal structures
  • They are concerned with what Norman T Newton called Design on the land and Geoffrey Jellicoe called The landscape of man.
  • They are influenced by art but differ from from ‘art’, because ‘designed’ objects have utilitarian functions. [If ‘art’ is regarded has having functions then they concern the mind more than the body – if one regards mind and body as separate entities.]

Gardens are better places for exploring design ideas than public landscape architecture, because they tend to be smaller, because they are less utilitarian and because they have private clients who often care more about ideas than impersonal public clients.

Design history is a rich source of ideas. But historical designs are best treated as timeless patterns of the kind advocated by Christopher Alexander in his book on The Pattern Language, unless one is doing on historic restoration or re-creation project. I find art-historical categories provide the best approach to the classification of periods in the history of designed gardens.  But nationalistic and dynastic categories also have their uses.

Tibetan Buddhist Peace Garden in London

 Interesting that it is quite possible to do a good design which is also the wrong design. This is what I think happened in the case of Hamish Horsley’s 1999 design for the Tibetan Peace Garden beside the Imperial War Museum, as explained in the video. Part of the problem is the small scale and obscure location of the Peace Garden vis-a-vis the War Museum. Surely we all prefer peace to war and to not want to see peace tucked away in a convenient, if noisy, corner. I think the scale problem could still be resolved, and cheaply, by placing prayer flag high in the trees – to let them waft their prayers for peace to every corner of the globe.

Mandalas in garden and landscape design

This video is an attempt to involve the forces of nature in making and un-making a ‘flower and sand’ mandala pattern.
Mandalas are diagrams which help explain, in Giuseppe Tucci’s phrase, ‘the geography of the cosmos’. Buddhist mandalas explain the Dharma – the Buddha’s teaching. It is both a philosophical system and a course of action. Sand mandalas are made in Tibet, as part of a monk’s training – and then ‘ritually destroyed’. The outer region of a mandala represents the world and the universe – samsara. It is impermanent. The inner region of a mandala represents nirvana – an ideal condition in which the spirit is liberated from the cycles of death and suffering. Some Buddhists think of nirvana as a real place. Other Buddhists think of nirvana as a state of mind. Mandala diagrams often have Mount Meru, a palace and a palace garden at their centre. The diagram then explains the path from suffering to enlightenment. It is a path which requires, study, meditation and compassion.
For western garden designers, and for non-Buddhists, a fascinating comparison can be drawn with the Neoplatonist/Idealist axiom that ‘art should imitate nature’. In aesthetic theory, it is now interpreted as a call for ‘naturalistic’ and ‘representational’ art. But for most of its history ‘art should imitate nature’ was a call to embody the fundamental essences of Nature in works of art. The principles of optics, for example, were seen as Laws of Nature which could and should be employed in the design of baroque gardens. Under the influence of Christianity, from the time of St Augustine (354-430) onwards, this meant the ideals, laws and principles upon which God’s design for the universe was founded. We could say that a mandala-based design is also ‘an imitation of Nature’ (which Buddhists understand as the Dharma).

Modern Buddhist garden at Kagyu Samye Ling, Eskdalemuir

Most Buddhist gardens are in East Asia – especially Japan – and people therefore have the idea that a Buddhist garden should look Japanese and should probably be a ‘Zen Garden’. This is wrong. I like this comment from the Religious Education and Environment Programme REEP on Designing a Buddhist Garden: The garden does not need to look Buddhist or oriental. Many people, who are not Buddhist, also value such ideals. That the design promotes peacefulness, goodwill and respect for all creatures is more important than things like wind chimes, prayer flags or stone lanterns. If you wish so, you can certainly also include Buddhist and oriental decorations and garden features but, on their own, such decorations are not as important as a design which uses Buddhist ideas.
The Buddhist themes used at Samye Ling are World Peace, Wellbeing and Healing. They also grow organic vegetables and favour sustainability. These are themes which Buddhist Environmentalists have embraced – and which can be read into traditional Buddhism. I support all these themes but have a little regret that a garden of as much interest as Samye Ling does not put more emphasis on core Buddhist principles and philosophical concepts. These include the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, dependent origination, non-self and impermanence.

'Public parks' should be rejuvinated under local community management

Central London’s public parks are great. They are well-planned, well-designed and well-used. But the typical London suburban park, in Chris Baines’ great phrase, is ‘a green desert with lollipop trees’. The grass is mown; they trees are over-managed. The people hardly use these green deserts, except for Saturday sport. It is these spaces which make us fear the ‘death of the park’. The Heritage Lottery Fund HLF, however, tries to restore these dreary spaces to their ‘former glory’ ie to their condition in the days when the proletariat could not afford gardens or holidays or cars or doctors. Horniman Gardens could all too easily be like this. But no: it has escaped the curse of standardised municipal management. Instead, it is host to a museum which is managed in tandem with the gardens. So they illustrate some of the ways in which public parks can be revived.
First, you remove them from the day-to-day control of municipal government. Find someone else to do the job: a trust, a community group, a school, a museum, a church, or whatever. But make sure that body only has one garden or park to care for.
Horniman Gardens are managed by a Public Museum and Public Park Trust. It’s a quango – but it shows far more sensitivity to users than what Alistair Campbell would doubtless call ‘a bog standard London park’. The Horniman Trust knows its users.
Second, you make it part of the Chelsea Fringe, even if it is nowhere near Chelsea. Then invite individuals and groups to organise events: story-telling, beer bars, gin bars, theatrical events, plant sales, planted cars, book sales, concerts, folk dancing, folk singing, a dog show – and poetry readings. The Chelsea Fringe has great examples of such events and they really bring people into parks and gardens.
Volunteer programmes are another way of involving the community. They work very well in America. So why shouldn’t they work even better in London? We are a Nation of Gardeners. London is the world’s Garden Capital. But the management of our parks date from the Great Reform Act of 1832 and it’s time for a change. So: let’s convert public parks into community parks!
And – there’s one more thing. We should put qualified landscape architects in charge of our parks. They know how to manage them. So let’s get on with it. We can have new parks for our new lives

Fountains, ponds, pools and other water features at the Chelsea Flower Show 2013


At the Chelsea Flower Show, it is a well-accepted principle that ‘a small garden needs a water feature’. This year, I noticed the usual number of ponds but fewer fountains. Could the explanation be that after two very wet years people are fed up to the back teeth with the sound of falling water?
The difference between a pool and a pond is as follows: a pond is ‘a small body of still water of artificial formation, made either by excavating a hollow in the ground or by embanking and damming up a watercourse in a natural hollow’. Pond derives from ‘pound’, as in ‘impounded water’. ‘Pool’ is an old Germanic word of uncertain origin meaning ‘a small body of still or standing water, esp. one of natural formation’. So those rectangular blue-tiled places we use for swimming should be called ‘swimming ponds’ – not pools. And the water bodies on display at Chelsea should be called ‘ponds’. The water in many of the examples on display was tinted black or brown. This makes it more reflective, and hides any under-water pumping equipment, but the water looks as though it has been ejected from a frightened octopus. Steel pools are also popular but, even if made with Corten steel, can be expected to have rust-brown water for many years. Phil Johnson’s Trailfinders Australian Garden won the Best in Show award with one of the most naturalistic (and expensive) water features I have seen at Chelsea. The design idea dates from c1800 but the implementation is modern.

Two modern Buddhist garden designs at the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show

After publishing six short videos on Buddhist gardens on this blog last week, you can well imagine that I was delighted to find two contemporary Buddhist-inspired garden designs at the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show: The Sound of Silence garden by Fernando Gonzalez and the Mindfulness garden by Martin Cook. Martin won a Gold Medal and Fernando a Silver-Gilt Medal – my explanation is that Fernando did not include flowers in his design. It is, after all, the Chelea FLOWER Show. My suggestion was that the wavy white mountains could stand in a lotus pond (following the traditional pattern of mandalas and mandala gardens). Congratulations to them both – I believe that Buddhist ideas have an illustrious future in gardens – less as representations of the Buddha than as interpretations of the Dharma. Fernando admires Japanese Zen gardens. They derive from Chinese ideas and I look forward to the day when Chinese landscape architects and garden designers recover their long-lost interest in Buddhist philosophy. That day will surely dawn.

Chelsea Fringe 2013 gardens and sponsorship opportunities

The Chelsea Fringe Garden Festival is in its second year. Congratulations to all who have helped make it happen – and especially to Tim Richardson, the Festival Director. What the Chelsea Fringe needs next is sponsors. I would like to suggest Richard Branson to sponsor the main event. He has given us the Virgin London Marathon, so why not the Virgin London Chelsea Fringe? It would also be good to have sponsors for Chelsea Fringe Show Gardens (see my suggested Chelsea Fringe Sponsorship Opportunities]. The right garden in the right place could give the sponsor more bangs/buck than an ordinary garden in the Chelsea Flower Show. London developers etc (eg of hotel gardens, office gardens, roof gardens and small public open spaces) could give them a special treatment and open them for the 3 weeks of the Chelsea Fringe. The developers of Battersea Power Station have an even better idea: they are LAUNCHING the development of a luxurious housing project with the creation of a 2.5 acre Pop-Up Park as part of the 2013 Chelsea Fringe Festival. The design is by LDA landscape architects, who also managed the delivery of the 2012 Olympic Park.

Buddhist garden design in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal

Buddhist garden design in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal is the second of six videos on the relationship between Buddhism and the history of garden design.
Buddhism began in North India and, over the next 1500 years, almost died out in India. But it survived in Sri Lanka – which also has good examples of ancient Buddhist gardens used by monastic communities. See: Sigiriya, Polonnarauwa, Anuradhapura – Mahamegha Gardens (Mahamevuna Uyana),
The influence of Buddhism on garden design is explained in an eBook

The Shock of the New – Freeway

The freeway for the electric and hybrid car need not be the highway we are used to.There is no reason why it might not be encased in landscape when the view out is less than appealing: concrete noise barriers or the back of suburban areas or some of the more hostile industrial areas of our large cities.There is no reason why the drive to work need be monotonous…and why the landscape views might not be considered in the same way as a promenade through a garden. We should take advantage of what nature provides and the cultural landscapes we have created.

'Form is emptiness' – in Buddhism, garden design and landscape architecture

The enclosure on Vulture Peak Rajgir, India is believed to the be the place where the Buddha delivered the teaching recorded in the Heart Sutra. It contains the famous lines:
Form is emptiness, emptiness is form
Emptiness is not separate from form, form is not separate from emptiness
Whatever is form is emptiness, whatever is emptiness is form

The phrasaeology is meant to induce meditation. ‘Emptiness’ (Śūnyatā) may be interpreted in relation to the Buddhist concept of non-self (Anatta). Nothing we see has a separate ‘self’. Everything is inter-connected. The lines embody a paradox and this may be deliberate – because there is so much about the nature of the universe which cannot be understood. My own understanding of the lines is as follows:
– objects appear to have form but, because they are connected to everything else, this is an illusion
– the ‘everything else’ to which objects are connected can only be perceived through forms
This gives the lines from the Heart Sutra a relationship with Plato’s Theory of Forms and with the modern distinction between particulars and universals. We might say that universials are known only from particulars and that particulars are understood only when they can belong to universal categories. The favourte example is cats (see Fig 1). We only know the universal ‘cattiness’ through particular examples and we only know that particular cats ARE cats because of our acquiaintance with the universal form of cats.
Assuming I have interpreted the Buddha and Plato correctly, I am more attracted to the Buddhist version. Plato conceived the forms as eternal and unchanging. For a landscape architect or garden designer this is unappealing. It implies that all possible forms and designs already exist. The Buddhist version gives important positions both to the form which a designer ‘assembles’ and to the inter-connected cosmos (I almost wrote ‘compost’) from which the elements are drawn – and to which they will return. Forms have no ‘self’; they change every instant; they are impermanent (annica). Modern science confirms that everything is in flux. We notice it more in outdoor than indoor environments. With time the fourth dimension, landscape design appears to be a four-dimensional art.
The photo is from Wikipedia, with thanks. The design uses one of the primary Platonic forms: the square. Compare it with the photo of St Francis, below. Monasticism was a Buddhist idea and the monks seem to belong to the Axial Age, of the Buddha, Plato, Confucius and the author(s) of the Old Testament. Or do they belong to an even earlier age when India rishis meditated in forests, caves and mountain retreats? And why was it such a great period in the history of philosophy and religion? Should philosophers and religious leaders – and landscape designers – work in the great outdoors, instead of in fusty musty offices? Yes. Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.

Gardenvisit.com wins 2013 Award for Best Garden Tourism Website

We were delighted to receive the 2013 Website of the Year Award. It was one of the Canadian and International Awards handed out during the Garden Tourism Conference in Toronto, Canada. The Garden Tourism Awards are presented to organizations and individuals who have “distinguished themselves in the development and promotion of the garden experience as a tourism attraction. Recipients travelled from across North America and as far away as Japan, France, Portugal, Italy, and Australia”.
“It is an honor to be part of the international community that has established an awards program to recognize the invaluable contribution the world’s outstanding garden experiences make, not only in terms of environmentally friendly and sustainable tourism, but also in terms of the equally important intangible benefits that nature brings to the soul,” said Alexander Reford, Chair of the Canadian Garden Tourism Council as he handed out the Awards. Michel Gauthier, Conference Chair, closed the event by saying, “According to Richard Benfield, authorof ‘Garden Tourism’, more people visit gardens annually in the US than visit Disneyland and Disneyworld combined, and more than visit Las Vegas in any given year. Given those impressive statistics, we’re certainly on the right track as we recognize the country and the world’s finest garden experiences in this vibrant, thriving and rapidly growing segment of the international tourism market.” The inaugural Garden Tourism Awards were presented at the 2011 Garden Tourism Conference held in Toronto. To view past winners, visit: www.gardentourismconference.com and click on the ‘media’ tab. In the spirit of highlighting Canada and the world’s most dynamic garden experiences and GardenTourism’s limitless potential, the Canadian Garden Tourism Council, in consultation with a Canadian and international jury network, proudly announce the 2013 recipients of the Garden Tourism Awards.

Garden tourism: 'Is London the World's Gardening Capital?'

I am a Londoner – and with understandable bias regard London as the capital city of world gardens, garden design and gardening. As argued in the above video, the reasons for this are both geographical and historical. Britain was emerging from the Pleistocene when horticultural techniques were devised (about 12,000 years ago) and they did not reach Britain until c3,800 BC. The art of making pleasure gardens came to London with the Romans, ended when they left and resumed when the Normans invaded England in 1066. Since then, there has been a steady advance in the popularity of gardening. Long may it continue! Britain is always likely to have a hard time competing with the Mediterranean countries for beach holidays – but it has very considerable opportunities for developing garden tourism. We were delighted to hear of the 2013 Garden Tourism Conference to be held in Toronto, Canada, in March – and have entered the Gardenvisit.com Website in hopes of receiving an award in the Garden Tourism Website category. Further information on the London Gardens Walk – and free routemaps.

Environmental Green eco-Buddhism and the ethics of landscape architecture and garden design

Environmental Green Eco-Buddhism

Environmental Green Eco-Buddhism

In 1969 I began studying landscape architecture at the Univesity of Edinburgh. That year saw the publication of Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature. McHarg gave a lecture at the university and one of our teachers (Michael Laurie) was a student and a great admirer of McHarg. Like many who join the landscape profession, I was hazy about its nature. Several recollections come to mind. I remember Michael asking us to produce ‘Master Plans’. ‘Wow’ I thought – because I was expecting to be more like a garden designer – ‘I’m going to become a master’, though I could not imagine what of. Then I remember being told we must ‘sell’ ourselves, which sounded more like being a mistress than a master. One of our teachers said that in ‘selling’ our designs, we must always mention ‘ecology’ and ‘the environment’. Another teacher told us that our professional body (now the Landscape Institute) was ‘half learned society and half trade union’ [he was wrong]. Looking back, I do not think any of this advice provides the strong grounding in ethics and ideas which a profession requires. The twentieth century was a great time for science, innovation and iconoclasm but a bad time for beliefs and ethics – possibly because so much was changing. In the twenty first century, there are public demands for the professions to have ethics: even bankers, journalists, politicians and police officers. I extend the demand to the environmental professions – including landscape architecture. But where can we look for inspiration? As discussed elsewhere, some religions are in difficult positions with regard to environmental ethics and, for a profession, it would be difficult to turn to a single ‘religion’ for an ethical base. And there are additional problems when adherents turn to ‘fundamentals’ which were established 2000 and more years ago. McHarg thought there was an anti-nature streak in Christianity and is thought to have borrowed this idea from Lynn White. White was a troubled Christian – and attracted to Buddhism because it seemed to be a more environmental faith.
Buddhism is a belief system. Though sometimes described as a ‘religion’ the Buddha’s teaching had no creation story and no gods. Nor did the Buddha want to be ‘worshiped’. Some Buddhist sects became more like the other religions but CHANGE (anicca) is an essential characteristic of Buddhism – and one which favours the development of green, environmental, eco-Buddhism. Buddhism can be compared to open-source software in this respect. Everyone can draw upon the core code and everyone can make contributions. Buddhists have never fought each other in the way that Protestants have fought Catholics and Shias have fought Sunnis. Without giving them a specifically Buddhist interpretation, it is evident that the core principles could be of use to the environmental professions come from the Ayran Path:
1. Right view
2. Right intention
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

Buddhism has the very attractive characteristic of being kind to animals. Wiki puts it like this ‘Animals have always been regarded in Buddhist thought as sentient beings, different in their intellectual ability than humans but no less capable of feeling suffering. Furthermore, animals possess Buddha nature (according to the Mahāyāna school) and therefore an equal potential to become enlightened.’
Buddhism dates from what Karl Jaspers called the Axial Age – as do the origins of the world’s other major philosophical and belief systems. That period seems to have had a talent for beliefs equaling our own priod’s talent in science, which may be a reason for looking so far back to find sound ethical principles. It is of interest that the medical profession dates from the Axial Age and has a good base in the Hippocratic Oath. I once had a go at adapting the Hippocratic Oath for landscape architecture.
Wiki gives the following figures for the numbers of adherents of the major world faiths:
Christianity 2,000–2,200
Islam 1,570–1,650
Hinduism 828–1,000 I
Buddhism 400–500
Nobody knows how many Chinese people are, to a greater or lesser extent, followers of Buddhist ideas. If the number is large, Buddhism could move up the rankings. My impression is that ‘communist China’ is now building more Buddhist temples than any country has ever built at any point in history.

Buddhist Gardens and the Dragon Garden in Shey, Ladakh

If anyone would like a (free) ticket, I am giving a lecture about the influence of Buddhism on garden design – to be followed with a lecture by Simon Drury-Brown on the design of the Dragon Garden for the Druk White Lotus School in Ladakh, India. Tickets are available from Eventbrite. The design of the school, by Arup Associates, is based on a mandala. The design of the garden extends the mandala concept and gives it a wider application.
The great Italian scholar of Tibetan Buddhism, Giuseppe Tucci, explained the mandala concept in a way which makes it well suited to forming the basis for a landscape plan for a school community. Tucci wrote that ‘First and foremost, a mandala delineates a consecrated superficies and protects it from invasion by disintegrating forces symbolized in demoniacal cycles. But a mandala is much more than just a consecrated area that must be kept pure for ritual and liturgical ends. It is, above all, a map of the cosmos. It is the whole universe in its essential plan, in its process of emanation and of reabsorption. The universe not only in its inert spatial expanse, but as temporal revolution and both as a vital lprocess which develops from an essential Principle and ratates round a central axis, Mount Sumeru, the axis of the world on which the sky rests and which sinks its roots into the mysterious substratum. This is a conception common to all Asia and to which clarity and precision have been lent by the cosmological ideas expressed in the Mesopotamian zikurrats and reflected in the plan of the Iranian rulers’ imperial city, and thence in the ideal image of the palace of the cakravartin, the ‘Universal Monarch’ of Indian tradition‘. The Druk School will become a place where teachers, students and visitors are encouraged to think about the nature of the cosmos and the nature of human life. The landscape design is being developed by landscape architecture staff and students from the Univesity of Greenwich. Design, construction and fund-raising are managed by a UK Charity, the Drukpa Trust. The school has won a sheaf of international awards. The architects, Arup Associates, explain that

  • Classrooms face the morning sun to make the most of natural light and heat.
  • The school is largely self-sufficient in energy.
  • Two boreholes and solar pumps supply the school site with all the water it needs.