Creating harmony, simplicity and peace in the landscape......

"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.

Gardening is an instrument of grace. "

May Sarton

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New York's Bryant Park - What Makes a Great Urban Park

N.Y. City's Bryant Park in Summer

This is a revised and enlarged version of a previous post I wrote.....Jan

Bryant Park is one of the most successful outdoor spaces in New York. But why?

Well, it is open on all four sides to the public.  You can enter it easily although there is a distinct separation from the street and a more formal entrance off 6th Avenue.

It is also a mix of overhead trees and open level green space. (I guess each comprises 50 percent of the whole). This is an important and salient design point.

It offers many different active and passive recreational pursuits. Chess tables and sculptures share the park with ice skaters, a carousel and bird watchers.

Chess players in Bryant Park

Ice Skating in Bryant Park

One of the most obvious features of Bryant Park is the perimeter planting of tall Plane Trees. These stately trees were planted years ago and have been pruned to a high canopy which offers filtered shade and a needed buffer from the surrounding skyscrapers.

photo by Jan Johnsen

I took this photo of Bryant Park in the summer. The furniture is lightweight and highly moveable. People can place their seats anywhere they like.  Bravo!

Urbanist William H. Whyte suggested the use of this kind of seating for the park. He wrote in his book The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces:

"Chairs enlarge choice: to move into the sun, out of it, to make room for groups, move away from them. The possibility of choice is as important as the exercise of it. If you know you can move if you want to, you feel more comfortable staying put."

 It also shows people sitting in niches set off from the main walk - another great design idea! Set the seating out of the flow of people. It also shows the trees bordering both sides of the paved walkway.

Where did this idea come from?  Well, look at Villa Medici in Italy for this niche idea.

Villa Medici - photo by Hermes, Gardens of a Golden Afternoon

And what about the large central rectangle of lawn that Bryant Park features? It harks back to as Village Green.  This is what 'House and Garden', said of a plan for a 'village green' concept in June, 1926:

"A new prototype of an urban park for American cities features a raised, multipurpose grass terrace surrounded by a double rows of trees. Separation from traffic and street noise is provided by low plantings and balustrades."  from the website, 'Exploring Concepts of Landscape Architecture ' ... Bryant Park is a Village Green.
Bryant Park plan from the book, 'Great City Parks' by Alan Tate

Now contrast that scene with this one:

I took this photo years ago of a vest pocket park in New Orleans. It, too, has trees on both sides of the paved area. It also has seats in niches. So why is this so unappealing while the other park is so inviting?

Gary O Robinette termed it, 'Reduction'.

In Bryant Park, the width of the paved walk is small compared to the height of the trees bordering it....You feel enclosed, embraced and sheltered.

from the book, 'Plants/People/ and Environmental Quality' by Gary O. Robinette

The ratio of the trees to the paved area in the New Orleans park is very different. The trees are too small, too far apart and the paved zone is too wide....They should have placed the trees closer to each other tather than hugging the walls.  The  widecentral paved area has no reason for being...A narrower walk with wide planting beds would have created a softer, sheltered space.

There is no buffer from the street. No activities are offered or planned for. It is a dead end space - no flow.

As Gertrude Stein said (a sculpture of her is in Bryant Park) "there is no there, there"..she was describing Los Angeles but it could apply to this New Orleans park.

Gertrude Stein in Bryant Park - given to the park by Maury Leibovitz (he was a client of mine and had this statue at his house before donating to the park)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Flowers, Deepak and Peace Gardens

 “Music is continuous. It is the listening that is intermittent...” 

~ my paraphrase of a John Cage quote

The above Tibetan Mandala is a print by the Tibetan artist, Rabkar Wangchuk. It is called 'Flower Mandala' and can be bought from the TIBET HOUSE (click here).

If you look closely you will see that this lovely artwork is like a compass: North is white, East is Yellow, South is Red and West is Green......yellow denotes intellect and thinking and this is what the direction, East, represents and encourages..

The Tibetan mandala speaks to us of a greater reality. It illustrates the flow of all life radially outward from the center.. Flowers do this too. Flowers are Nature's Mandalas.

Coreopsis at Jim's by Jan Johnsen

You can be surrounded by Nature's mandalas if we choose -  round, radial wheels that are colorful celebrations of Life and continuity...Flowers uplift our awareness and well being.  Flowers remind us of the true nature of the world.

Photo by Divine Nature Essences

This flower talk, of course,  brings us to the sage Deepak Chopra and peace summits.

In a recent Peace Summit in Newark, New Jersey (click here) that was sponsored by the Drew A. Katz Foundation, Deepak answered a question about peace that struck a chord:

Deepak Chopra

What changes do you think humanity needs to make to achieve lasting peace in the world?

DC:  The only way lasting peace can occur is when we become the change we want to see in the world.

Peace can only be created by those who are peaceful. ....

(note pink shirt = love and compassion)

Photo - Jan Johnsen ..planted Queen of Night and pink tulip

Other thinkers and speakers addressed food, war, community, monetary policy regarding peace ...but no one discussed Creating Peaceful Environments as a way to Promote Peace.

If Peace can only be created by those who are peaceful then we should create Serenity Gardens aka Peace Gardens all over the globe....and now. Peaceful environments aid us in becoming aligned...

Peace can only be created by those who are peaceful. ....

photo by Rupert Jeffries

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Keith Albarn - Principles in the Game of LIfe

photo by Keith Albarn :   Rhododendron - Almost forms a dodecahedron of pentagonal florets.

Keith Albarn says his Game of Life has a set of essentially simple rules. These rules generate the richness and diversity that we experience in our lives.  Albarn notes that we all seek insight and are all potential see-ers and visionaries.

by Keith Albarn

Albarn is a genius with numbers, harmonics, art, pattern.

Life has some key principles according to Keith Albarn :

 Metaphor and analogy are aids to insight

From simple rules emerge complex consequences

Constraint encourages creativity

Everything is interdependent

Things are determined by relationships

Relationships depend on communication

We live on the Edge of Chaos

willow spheres - Garden Beet

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Powerpoint Talk - June 23, 7 p.m. Mt Kisco Library - NY

garden by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

This Thursday, June 23, at 7 pm, I am presenting a captivating Powerpoint on 'Secrets of Creating Gardens of Serenity' which illustrates little known tips on how to make a Beautiful and Serene Outdoor Space.

Are you one of those people who respond to their surroundings more deeply than others?

garden by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools

Then this talk will appeal to you greatly. If you are inextricably drawn to bring forth the highest vision of the natural environment around you, you will enjoy the images and ideas I present in this talk.

Innisfree, Millbrook, NY

I share with you fascinating insights on how we can order a space that optimizes a feeling of harmony and renewal. For example do you know why East is considered the most beneficial direction by all cultures? You should conisder this in placing benches, garden gates, etc.

Did you know that the octagon is a powerful shape? Perhaps this is why Thomas Jefferson designed his home at Poplar Forest as an 8 sided octagon...

Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson's 'getaway' home

Also the energy of trees affect us. Maples affect us one way; Oaks in a different way. The ancient Celtic tree calendar discusses this at length.

Please join me for this one hour Powerpoint talk - you may see the natural world a little differently when you leave.

Serenity in the Garden

Friday, June 17, 2011

Flower Power - A Story about NYC and flowers by George Reis

George Reis is a student of mine at Columbia University and he also works for NYU as their Landscape Supervisor (he prefers 'Head Gardener')....our latest assignment required that he choose an excerpt from Edward Hall's 'The Hidden Dimension' and write a personal anecdote relating to the concept cited.

George wrote a touching essay on the power of flowers that I would like to share with you. Here the vibrant and beneficial energy of flowers soothes even the toughest of NY city psyches.....

“Our urban spaces provide little excitement or visual variation and virtually no opportunity to build a kinesthetic repertoire of spatial experiences…Man can be viewed as having visual, kinesthetic, tactile, and thermal aspects of his self which may be either inhibited or encouraged to develop by his environment."

Edward T. Hall,   'The Hidden Dimension'

I’ve heard Pete Hamill, the great New York writer, reminisce about the days when New York was a city of working class people who would commute on the subway to their factories or work sites with their tools in hand. In our post-industrial era, we now have a large population of people we may call “information workers,” people who work in offices and manipulate their work life mainly via computer screens. Most of their work day is spent in the abstract realm of spreadsheets, reports, analyses—in short, they spend their days living inside their heads.

These people run the risk of losing touch with what Hall calls the “visual, kinesthetic, tactile and thermal aspects” of their selves if they inhabit cities that don’t address the need for rich outdoor experiences. Hence the need, especially in a city of information workers like New York, for what Hall calls “visual variation” in our outdoor urban spaces.

I know lots of people in Greenwich Village who think NYU’s “campus” is an illustration of Hall’s point about the lack of visual variation in our cities. Fairly or unfairly, they demonize the University for obliterating the human-scaled, bohemian character of the Village with large, bland, modernist buildings. As a University employee, I keep my distance from that debate — I’m just the gardener after all and I believe universities do a lot of good.

But I would lose all my street credibility with the neighborhood if I didn’t admit that the exterior of NYU’s Coles Sports Center, a 21-foot high tan brick, acre-sized, featureless box of a building at 181 Mercer Street, is, in Hall’s words, a place of “little visual variation.”

In the summer of 2006, a lucky sequence of events allowed me to tear out the 1,000 square foot strip of lawn and the thin line of New Guinea impatiens on the north side of the building’s entrance and replace it with a border of about 30 varieties of annuals that were on sale for reduced summer prices. I planted five large clumps of Brillantaisia subulugarica surrounded by plants like Angelonia, Cuphea, annual Rudbeckias, Euphorbias, Helichrysum, and Caladium for the shaded spots. The result, mostly unforeseen by me, was an undulating annual border of brightly contrasting colors. It was an exuberant planting for a tired building face.

[click here for a  video of a similar garden there ...]

I was unprepared for the reaction I got from passersbys. Gushing with gratitude is one way of describing it. I never attributed this to any special talent on my part, but rather to the lack of varied plantings visible from any sidewalk within 20 blocks.

But one particular reaction stunned me. An attorney told someone in the building that that summer’s litigation had been particularly stressful for him as he was defending the most hideous client of his career. What got him through it, he said, was taking a couple minutes each day to look at my hurriedly planted annual border. That’s when I began to understand the power of public horticulture.

In light of Hall’s insights about how we experience space, I understand now that this attorney got solace from this little garden because it was varied in texture, height, and color, and also because it was legible—it cohered in a way that held his attention and relieved him temporarily from the daily stress of his work.

Amen to that.

Coherence and the potent energy that flowers exude. We are hardwired to respond to these gems of Nature.

Thanks George! - Jan

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What is Your True Garden Personality and Style? A Questionnaire

Every year you go out in Spring, determined that this will be when you get your yard all put together. One beautiful Saturday morning you go to the garden center and buy whatever looks good at the moment.  You plant it all up and  - tired but happy - you say 'this will be great'.

But the moment passes and it doesn't quite do the trick.. Maybe it is because you should first find YOUR TRUE GARDEN PERSONALITY....

Landscape architect, Shelley Sparks, of Harmony Gardens (check out her great website - click here ) in California has this wonderful questionnaire on her website. It helps you determine what will resonate with you in your garden.  She has synthesized so much, its impressive.

Shelley's stated mission on her website is also illuminating. She writes, 'through garden design I want to entice people into their gardens so that they can experience the delight and positive emanations from their garden.'  I like that.

Harmony Gardens' Questionnaire

1. How much privacy is important to you?

a. I am a private person and don’t like to be too close to my neighbors

b. I am fairly private and while I like to talk to neighbors, I don’t want to socialize too much with them

c. I love to be part of everything. I have had neighbors as best friends and love to socialize with them as well as others.

Jim's Garden - Coreopsis and Spiderwort

2. Which aspect of your home are you most happy with?

a. It’s cozy and comfortable.

b. My house is very stylish. It is fashionable and hip.

c. My house is so exciting. Everywhere I look I am delighted by what I see.

d. My house is elegant. It is what some people call formal but I think of it as traditional.

e. My house is flexible. I can dress it up or dress it down and I love to move things around.

Blue Bayou Mix Impatiens and perennial salvia - Jan Johnsen

3. Which of your senses is most important to you?

a. Vision

b. Smell

c. Touch

d. Hearing

e. Taste

4. What element of yourself would you like to see more balanced?

a. I tend to be moody and want to hide away?

b. I overwork and overstress?

c. Sometimes I am moody and reclusive and other times overworked and stressed.

Claire's antique planter with  pansies

5. What types of rooms do you like best?

a. I love rooms that open, light and airy. I need to open windows and see outside.

b. I am never happier than when I can find a warm darkish corner to curl up and think about life and its opportunities.

c. I like combinations of both types of rooms. Many times I like open airy rooms and other times I am in the mood for quiet peaceful spaces.

Heliotrope Fragrant Delight

6. What is your lifestyle like?

a. I am a family person. I love to spend time with my family and invite friends over for fun.

b. I’m too busy for entertaining. Let others have parties. I need a place to unwind and relax.

c. I’m a jock. I love to be active sometimes on my own and sometimes with others.

d. I like to putter around. I like to garden and do crafts and experiment with different hobbies. It is a creative way to live.

e. I am involved in many organizations that like to use my house as a showcase to benefit them.

Shelley writes: "This section will help you structure the look and feeling of your garden based on what general theme you would like. If you have enough space on your property, you can pick two or three themes to express. This can only be the case if you separate the areas adequately."

7. I want a drought tolerant garden and would like to know what my options are.

a. I love being out on the prairie where the grasses are waving in the wind.

b. I was fascinated and delighted by the cactus garden I saw recently.

c. I would love to recreate the feeling of hiking or walking out in the wild areas of my state.

d. I have always loved those rock and sand gardens that the Japanese make. I would like to have a place where I can quietly enjoy the scene.

e. I would like to have a garden with a cottage feeling but that doesn’t require much water.

8. I dream about traveling to different parts of the world and would like to bring back a wonderful garden.

a. Every picture I have seen of Italy makes my heart sing. I would love to have the whole country transported here.

b. People in Spain and South America have such great outdoor entertaining spaces. I would really be happy with that.

c. The French are so sophisticated. It seems like all the best gardens started there.

d. England is so natural and the gardens seem as though they are not created but have always been like that. Even when you know they have put a lot of work into it, it is like a slice of nature.

e. I love the simple rock and sand gardens of Japan. I would like to have a place where I can contemplate and quietly enjoy thee surrounding.

f. I love the Greek classics. Their gardens are places that seem to lend to fun in a structured space.

g. Hawaii and everywhere tropical is my favorite weather. The feeling I get when I visit there even in my mind set me free.

Allerton gardens Kauai - all rights reserved Jan Johnsen

9. I love the idea of my garden being expressive of my style. I would like to have a theme garden in my yard.

a. My life is about romance. I want a love garden to attract a relationship or to express my love relationship

b. I could sit and watch the birds and bees all day. I just wish for a space where I can attract as many different kinds of birds and bees as possible.

c. I have a tiny space and yet I feel like my inner artist needs to be expressed in my garden. I would love to see my creative energies expressed.

d. My dream is to have my house seem like I am in the middle of a forest.

e. Fragrance is what rings my chime. No matter where I go, I smell plants to see if some wonderful aroma is coming my way.

Once you answer these questions you will know which kind of garden style is best for you - Shelley Sparks can help too. Just answer these on her site Harmony Gardens and hit the submit button there...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What is a Water Butt? A Beautiful Way to Collect Rainwater

What is a water butt?

This is what I thought when I looked at Hermes' posting in his marvelous 'Gardens of a Golden Afternoon' blog....

If you live in an area where the summer months are dry you may want to collect rainwater from your roof to keep your garden watered. This can be done in a rain barrel or as the people in the UK call it, a water butt.

Plastic rain barrels (in various sizes and styles) can be connected to a downspout of a house to collect rainwater from the gutters. They can collect water through the top lid or through the side through a pipe diverter. If you use a diverter then the rain fills the barrel (or water butt) first then,  once it's full, flows down the drainpipe as usual. A gutter filter can be used to will keep out unwanted debris.

I found several water butt sites and want to share a few fun items with you:

The Cascatia Decorative 245 Litre Waterbutt
is made of plastic, but looks like a terra cotta pot. At the top is a planter! It was designed in Canada and is manufactured in the UK. This fun  water butt features an outlet with an attached section of hose so you can water nearly plants with it. It also has a shut-off valve, overflow spout and a screen guard. Direct your downpipe straight into the top or attach with an optional divertor.

Rustico Walnut-Effect 275 Litre Waterbutt

The attractive Rustico Water butt looks like authentic woodgrain Walnut but will last much longer. It adds a rustic touch and is supplied with a plastic tap and downpipe connection kit.

Roman Column Waterbutts - Green

These decorative columns collect 333 liters of rainwater and add a touch of class to any property. It has a brass tap and a Downpipe Connector.

Noblesse Decorative 270 Litre Waterbutt Sandstone

This is  my favorite - plastic 270 Litre waterbutts that look like sotne. They come in Granite, Sandstone or Charcoal.  Complete with plastic tap and downpipe connector kit

Wall-mounted Water Butt

This attractive wall mounted water butt collects 100 liters of rainwater and can be fixed to a house wall at a convenient height. The compact design has a tap (included) that on can be fitted either side of the butt for easy access. There's a built-in overflow system that automatically tops up the butt when it rains, diverting excess water back down the drain pipe.

Old Fashioned Rain Barrel
And to collect the rainwater like the US settlers in the Wild West used to do then this 59 gallon white oak barrel (recycled from whiskey barrels and wine casks) fits the bill!
The wooden whisky barrel is 30 inches in diameter and 40 inches tall. When its full of water,  it would take a strongman to move the barrel. The barrel comes with brass spigots and a  brass overflow with a 3/4 inch hose and a downspout filter.
There are so many more models to choose from but these water butts and rain barrels should get you thinking of ways to collect the rain  before the hot weather comes along.