Monthly Archives: August 2009

Heavy and light H2O

snowflake3According to Richard Alley in The Two Mile Time Machine ‘heavy’ water is rare (for every 6,000 parts of water, there is only one part that is heavy water.)

Rain and snowflakes are formed from water vapour from the heavier isotopes of H2O. Water has an atomic weight of between 18 to 22.

Not being all that knowledgeable about snow, a little reading turned up some interesting facts I thought I would share;

“What are common snowflake shapes?

Generally, six-sided hexagonal crystals are shaped in high clouds; needles or flat six-sided crystals are shaped in middle height clouds; and a wide variety of six-sided shapes are formed in low clouds. Colder temperatures produce snowflakes with sharper tips on the sides of the crystals and may lead to branching of the snowflake arms (dendrites). Snowflakes that grow under warmer conditions grow more slowly, resulting in smoother, less intricate shapes.

  • 32-25° F – Thin hexagonal plates
  • 25-21° F – Needles
  • 21-14° F – Hollow columns
  • 14-10° F – Sector plates (hexagons with indentations)
  • 10-3° F – Dendrites (lacy hexagonal shapes)”


I don’t believe I am any more able to identify the temperature at which the pictured snowflake was formed. Perhaps someone could help me out? If identifying snowflake temperature is good fun, here are some more from [Alaska…]

So to get to the crux of things – is snow flake biodiversity endangered by global warming?

Pioneering spirit

landscape-and-dance1It is said that the landscape architect Lawerence Halprin “worked closely with his wife, whose experiments with movement – in conjunction with a circle of avant-garde composers – informed his user-friendly designs.”

Halprin was keen to design participatory spaces rather than spaces that were merely aesthetic.

It is surprising, given his background was in plant sciences and horticulture before studying landscape architecture at Harvard, that he is best known for his work on public spaces. Although it is possible to surmise that his formative architectural interests and Bauhaus teachers influenced his sense of formal spatial design. and and

New ways of seeing

colourpensils1Environmental art is incredible for its ability to enable us to perceive the everyday in new ways. Art is also often a useful design tool because it assists us to describe an aspect of seeing which is otherwise difficult to illustrate.

Garden design, while sometimes surprising, usually aims at a form of contemplative delight in which our senses come to a point of rest. In Japanese garden design the concept of Ma (space) is important.

Boye de Mente in Elements of Japanese Design: Key Terms for Understanding and Using Japan’s Wabi-Sabi-Shubui  Concepts (p43) describes the concept of Ma;

Ma uses space as well as time and refers to the space time between events. It is space that is sensually as well as intellectually perceived. In the Japanese concept of things, ma gets your attention and directs your mind or thoughts along specific paths that lead to some kind of conclusion or pleasant feeling. “

Environmental art plays with the unexpected juxtaposition of the familiar and the unfamiliar to challenge our usual point of view. While illustrating, I believe, the Japanese concept of Ma this Finnish composition entitled coloured pencils has us consider our perceptions of our place and role in the world;

“finnish environmental landscape art challenges us to ponder

who we are, where we belong & what our place is

in the great universal cycle”


Historic garden conservation and restoration

Richmond Castle garden

Richmond Castle garden

A summer of visiting English gardens and today’s visit to Restoration House and Garden in Rochester set me thinking about historic gardens – and reminded me to take a closer look at the 2007 English Heritage Handbook on The management and maintenance of historic parks, gardens and landscapes. It is an admirable book, well written and illustrated, but it is not the book which historic gardens most needed, because the emphasis is so much more on the technicalities of managing historic gardens than on the the strategic questions of what, why, when and where. To draw a military analogy, it is a book for quarter-masters – not a book on generalship. Also, and understandably, it offers only praise for the work of English Heritage on historic gardens. There is no clearer illustration of this point than the chart (p.47) of Job Titles and Garden Staff Roles. The highest position on the chart is Head Gardener/Garden Curator/Garden Manager and his/her qualifications are described as “M.Hort (RHS), Degree, Botanic Garden Diploma, HND or equivalents + 7 years experience’. The next column summarizes the necessary skills as ‘specialist technical skills and ability. Proven management and policy-making ability’. There is no mention of the two other essential skill-sets for managing a historic garden: historical knowledge and design judgment. It is like putting builders in charge of historic buildings, in full disregard for the need for historical knowledge and design judgment relating to architecture. Lets hope the book goes to a second edition and that this gap is filled. Meantime, we offer readers the notes and guides to Historic Garden Restoration and and Garden Heritage Conservation.

English Heritage’s strategic weakness in garden conservation is illustrated by their work at Hampton Court and Kenilworth Castle. The handbook boasts of English Heritage’s Contemporary Heritage Garden Scheme – which I regard as almost entirely misconceived. ‘Contemporary Heritage’ is within an ace of an oxymoron – and why should they be building contemporary gardens in the precincts of great historic buildings, like Richmond Castle? To attract visitors? To give proof of their trendy tendencies? The scheme should go for scrappage.

Photo Notes: (1) the top photo shows Richmond Castle with a ‘contemporary heritage’ topiary garden (left photo) and a sensible picture of a fifteenth century orchard-vegetable garden on the English Heritage sign (top left corner of right photo) (2) the left and right photos, below, show two additional views of the ‘contemporary heritage’ garden.

The lawn (right) and the herbaceous border (left) at Richmond Castle Garden

The lawn (right) and the herbaceous border (left) at Richmond Castle Garden

The sky's the limit


Vauxhall Sky gardens:

As garden-in-architecture skygardens are new to the urban design agenda. I suppose what we are talking about here when considering the introduction of skygardens into the garden and architecture typology is a form of greenhouse or biodome in the sky. Vauxhaull it would appear is a semi-private garden akin to the penthouse suite or the executive boardroom. While Fenchurch Street seems to promote public thoroughfare and viewing…even though it is not a podium space but rather akin to  garden- as- observation- deck.

Other projects are shown on  and but it will be even more interesting as the type gains popularity and skygardens become a more developed typology….

20 Fenchurch street: