Monthly Archives: January 2011

Saving the prickly and cute…

…And all creatures great and small.

Having recently experienced the flooding of my city I am keen to help some of the less visible victims as well. Having spotted a dead echidna by a tree next to a usually busy road in a flood affected inner city suburb, and realizing that he was most probably washed there in the flood waters from Toowoomba, I am keen to start an online charity to assist wildlife.

I am proposing an Ark Appeal for Wildlife. Would gardenvisit be happy to sponsor a charity and gardenvisit readers happy to contribute to it?

Flooded urban landscapes are frightening, beautiful, and a call to action by the landscape, architecture and urban design professions

A terrible thing happened to Pakistan, reminding us of the Sumerian Flood Tablets and the flood of the Old Testament (which may refer the same flood). The ancient floods were seen as a call to humans to change their ways – and so should the great Indus Flood of 2010, the great Australian flood of 2011, the great Brazilian flood of 2011 and the great Sri Lankan flood of 2011 . As the aerial photograph shows, Pakistan is largely desert. Would it have been possible to divert the flood waters onto barren land? If so, it might have done a lot of good and might have let us enjoy the great potential beauty of flooded landscapes. The issues involved have much greater significance than the geographic extent of Pakistan: they concern us all. We need to learn, perhaps from the baolis and hauz of India and Pakistan, how to store flood waters and use them over extended periods of time. Every human-used landscape should have plans for floods with return periods of 1-year, 5-years, 25-years, 100-years, 1000-years etc. See diagram for a modest suggestion on how to plan the management of flood landscapes.
What can urban designers do to design for flood resistance? They can exercise their imagination in flood design competitions and contribute to flood charities. Professional people should so some work for money and some work for love. We need floodable buildings, floodable gardens and floodable parks. The photograph below shows part of London (Strand on the Green) where regular flooding is expected, planned-for and enjoyed.
Top image courtesy Richard

English bowling: the history of the game of bowls

Bowling was the favourite game of the sixteenth century. It was played in great gardens, on smooth garden lawns in towns and on village greens. The game probably reached England from France, perhaps in the thirteenth century. Like most games, it became associated with gambling. Thomas Dekker wrote (in a charming book on The seven deadly sins of London, 1606) that Sloth gave orders that ‘dicing-houses, and bowling alleys should be erected, whereupon a number of poor handy-crafts-men, that before wrought night and day…. they never took care for a good day’s work afterwards.’ During the crusades ‘No man in the army was to play at any kind of game for money, with the exception of knights and the clergy; and no knight or clerk was to lose more than twenty shillings in any one day. The men-at-arms, and “other of the lower orders,” as the record runs, who should be found playing of themselves—that is, without their masters looking on and permitting—were to be whipped; and, if mariners, were to be plunged into the sea on three successive mornings, “after the usage of sailors” . George London and Henry Wise worked only for gentlemen and provided them with bowling greens. The design below, was published with the explanation that ‘to give a more clear and distinct idea of what a Bowling-Green is, here is the Figure of one, the Design of which, I hope, will not be disapproved of’. Sorry, but I think it a bad design. Still, judging from the Wiki article on bowling, what the word now means is ’10-pin bowling’. Garden and park designes should reclaim the game of bowls.

What would Plato and Confucius think about modern landscape and architecture? 孔子和柏拉图会对现代建筑和园林的思考会是怎样的?

Plato: Confucius! How old are you now? Where have you been?
Confucius: I died 2489 years ago and have been touring the Andromeda Galaxy without a body. How about you?
Plato: I died 2357 years ago and I’ve been doing much the same thing.
Confucius: Well, I am so glad we’ve met again, and with a great view of the city they have made down there.
Plato: It is called New York and the plan for Central Park was done by a landscape architect called Frederick Law Olmsted. Everyone thought it was brilliant so they created a profession called Landscape Architecture. I like it.
Confucius: Yes, and New York reminds me of the way gridiron buildings and a flowing landscape are combined in Beijing, China.
Plato. I’ve seen Beijing. The center is wonderful – but have you seen the suburbs? Ugh.
Confucius: Yes. I wouldn’t want to live in them any more than I would like to live in most American cities – or any of the other big twentieth century cities. What do you think went wrong?
Plato. I’m afraid I spent too much time thinking about society and not enough time thinking about the landscape.
Confucius: I think I made the same mistake. But it did not seem necessary. Daoists knew of a wonderful relationship between Man and Nature so I did not need to worry too much about it. The important thing was to think about an ethical code which would make for happy families and well-run countries without too much fighting.
Plato: My concern was also with human society. We had political problems in Greece and the great thing was to distinguish good from bad, right from wrong, truth from falsehood. Relationships with the Gods were fine and we did not need to worry too much about relationships between Man and Nature or cities and landscapes. But I wish I had written more about it.
Confucius: I wish I had too. But can you tell me why the modern world does not have more landscape architects and why they don’t integrate architecture and landscape when making all those new cities?
Plato: They will, my friend, they will. Or the human race will not survive the growing environmental crisis.
Confucius: I hope you are right, my friend. They have a ‘conservation movement’ but their understanding of its nature and its history is far too shallow.
Plato: Do you remember when our ancestors roamed together in Central Asia?
Confucius: I have heard of it, and of how they loved the wild landscapes, but perhaps you remember more of those times. What do you think matters most?
Plato: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Death is not the worst that can happen to men. Ignorance is the root and the stem of every evil. Laws are partly formed for the sake of good men, in order to instruct them how they may live on friendly terms with one another, and partly for the sake of those who refuse to be instructed, whose spirit cannot be subdued, or softened, or hindered from plunging into evil.
Confucius: Yes. Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses. What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others. Study the past if you would define the future. He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it.
Tom: Yes indeed. But what about the fauna, the flora, the mountains, the rivers, the winds, the forests and the seas?
Confucius and Plato: We have learned many things in Andromeda – but the truth which can be spoken is not the real truth and the world that can be seen is not the real world.

柏拉图:是的,这是纽约,它的中心公园的设计是由一位名叫弗雷德里克·劳·奥姆斯特德的风景园林师完成的。 每一个人都认为这是个杰出的作品,所以人类就创造了一个专业:风景园林。 我喜欢它。
孔子: 对,纽约使我回忆起中国北京的方格建筑物和流动的园林的结合。
柏拉图:我也看过北京。 北京的中心地带很不错,但是你看了北京的郊区没有?哎!
孔子: 是啊。 我再也不愿意住在那里了,相比而言,更愿意住在大多数的美国城市,或者其他二十一世纪的城市。你觉得错在哪里呢?
孔子:没错。忘记伤害,永远不要忘记善良。己所不欲,勿施于人。如果你想定义未来,那么就学习过去。 谁执政,就意味着他的美德可以与北极星媲美,在位置上不动,所有的星星都簇拥他的身边。
孔子和柏拉图:我们在仙女座星系学到了很多东西. 但能够被说出来的“真理”就不是真正的真理,而且能够被看到的”世界”就不是真的世界了。

(Thank you to Tian Yuan for the translation)

Why do park rangers dress in mock-military costumes?

Etymology provides the answer. ‘Ranger’ derives from the Middle French ranger ‘to arrange (soldiers) in ranks… to put oneself in rank or order’. Ranger came into English meaning ‘a forester, a gamekeeper, a keeper of a royal park (also as an honorary title). Now esp.: a warden of a national or state park or forest’. But do we want national and natural parks to be run by soldiers and, if so, who are they fighting? Wild animals? Visitors? I would prefer natural landscapes to be regarded as Sacred Space and tended by either holy men, like the druid (above right) or the good shepherd (above left). There should be a total ban on folksy signage and I do not like the connection with the hunting and pleasure parks of feudal barons. National parks should be national sanctuaries, preferably with no bitmac, motor vehicles or tourist ‘facilities’. This will not be an easy change to effect but a start can be made by employing staff dressed like hermits to protect the sacredness of natural areas (using ‘sacred’ in its pre-Christian sense of ‘set apart’).
Image of Shenandoah-National-Park courtesy Bill Spruce

Which capital city's gardens are we looking down on?

Since this is a little difficult, I offer two clues (1) it is in Eurasia (2) it is not the city centre! What do you think of my modest proposal for a re-design, below? I think the whole project must have been ‘designed’ by crazed engineers with no knowledge whatsoever of the aesthetic, ecological, functional or financial roles of open space in the urbanisation process.

(left image slightly brightened)