By Carol Stocker
Landscape architects and historians from around the country converged on the Boston Athenaeum Saturday night to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Library of American Landscape History, the foremost publisher in the genre, which is headquartered in Amherst. The non-profit has published a cannon of 26 books on the history of landscape design in this country, working with the University of Massachusetts Press. They include the award winning "A Genius for Place: American Landscapes of the Country Place Era," by Robin Karson, LALH's founder and executive director, who briefly addressed the gathering.
Also in attendance were Iris Gestram, executive director of the National Association for Olmsted Parks in Washington, director Mark Zelonis of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Bob Cook, former director of the Arnold Arboretum, Meg Winslow, archivist for the Mount Auburn Cemetery, and Lee Farrow Cook of the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic National Park Service site, named Fairsted.
Nancy Turner, the LALH's founding president, was honored. "I met Robin when she came to write about my Fletcher Steele garden," recalled Turner in an interview. The famous Boston landscape designer had had an office on Louisburg Square, but had retired to Pittsford, N.Y., near her estate, and created his last garden there for her. Karson documented it in her great book, "Fletcher Steele, Landscape Architect." Written shortly after Steele's death in 1971, the book documented many of his gardens before they were lost. Steele gardens were generally high maintenance and seldom survived their owners, "but Mabel Choate preserved her Naumkeag," said Turner. She referred to the The Trustees of Reservations' Steele garden in Stockbridge, famed for its series of white Art Deco staircases and waterfalls framed by birch trees..
Turner now lives in Connecticut. Does her own Pittsford garden still exist? "I don't know. I never went back to look. There has been a tremendous increase in the cost of maintenance." She smiled. "Gardens are like sand castles. It survives in Robin's book," she said as she flipped though the book's pages, which featured photos of her well planted granite staircase, orchard, and a series of terraces that led to a round reflecting pool. "It's very quiet, a placid place that reflected the final year of Fletcher Steele's life."
It was after completing this survey of Steele's rapidly vanishing gardens that Karson decided there needed to be an organization that published books on American historical landscapes. She was able to start one with Turner's support, and has kept it going for 20 years, during which she has assembled the most important authors of books on landscape architecture in this country.
New books include "Community by Design; The Olmsted Firm and the Planning of Brookline," by Elisabeth Hope Cushing, Roger G. Reed and Boston University professor Keith N. Morgan, who was at the party. After designing Central Park, Olmsted deserted New York for Brookline, which had proudly anointed itself "the richest town in the world." Little has been previously published on the importance of Brookline as a laboratory and model for the Olmsted firm's work. This book will detail how his son and namesake saw the town as a grounds for experimenting in the new profession of city planning.
It will be followed next year by a study of another important locally based designer. "Arthur A. Shurcliff and the Making of the Colonial Williamsburg Landscape," by Elizabeth Hope Cushing, will spotlight this under-appreciated force in the Colonial Revival house and garden movement. His projects included aspects of the Charles River Esplanade, the Franklin Park Zoo, and, at the end of his life, the iconic gardens at Colonial Williamsburg.
Next year will also see the LAHL's publication of "The Best Planned City in the World: Olmsted, Vaux, and the Buffalo Park System," by Francis R. Kowsky, cq writing about Buffalo, N.Y. "We try to focus the study on individual places," explained Karson. It will be the first in a series edited by Ethan Carr called "Designing the American Park." Another new series will deal with environmental design.
Interest in the history of American landscape architecture has blossomed in the last three decades, said Carr at the gathering. He linked it to the resurgence of interest in New York's Central Park and it's history. That park, which sunk to an all-time low in the 1970's, is now in the best shape of its history, thanks in part to LALH board member Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, the founder of the powerful Central Park Conservancy.
Boston's Emerald Necklace, another Olmsted masterpiece, has also enjoyed rejuvenation and scholarly attention. The Frederick Law Olmsted Papers Project will soon publish Volume Eight of Olmsted Sr's letters, dealing with the 1880's when the Emerald Necklace was created, said Carr, who is the editor.
The U. Mass professor is also the editor of one of LALH's prizewinning books, "Mission 66: Modernism and the National Park Dilemma." And what is the dilemma? "Too little money, too many visitors," said Carr succinctly. "And too many cars."
“Herbs! Creative Herb Garden Themes and Projects” (Cool Springs Press, $19.95) is a useful and knowledgeable book for herb beginners as well as more experienced growers. Readers can learn all about almost 50 different herbs, including how to choose them, where and when to plant them, how to grow them successfully, and when and how to harvest and preserve them.
The major portion is devoted to creative ideas for growing herbs in theme gardens – 44 in all, ranging from planting herbs mentioned by Shakespeare or in the Bible to attracting butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds with colorful herbs. Directions are given for a number of herb theme gardens that will appeal to foodies – a grilling garden, a pickling garden, a pizza garden, an herbal teas garden, a culinary garden, and herb gardens for Thai, Italian, French, Indian, and Asian cuisines.
These include ideas for cooking with herbs, including numerous recipes (everything from herb jelly to pizza).
“Herbs!” presents many ideas for using the herbs that gardeners have grown – potpourri, herb vinegars, wreaths, herbal bath products, and directions for a “green” herbal-themed wedding that replaces traditional rice with a sweet-smelling herb toss.
Judy Lowe was the garden editor of The Chattanooga Free Press in Tennessee for more than 20 years. She was also an editor for The Christian Science Monitor in Boston for 11 years. While at the Monitor, she founded and blogged for the paper's Gardening site, Diggin' It (http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Gardening/diggin-it). She continues to edit daily articles from more than 15 garden writers who contribute to the site and still writes for it occasionally. She's also in the process of starting a new blog of her own about herb theme gardens, http://herbthemegardens.com .
“Herbs! Creative Herb Garden Themes and Projects” is Lowe's 11th book.
The Royal Horticultural Society of Britain has brought together all the published evidence on how urban gardens affect us and our environment in a scientific review entitled Gardening Matters: Urban Gardens.
Collating the evidence reveals four key areas in which gardens make a difference. They help control urban temperatures, mitigating the effects of extreme heat and cold. They help prevent flooding by absorbing rainwater that would otherwise overload drainage systems. They support human health by easing stress and providing physical exercise. And they have effectively become some of Britain's nature reserves, supporting a range of wildlife including birds, mammals and invertebrates.
Dr Tijana Blanusa, who led the RHS science review, said: "Domestic gardens contain approximately 25 per cent of the total non-forest and woodland trees [in the UK] and can contribute as much as 86 per cent of the total urban tree stock. This review opens the debate about how urban domestic gardens can be protected, enhanced and exploited to ensure urban quality of life, as well as offering some first steps that gardeners can take to support the ecosystem of their town and city."
Of course, there are potentially negative environmental impacts associated with gardening – the use of power tools uses energy, and water use is rising every year. However, the RHS believes that a good understanding of how gardens help the environment can maximize the positive impact of horticulture.
One way of doing this is to look for plants that offer multiple uses, says Dr Blanusa. Trees, for example, are particularly good as they take up water, capture pollution, offer shade and a habitat for wildlife, and add aesthetic value to the garden. We may not all have room for an oak tree, but there are smaller trees that can easily be incorporated into smaller gardens.
Leigh Hunt, principal horticultural adviser at the RHS, said: "Most people look at their own small urban garden and think it can't possibly make that much difference to the environment. But put it together with all the other gardens around and it provides a mini nature reserve. It's a collective effort.
"From a psychological point of view, a garden offers creative control that may be missing in other areas of life. Strenuous chores such as raking help physical fitness – there is even research that suggests attention-deficit disorder children benefit from being in green spaces."
The psycho-physiological benefits add up to more than just some vague feel-good factor. According to research, they include improved cognitive function, reduced incidence of illness or reported illness, improved relaxation, pain relief and the ability to cope with trauma.
Chevy Chase, MD - Ruth Kassinger's popular book "Paradise Under Glass" tells the story of a homeowner who, starting with zero gardening knowledge, built a lush plant conservatory onto her Maryland home that became a center for family life and most importantly her own revitalization after a bout with cancer. Recently I visited Ruth in her home conservatory here, which was built out from an L between her living room and kitchen. It was exactly as depicted in her book and on its cover. Her husband even purchased artist Linda Button's oil painting used on the cover and hung it up right next to the conservatory room for comparison. (The line drawings throughout the book are by Eva-Maria Ruhl.)
Ruth told me that her speaking engagements included one at the U.S. Botanical Garden on the Washington Mall where she first got the idea to build her own private green oasis as "the perfect antidote to the losses and changes of middle age" (which included her much loved sister's cancer death at 45).
Ruth searched out a builder, dealt with zoning ordinances and got houseplant advice from her local nursery. Sinking her teeth into the subject, she also visited specialty growers in Florida, Connecticut and California to discover which low maintenance kinds of plants would perform well in her growing conditions.
Ruth's project surprised herself as much as her family because she had never before been interested in gardening or houseplants and hated earthworms and insects. But the indoor garden she envisioned would be a clean, bright cocoon for healing. And so it is. But it's not insect free like she thought it would be. In creating the micro-environment where we now sipped out tea, Ruth taught herself how to grow butterflies in her conservatory and how to combat scale and spider mites.
The first appearance of bugs in her paradise set off a frenzied over-reaction, colored, she admitted, by her belief that she and her doctors had been slow to diagnose her breast cancer. She wanted those bugs killed fast. But after researching the most toxic of insect killers, a kind of chemo for the greenhouse, she came to her senses and now employs Neem and other less poisonous Integrated Pest Management techniques. In fact, she told me, she was awaiting a shipment of green lacewings (Chrysoperla rufilabris). These small delicate looking flying beneficial insects help keep pets in check naturally. Sliding glass doors keep them out of the rest of the house.
The conservatory also has an unusual water feature: a small resistance pool where Ruth swims. Modern filtration features keep off-smelling chlorine to a minimum. Another slightly sci-fi feature is the vertical green wall of many different kinds of small plants growing in pockets of fiber and recycling water that Ruth built herself. It copies expensive installations in Europe that are very popular. Green walls lend texture and life to any surface, and I am sure we will be seeing more of them in this country as the technology spreads.
Creating her conservatory taught Ruth that nothing in a garden, even an indoor garden, is static. Her original idea of paradise was to create an unchanging cocoon. But after making constant experiments with her own biosphere project, she has concluded that "Paradise" is a place where there's always something new to respond to, and to look forward to. Life is change.
Now Ruth Kassinger, an award winning science writer, is working on her next book, which will try to explain in popular terms how plants work, how they are different from animals, and how breeders are using this knowledge to create plants that never existed before.
She is exploring whether there is a difference between organic and chemical fertilizer from the plant's point of view, she said. "Also, a bit of information on Round-Up. The No-Till crowd recommends Round-Up for keeping down the weeds in a no-till situation -- this is from Dr. Ray Weil, University of Maryland professor, co-author of the major textbook on soil science, and a man deeply committed to protecting ecosystems."
Kassinger has become a horticultural detective and I'm waiting to see what she comes up with. Since much of gardening is "muck and mysticism," as the late plantsman Fred McGourty used to say, Ruth Kassinger's ability to bring the scientific side of horticulture to the general public is both welcomed and needed.
Gardeners are the front line of defense in our struggle to tackle the problems of global warming, loss of habitat, water shortages and shrinking biodiversity. "The New American Landscape; Leading Voices on the Future of Sustainable Gardening" is an impressive and thought provoking new book edited by Thomas Christopher which just crossed my desk.
You should get this book.
Most interesting is the chapter by David W. Wolfe, professor of horticulture at Cornell University and a faculty fellow with the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future.
Here is some of his advice:
1. Improve nitrogen fertilizer use efficiency. For instance, consider clover grass mixes for your lawn instead of Kentucky bluegrass which has high nitrogen needs.
2. Increase soil carbon sequestration. When plants die and decompose, much of the carbon they have taken up as CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis becomes part of the soil organic matter.Building up and maintaining the organic matter in the soils is something gardeners should be doing anyway for soil health and crop growth, but this also serves to sequester carbon in the soil that otherwise would be in the atmosphere as CO2 gas. One way to do this is to till the soil less. Layer, don't till. Use the model of "lasagnia gardening."
3. Plant a tree. They take up CO2 and reduce emissions from air conditioning.
4. Recycle and reduce use of disposable products. For instance, use organic mulches, not plastic.
5. Reduce fossil fuel use. Don't let lawn companies mow your lawn when it's not growing, like in the summer, just so they can charge you and keep their workers busy. Mow less frequently and keep engines well tuned.
6. Use renewable energy sources.
Boston Globe Garden Writer
Ruth Kassinger has written my favorite gardening book of the year (so far). This is the story of a homeowner who started with zero gardening knowledge, but built a lush plant conservatory onto her Maryland home that became a center for family life, entertaining, and most importantly her own revitalization after a bout with cancer.
Ruth Kassinger had been hit hard by her sister's cancer death at 45, followed closely by her own battle with breast cancer. Seeking a healing retreat, she visited conservatory of the U.S. Botanical Garden on the Washington Mall, That's where she got the idea to build her own private green oasis, "the perfect antidote to the losses and changes of middle age."
She surprised herself as much as her family because she had never before been interested in gardening or houseplants and hated earthworms and insects. But the indoor garden she envisioned would be a clean, bright, earthworm and insect-free cocoon for healing.
She searches out a builder, deals with zoning ordinances and gets houseplant advice from her local nursery. She visits specialty growers in Florida, Connecticut and California. She discovers which low maintenance kinds plants perform well in her growing conditions. She also learns how to grow butterflies in her conservatory and how to combat scale and spider mites. The first appearance of bugs in her paradise sets off a frenzied over-reaction, colored by her belief that she and her doctors had been slow to diagnose her cancer. But after researching the most toxic of insect killers, a kind of chemo for the greenhouse, she comes to her senses and employs Neem and other less poisonous Integrated Pest Management techniques.
Though it gets off to slow start, this book sneaks up on you. It gradually builds in technical complexity as well as emotional depth, so that by the time you finish it, you're surprised by how much you've learned while following the author on her journey back to life. There's how-to advice on building a functioning plant conservatory, up to date scientific information about green industry technology such as "living walls" that you can employ in your home projects, plus a history of greenhouses, and amusing character portraits of some of the country's leading houseplant growers.
Readers will find this book is an antidote for the blues of a midwinter's day or midlife malaise. But watch out. You may start out growing houseplants, and end up building a greenhouse.
I think this would make an excellent gift book for gardeners, and it is also a book of life and hope for readers who have struggled against cancer. And that is not exactly a small niche audience these days.
Also, this is a pretty book, and gifts should be pretty. The cover illustration of a charismatic white highland terrier peaking out of from the midst of a sun room full of giant tropical plants by artist Linda Button and the line drawings throughout the text by Eva-Maria Ruhl are both effective and appealing.
Kassinger's own epiphany at the end is that nothing in a garden, even an indoor garden, is static. Her original idea of paradise was to create an unchanging cocoon. But after making constant experiments with her own biosphere project, she has concluded that "Paradise" is a place where there's always something new to respond to, and to look forward to. Life is change.
"Paradise Under Glass; An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden," by Ruth Kassinger (William Morrow, $24.99)
By Carol Stocker,
Boston Globe Garden Writer:
The biggest trend in gardening is growing your own food. "Easy Container Combos; Vegetables & Flowers" by Pamela Crawford (Color Garden Publishing, $19.95, paperback) is terrific for beginners and people without garden space. It can be much easier to grow vegetables in containers than in the ground. Start with a potting mix (which is basically peat moss) and time release fertilizer and you can practically forget about weeding and bugs. Just add water! Last year Crawford test planted nearly 1,800 plants in more than 200 containers and recorded what worked and what didn't. (So forget about Brussels sprouts.) Her best performers were arugula, beans, collards, mustard and turnip greens, lettuce and hot peppers. She provides profiles of her 18 winners - how much sun and water they need, what size container works best, plus fertilizing, pinching and harvesting tips. For a real pretty planting use red leaf lettuce such as Red Velvet, Mascara or Red Sails, and add a few annual flowers. Crawford tells you which ones.
I love DK books because they are so well illustrated and organized. "Grow Fruit" by Alan Buckingham (DK Publishing, $22.95 paperback) is a case in point. Even Weight Watchers is saying now that we need more fruit. Here is an easy and attractive one-stop reference for growing your own grapes, tree fruit such as cherries, plums, pears, figs, peaches, quinces and apples, and soft fruit such as raspberries, black berries, hybrid bramble fruits, gooseberries and blueberries. Directions are easy-to-follow and I like the fruit grower's year planner and the troubleshooting section for common fruit pests and diseases.
And don't overlook "The Cook's Herb Garden; Nurture, Harvest, Cook," by Jeff Cox (DK Publishing, $18.00 hardcover). Vegetables and herbs can be tricky to grow, but fresh herbs are easy money-savers. If you are just starting to grow your own food, start with herbs and this plot-to-plate guide. From Basil to Vervain, this photographic catalog of more than 130 culinary herbs will teach you everything you need. It includes planting schemes for pots, 70 recipes, and charts on the best herb-with-food flavor combinations.
1. Clean up the Lawn. Rake leaves off your lawn so it is ready for new growth in the spring. If your leaf cover is not heavy, use your mower to chop up the leaves and allow them to remain on the lawn to nurture next year’s grass.
2. Put planting beds to bed. Clean up beds and cover plantings with pine boughs, bark mulch, or leaves. Fertilize spring bloomers such as peonies. Tall perennials with seed heads or berries can be left for the birds or reseeding. Ornamental grasses will look good until heavy snow beats them down.
3. Trim back trees. Prune trees back once they have gone dormant. Apply anti-desiccant spray to broadleaf evergreen shrubs and trees to prevent winterkill. If you plan to add trees and shrubs for next year, now is a good time to select and plant those that flower early in spring such as lilacs, dogwoods and fruit trees.
4. Plant for spring blossoms. Bulbs and perennials that bloom in early spring can be planted in the fall. Choose bulbs such as tulips, hyacinths, crocus and lilies and perennials such as Lenten Rose and Solomon’s Seal.
5. Green your grounds. Start making small changes to make it more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Rake the lawn instead of using a leaf blower. Build compost bins for next year and get started by adding your kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, and leaves. Think about cutting back you lawn size and adding areas of meadow with mown paths instead.
6. Get the kids involved. Fall is a great time to be active with your kids outdoors. Let them help with lawn clean-up by raking leaves into jumping piles. Have them help you harvest fall goodies like squash, broccoli, pumpkins and apples. Let kids get their hands dirty by planting garlic in the garden to harvest next summer.
7. Plan changes now. Document your existing site through plans, photos, and notes. Reflect on the aspects you enjoyed this year and those you would like to change for next year. Ask your family to do the same. Then collect ideas for next year in a design scrapbook. Over the winter, work with your family to create a plan that lays out new structures, bed lines, focal points, seating areas and plantings to implement in the spring.
These tips were shared by author and landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy. She was recently awarded a 2010 GWA Gold Award for Best Book Writing for her latest book, "Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love." This excellent book takes readers through Messervy's intuitive six-step process for creating a beautiful and personal 'home outside.'