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Hanging Gardens of Rock City, 1970


Photo collage, touched with green crayon, by Liliane Lijn, who 'imagined a utopia of green walkways across the rooftops of Manhattan'.
Found at the British Museum, see a larger version here.

Update: Thanks to reader Martha for letting me know that this is part of a series by Lijn, and can be seen on her website, which is full of interesting work.

Quincunx



"Quid [illo] quincunce speciosius, qui, in quamcumque partem spectaveris, rectus est?"

"What is more beautiful than the well-known quincunx which, in whatever direction you view it, presents straight lines?"

It is snowing today, and I am contemplating the garden, whose basic lines are much more visible with a blanket of white covering distracting details. The parts of the garden that are too bare become all too obvious, and the northwest corner seems suddenly barren. I think it needs a quincunx. Perhaps of possumhaws.

Once alerted to their presence, the modern reader might see fractals everywhere; alchemist/physician Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) saw quincunxes. Not just in gardens, or in orchards, where they were and still are a traditional planting formation, but in Roman battalions and the crowns of the ancients, in the tail of the beaver and the scales of fishes and the skin of man (look closely at the skin on the back of your hand...it's there).

He believed that the quincunx had been the shape of the garden of Eden (with the tree of life in the center), the plan upon which Noah planted his vineyards, and the favored arrangement of Cyrus the Younger of Persia, who was both a leader of armies and a tiller of the soil. He wrote a book about it; the Gardens of Cyrus (available online, though I've yet to wade through it myself).

"The doctrine of signatures – the belief in naturally occurring symbols in plants and minerals which have been set there by God to indicate their medicinal properties – had been vigorously revived first by the Paracelsian medics of the sixteenth century, and taken up more generally by various theological writers, particularly in Italy in the seventeenth, who studied signatures as religious messages...For Browne, however, the quincunx, a kind of signature, has no exact meaning of this kind but rather functions more generally, in the sheer weight of instances, as a joyful reassurance of God's watchfulness, design, and purpose in the world. Browne is not attempting to mysticise the quincunx beyond recognising in its variety and ubiquity the wonder of the creation."

Browne was one of the 'first favorites' of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and since it is late here and the snow is still falling I will leave you with his words on the subject, far more elegant than mine, and go off to contemplate the possumhaws:

"But it is time for me to be in bed, in the words of Sir Thomas, which will serve you, my dear, as a fair specimen of his manner.—' But the quincunx of heaven—(the Hyades or five stars about the horizon at midnight at that time) —runs low, and 'tis time we close the five ports of knowledge : we are unwilling to spin out our waking thoughts into the phantasmes of sleep, which often continueth praecogitations, —making tables of cobwebbes, and wildernesses of handsome groves. To keep our eyes open longer were but to act our Antipodes. The huntsmen are up in America, and they are already past their first sleep in Persia.' Think you, my dear Friend, that there ever was such a reason given before for going to bed at midnight ;—to wit, that if we did not, we should be acting the part of our Antipodes! And then ' the huntsmen are up in America.'—What life, what fancy !—Does the whimsical knight give us thus a dish of strong green tea, and call it an opiate! I trust that you are quietly asleep—
And that all the stars hang bright above your dwelling, Silent as tho' they watched the sleeping earth !
S.T.C. 1804

Inspired by Nests...

...one of the true delights of the garden.




the photography of sharon beals



indoor-outdoor chair by gaspardlive



pavilion in Berlin



children's playswing gerard moline for droog



stick play pavilion by Martin Environmental Design

and it is of course impossible not to think of Andy Goldsworthy...






I could do this! The Leopold Bench



Aldo Leopold's Sand Country Almanac is, along with Thoreau's Walden, a classic in American ecological literature. In it, Leopold (1887-1948) --who founded the field of Wildlife Ecology, was instrumental in establishing the first official "wilderness area" in the United States (the Gila National Forest), and helped to create The Wilderness Society--recorded the passage of seasons as he and his family renovated what was a worn out, depleted farmstead on sandy river soil. It is now considered one of the earliest examples of an ecological restoration.

On weekends away from Aldo's post at the University of Wisconsin, they planted native trees and flowers and noted the doings of animals and birds and slowly remodeled the chicken coop (which was filled with frozen manure when they first got the farm) for human habitation; it is now the only chicken coop on the National Register of Historic Places. It is still called simply 'the Shack', and the site is preserved by the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Tours are available May through October.





(photo from the digitized collection of Leopold's papers at the University of Wisconsin)


That's the bench on the right. They're still common in America at church camps and summer cabins, and only require a few simple cuts. I'm no carpenter, but I think even I could do this. Recommendations gleaned from the internet are to alter the plan slightly by using a four foot board for the seat (more room for a companion!) and utilizing a wider board for the seat. We're bigger people, on average, than in the thirties.




Simple instructions available at the US government's EPA site. In the spirit of Leopold, make it from recycled lumber if you can.

Helvetica in the Garden












The PBS special on the typeface Helvetica that aired this week made me think about text in the garden; here, a 2007 temporary crossword puzzle installation by studio msk7 at the Berliner Gendarmenmarkt.

photos by msk7 and Gertrude K. and derSven via flickr

The fantasmic topiary of Pearl Fryar


“Gardening books will tell you that some of these things in my garden can’t be done, but I had never read them when I got started. Not knowing ahead of time that something is supposed to be impossible often makes it possible to achieve. I didn’t have any limitations because I really didn’t know anything about horticulture. I just figured I could do whatever I wanted with any plant I had.”



In the 1980s, Pearl Fryar and his wife went looking for a new home in Bishopville, S.C., and after being spurned by a neighborhood that feared an African American couple wouldn't keep up their yard, he set his sights on being the first black recipient of the local garden club's Yard of the Month award. Utilizing plants salvaged from the dump of the local garden center, Pearl began cajoling them into fantastic organic shapes, often working at night under spotlights until he had three acres of a walkable, three-dimensional garden work of art where, it has been said, "Dr. Seuss meets Salvador Dali".

When he started, he didn't know what 'topiary' was, and had no training in either art or horticulture, which was all to the good.



Bishopton has taken him to its heart now, his sculptures line Main Street, and you can ask anybody in town where the topiary garden is. In the best tradition of art, his topiary work has gone viral, spreading through classes at the local college and mentoring of young people and other folks in town are now sculpting their own hedges. What must be the best-landscaped Waffle House in the country has granted the Fryars free meals for life in exchange for his wizardry in their streetscape. The “Pearl Special” is one scrambled egg, grits, and toast.




There is now a book and a DVD about Pearl Fryar's topiary art (and a NYT article), and he has installations at the Phillip Simmons garden in Charleston (Simmons is another outsider artist worthy of your attention, a blacksmith whose work is now being preserved), and the South Carolina State Museum has accessioned mature works, transplanted from his garden, into their permanent collection. Pearl's home garden has been designated a Preservation Project of the Garden Conservancy.

Much more information at the south carolina tourism site, and an account of a personal visit to Fryar's garden here.

According to Pearl's official website "All are welcome and if you find me at home, I’ll stop whatever I am doing to visit with you and tell you about my work and why I create topiary sculpture." If you go, you'll be in good company; Rosemary Verey visited Mr. Fryar at home twice, but she died in 2001 before he could accept her invitation to walk the royal grounds with Prince Charles. What a garden meeting that would have been!

Alexander Pope's Catalogue of Greens, 1713


By the eighteenth century, the English garden was tending towards the natural (though it was not yet a 'natural' we would recognize as such), and topiary fell distinctly out of fashion. Alexander Pope's satire on the subject is well-known, but I will repeat it here anyway for those of you who perhaps have not seen it, and for those who have, it never fails to delight. So clever, that Alexander.

For the benefit of all my loving countrymen of this curious taste, I shall here publish a catalogue of Greens to he disposed of by an eminent Town- Gardiner, who has lately applied to me upon this head. He represents, that for the advancement of a politer sort of ornament in the Villa's and Gardens adjacent to this great city, and in order to distinguish those places from the meer barbarous countries of gross nature, the world stands much in need of a virtuoso Gardiner, who has a turn to Sculpture, and is thereby capable of improving upon the ancients of his profession, in the imagery of Ever-greens. My correspondant is arrived to such perfection that he also cutteth family pieces of men, women, or children. Any ladies that please may have their own effigies in Myrtle, or their husband's in Horn-beam. He is a Puritan wag, and never fails, when he shows his garden, to repeat that passage in the Psalms, 'Thy Wife shall be as the fruitful Vine, and thy Children as Olive-branches round thy table.'
I proceed to his catalogue.

Adam and Eve in Yew; Adam a little shattered by the fall of the Tree of Knowledge in the Great Storm; Eve and the Serpent very flourishing.
Noah's ark in Holly, the ribs a little damaged for want of water.
The Tower of Babel, not yet finished.

St. George in Box; his arm scarce long enough, but will be in a condition to stick the Dragon by next April.
A green Dragon of the same, with a tail of Ground- Ivy for the present.
N. B. These two not to be sold separately.

Edward the Black Prince in Cypress.
A Laurstine Bear in Blossom, with a Juniper Hunter in Berries.
A pair of Giants, stunted, to be sold cheap.

A Queen Elizabeth in Phyllirea, a little inclining to the green sickness, but of full growth.
Another Queen Elizabeth in Myrtle, which was very forward, but miscarried by being too near a Savine.
An old Maid of honour in Wormwood.
A topping Ben Johnson in Laurel.

Divers eminent modern Poets in Bays, somewhat blighted, to be disposed of a pennyworth.
A quick-set Hog shot up into a Porcupine, by being forgot a week in rainy weather.
A Lavender Pigg, with Sage growing in his belly.
A pair of Maidenheads in Fir, in great forwardness.

(accompanied by Pope's drawing of Twickenham church, as seen over the naturalized treeline of his own garden, from the library of grandee Horace Walpole and now in the collection of the Yale University Library.)

Topiary: Martial Art?



In my latest fit of manuscript writing I came across an intriguing reference to early topiary forms being derived from sentinels. As castles devolved into houses rather than fortifications, the tradition of a guard standing watch was retained in harmless, but still imposing, evergreen form.

I haven't been able to confirm this by any other references but many of the older topiary forms are in fact distinctly soldier-like. The topiary at Levens Hall in Cumbria, shown here, is some of the oldest in the world, dating to the late seventeenth century, though it has been re-cut over the years.


Older English topiary work tends to be strongly anthropomorphic; Levens also featured forms representing Queen Elizabeth I and her ladies in waiting, attired in bulbous green hoop skirts. The twelve apostles in yew were a perennially popular theme. The Asian topiary tradition, on the other hand, is distinctly different than that of Europe--the favorite motif being cloud-like forms--and topiary has a much less significant place in youthful American garden history, which has no castle antecedents, than in the ancient traditions of England and France, which was the source of the sentinel reference.

Perhaps it is why topiary still seems so appropriate at gates and entrances, stiffly standing guard.
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