Sunday, December 26, 2010

Real Jardin Botanico, Madrid, Spain

The Royal Botanic Garden, Madrid, Spain

Larix Bonsai in fall color
Before I left on this trip I sent a message to Jean Vache’ of the Mediterranean Garden Society in Pasadena telling her I was going to Spain and Morocco.  She very kindly sent messages to members in Spain and a few of them actually contacted  me.  So when I was in Madrid, I had the fortune of meeting with Silvia Villegas Navarro, the Conservator of Living Collections at the Royal Botanic Garden.  Before we met outside the gate, I toured the Royal Botanic Gardens on a beautiful afternoon bathed in wonderful light. 

Museo del Prado
The garden is located next to the World-renowned  Prado Art Museum.  It was originally commissioned by King Fernando VI to house a collection of 2,000 plants collected by the botanist Jose’ Quer y Martinez on another site, and was moved to it’s present location by King Carlos III, the new garden opening in 1781.  The garden was designed on four terraces, with a reservoir at the top level to provide water  through out the garden.  One of the most pleasant features is the siting of circular stone fountains fed by natural water  pressure at the center of each parterre, where gardeners could conveniently scoop water with a bucket to irrigate the surrounding beds.  The beds were arranged using the taxonomy system developed by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus.  The Garden’s Herbarium contains over 1 million specimens of plants from all over the World.  The garden is also home to a large number of stray cats, which for some reason is typical of botanical gardens I’ve visited in other cities.
Terraza de los Cuadros Fountains

The terraces are divided by clipped hedges of Laurus nobilis punctuated by statues of historic figures in the field of botany.  The uppermost terrace is called the Terrace of the Laurels, with a fine collection of bonsais added in 1985. Below this is the Villanueva Pavilion, which was exhibiting a fantastic collection of botanical paintings called Images of Paradise.  This show featured stunning botanical paintings of tropical flora from South America from the renowned collections by José Celestino Mutis (1783-1816), and the modern private collection by Shirley Sherwood from Kew Gardens in London.
Oval Pool and bust of Carl Linnaeus

One of the Grape Arbors
The Desert Garden
The Terraza del Plano de la Flor fronts the Villanueva Pavilion, centered on an oval pond with a statue of Carl Linnaeus at it’s center.  There is a nice Taxodium distichum, the Bald Cypress from the S.E. of the U.S to one side in full bronze fall color.  Trees and shrubs are arranged around curving symmetrical paths.  One of my favorite parts of the garden were the iron arbors with varietal  grapes grown throughout Spain, and an alley of types of olive trees, though many of these were not in the greatest of health, possibly due to shading by other trees.  On the north side of this terrace are two greenhouses containing a nice little desert garden, a tropical garden with misters, and a temperate garden.
Terraza de las Escuelas Botanicas

Below this is the Terraza de las Escuelas Botanicas, which  contains 12 square beds with plants arranged phylogenetically,  from the most primitive species to later states of evolution.  There is a small fountain at the center of each of these beds.
Terraza de las Escuelas Botanicas
The Terraza de los Quadros is the lowest terrace with 16 parterres containing ornamental, medicinal, aromatic,  endemic, and edible plants, and a small orchard of fruit trees.  The parterres are lined with low clipped boxwood hedges in either linear, square, round, or octagonal shapes which breaks up the monotony that is often found in formal gardens. 

Vegetable Beds, Terraza de los Cuadros
The plantings were expanded considerably by a collection of some10,000 plants brought to Spain by the remarkable explorer Alessandro Malaspina in 1794.  This sea captain traveled extensively all over the World, including the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, mapping coastlines and establishing relations with native peoples with the goal of expanding Spain’s colonial influence. 

Square Parterre, Terraza de los Quadros
Ulmus minor, the Field Elm
Each parterre in the garden contains a different grouping of plants with varying themes, though the academic and scientific aspects have given way to more ornamental ones, such as displays of flowers and vegetables , and the ubiquitous rose garden. Some plants are grown simply to show that they can be and are struggling along, but there are many beautiful specimens.  Many of the largest trees were  lost in an 1886 cyclone so there are few ancient trees.  Perhaps the largest remaining tree in the garden is a two trunked Ulmus minor, the Field Elm which I believe is named for it’s resemblance to a pair of pants.  There are some lovely specimens of Sophora japonica and it’s weeping form as well.  I noticed some plants common to the Pacific Northwest, such as Mahonia aquifolium, our Oregon Grape, Symphoricarpos albos, the Snowberry, which was sporting lots of nice white berries, Pseudotsuga menziesii, the Douglas Fir, and Calocedrus decurrens, the California Incense Cedar.

Steps cut around the roots of a Cypress Tree
Nice details in the garden include a set of stone stairs cut around the roots of an old Cypress tree.  There is a beautiful gate called the Puerta del Rey that fronts the Paseo del Prado with two round guard houses.  The primary gate is the Puerta de Murillo, facing the Museo del Prado with a ticket booth and small funky garden shop selling sad little plants, seeds, bulbs, books and gifts.  It is here that I met Silvia and her husband after my self guided tour.  We went to a nearby café for a beer and talked about our careers and the joys and pitfalls of gardening and garden maintenance.  She described the volcano concept where the gardeners continuously remove all the fallen plant matter leaving a cone of bare earth at the base of each plant.  Her English husband is doing a private garden consulting business for estates around Madrid.  They met in London while working at the Kew Gardens.

Puerta del Rey
From there we walked to the nearby Caixa Forum, where French designer Patrick Blanc has installed on of his fantastic vertical gardens on the north facing wall of a building.  Looking something like an abstract painting, the wall has grown into an organic tapestry.  The plants are tucked in to small pockets cut in a kind of black fabric with an irrigation system built to water and fertilize the plants by saturating the fabric.  He has a fantastic book called Vertical Gardens that I bought earlier this year, with many of his projects in his native Paris.
The Caixa Forum Vertical Garden

I hope to give a lecture at the Royal Botanic Garden before I fly home in early March, perhaps the prelude to a lecture I will be giving twice in Southern California in April on ‘The Pleasure Garden’ including fantastic Islamic gardens and architecture I am seeing while traveling in Morocco and Andalusia in Southern Spain.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Madrid, Morocco, and Andalusia

On December 5th I am returning to a place I haven't been in 23 years, the beautiful country of Spain.  My first trip to Europe in 1987 was one of the formative ones that showed me what I was capable of doing as a traveler later on.  This trip was also a pilgrimage, much like last winter's adventures in Italy.
Me in the Court of the Lions in 1987
When I was going to the University of Oregon, landscape architecture students were treated to a lecture on the Alhambra and Moorish palaces of Spain as part of a lecture series  by Professor Ron Lovinger, teaching about Vernacular in the Landscape.   Vernacular, or the "Sense of Place" is when a landscape becomes an identifying feature of the environment in relation to humanity.  It tells the story of why it is there.  With the spread of information and advances in transportation, landscapes often become more cosmopolitan, or international.  In a sense these places loose their relationship with both the environment and humanity.

Seeing Moorish architecture first hand changed my life.  The breathtaking order in which spaces and surfaces are treated  is some of the most appealing ornamentation I have ever seen.  Nature and math are blended in to designs in stucco relief, wood marquetry, tile zelliges, and pebble mosaic.   The last two art forms became a key part of my life's work from then on.

Across the Straight of Gibraltar from Spain lies Morocco, a land I have always wanted to visit.  I found in my research that Morocco was the first sovereignty to recognize the United States of America as an independent country from the British.  There are similarities in the style of some architecture between Spain and Morocco but due to vernacular, there are distinctions that I want to observe.

After a week in Madrid I will fly to Fez, where I am meeting a couple of friends I met in Rome at a wild New Years party I threw in my lovely sublet there.  And thus will begin my Moroccan adventure.  I have no set plan beyond Fez, just a desire to return to Andalusia in Spain in early February to visit Cadiz, Jerez de la Frontera, Ronda, Cordoba, and Granada before returning to Madrid.  I will be writing essays on various subjects and gardens along the way to post here with photo galleries.

 The photo of me is in the Patio de los Leones, the Court of the Lions, in the Alhambra in Granada.  I was 28 years old and still tucked my shirt in like my Mother always told me to do.

                                                    Stucco relief in the Alhambra, Granada
I plan on self publishing a book on what I see this winter to accompany a lecture I will be giving at the San Diego Horticulture Society and Los Angeles Horticulture Society in Riverside in April of 2011.

Nos vemos, Jeffrey

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Gardens of Jeffrey Bale, the book on my work

A self published book on my work you can order from the link below
Sunken Garden for Brooke Adams and Tony Shalhoub, Los Angeles

The Tango Terrace, on a garage roof, Portland

A Patio and walls I built for my Mother, Eugene, Oregon
This is a wonderful self published book on my work as a builder of gardens over the last 20 years.  You can view the entire book or order it from the link at:

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Gardens of Southern Italy, a book by Jeffrey Bale

A self published book I created with 160 pages of amazing photos that I shot in the winter of 2009/10, featuring wonderful gardens I visited in Southern Italy.  You can view the book and order copies by clicking on the link below.  Makes a great gift!

The Gardens of Southern Italy

The Mouth of Hell, Bomarzo, near Viterbo

In early December of 2009 I flew to Rome, Italy to fulfill a long overdue dream of living in that most beautiful and historically significant city for a time.  I also had been wanting to experience a number of gardens that I had known of since I was a student of Landscape Architecture at the University of Oregon some 30 years before.  Italian gardens are best known for their structure, and floral plantings rarely allude to historical intention, so it could be said that in winter the gardens look more as they were originally intended.  The winter light is extraordinary and the lack of crowds in many places made it possible to take great photos.  This book, The Gardens of Southern Italy is a collection of beautiful images I captured using a wonderful new little camera, the Lumix DMC-LX3.  Small enough to fit in my pocket, this camera takes photos of very high quality similar to a good SLR camera and has a Leica lens.   I was so happy with the images that I decided to self publish a book on the Blurb Booksmart site.

The book begins with what is perhaps the most fabulous water garden on Earth, the Villa d'Este in the town of Tivoli, a short distance from Rome.  Commissioned by the ambitious Cardinal Ippolito II d' Este at the site of a monastery that was deeded to him by the Pope Julius III in the middle of the 16th Century, the gardens were developed according to the plans of architect Pirro Ligorio.  Diverting large portions of two rivers that supplied water to the town enabled the construction of numerous dramatic and innovative fountains and cascades alluding to classical mythology and fantasy.  Much of the statuary originally displayed in the garden was excavated from the Villa Adriana, the nearby ancient citadel of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.  The villa stands high above the garden terraces with a grand view over the countryside.  Water pressure provided by the vertical drop enabled the creation of powerful fountain jets shooting as much as 10 meters in the air.  Every element of the garden alludes to a classical tale or divine reference.  The Fontana Ovata, an egg shaped pool with a rustic arched nymphaeum on the uphill side is presided over by the Sibylla of Tiber and her son Melicerte (a long story) above where a dramatic arched cascade pours in to the pool.  The spectacular Walk of 100 fountains connects the Fontana Ovata to the Rometta, a symbolic connection to the city of Rome.  A restored water organ, partly designed by the sculptor Bernini plays music with the use of water pressure.  The Neptune fountain below it has all the power of a cataract with huge jets and cascades contrasting with a row of tranquil 3 reflective fish ponds below it.  A multi breasted Diana of Ephesus, a depiction of the patron of the Goddess of that ruined Roman city in present day Turkey once resided in the central arch of the water organ, but was moved to a more discreet part of the garden before a papal visit.  Water channels flow down the handrails of two symmetrical curving staircases flanking the Fountain of the Dragon with its towering central jet of water rising from four entertwined dragons.  The fountain was redesigned to commemorate the visit of Pope Gregory XIII, the dragon being his family crest.  It would take an entire essay on its own to discuss the many elements of this remarkable garden, which was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2001, enabling significant restoration efforts.  I had the luxury of a beautiful winter day here with blue skies and silvery clouds, and almost no people.  Therefore I was totally in heaven.

The next garden in the book is the Villa Adriana itself.  Heavily plundered for building materials, this once vast complex was built in the 2nd Century AD.  What remains today are mere remnants of once grand buildings and reservoirs.  The most famous pool is that of the Canopus, which inspired a modern recreation at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles.   There are lovely remnants of mosaic flooring but it is hard to visualize what the place must have been like in it's original condition.  My favorite image of the Villa was the sky reflected in the glassy waters of a large rectangular reservoir and tall Italian Cypresses.  The villa grounds are surrounded by beautiful old olive orchards with gnarled, twisted trunks, and the villa was listed as a Unesco World Heritage in 1999.
The Canopo, Villa Adriana

Giardino Secreto, Villa Doria Pamphili
The Villa Pamphili in Rome was the home of Pope Innocent X, who on ascending to the Papal Throne in 1664 commenced to build a villa to display his collection of classical Roman sculpture.  The grounds of the villa are now Rome's largest public park.  A grand parterre of unusual design is the most striking feature, ironically named the Giardino Segretto, or secret garden.  Potted lemon trees had been bagged in white plastic to protect them from winter frosts.  Much of the grounds were later remodeled in the manner of a picturesque English park with sinuous lakes and dense thickets of trees.

The second largest and most popular park in Rome are the grounds of the Villa Borghese, who's development was begun in 1605 by the nephew of Pope Paul V, the Cardinal Scipione Borghese.  A large villa was constructed to house his extensive art collection.  Much of the garden was redeveloped as an English park in the 19th Century.  The dramatic silhouettes of umbrella like Italian Stone Pines and Oriental Plane Trees tower over lanes leading to fountains and architectural follies.  Neoclassical buildings added during the 1911 World Exhibition include the excellent Museo de Arte Moderno with monumental sculptures in it's courtyards.
Limonera, Villa Borghese

Bunny Fountain at the Villa Borghese

The next section of the book is dedicated to the fountains of Rome.  The city is graced with hundreds of fountains that provided access to drinking water diverted to the city by a series of ancient aquaducts.  It is indeed a luxury to be able to fill up your water bottle from such elegant sources.  Every square is graced with one, the most famous being the Fontana di Trevi, which features the God Oceanus presiding over a cascade of sculpted white marble rock formations.  He is flanked by two women, representing Abundance and Salubrity.  Two horses, one wild and one tame are led by Tritons, rising from the stones below.   Perhaps my favorite page in the book is one with photos of the four expressive masks that flank the cardinal directions of an obelisk in the Piazza della Rotunda in front of the Pantheon. Another of my favorites is the fountain of books, which stands quite literally in a niche outside the University of Rome's library.  The fountains of Rome deserves its own publication.  Perhaps someday I can write it.
Fountain at the Villa Medici

Bamboo Grove in the Orto Botanico
The Orto Botanico is Rome's botanical garden, which lies behind the Villa Corsini in the medieval neighborhood of Trastevere.  It is a quiet respite from the city, with a lovely collection of palms and extensive groves of bamboo.  I actually climbed over the wrought iron fence to enter this garden as I came upon it while exploring a dark muddy track coming down the bluff from the Gianicolo.  Its easier to pay the entry fee and enter legally from a narrow lane by the Villa Corsini.

River God at the Villa Lante
Cataena d' Acqua, Villa Lante
80 kilometers north of Rome is the medieval city of Viterbo, which I visited because of it's proximity to 3 of the most important Renaissance Mannerist gardens in Italy.  The Villa Lante is considered the finest example of this period.  I waited for the bus to come but wound up walking the 3 kilometers to the lovely town of Bagnaia where the garden lies, passing the gates of grand old villas in the countryside.  Construction of the villa commenced in 1566 by the Cardinal Gianfracesco Gambara on the site of a hunting park.  The garden is unique in that it is the main feature rather than the two matching casini, or small villas that flank each side of the axis above a large four part water parterre.  Normally villa gardens flanked a dominating villa structure.  At the top of the slope, water drips from a rustic grotto, cascading down a series of terraces through fountains representing the four elements, which eventually emerge from a canopy of plane trees into the open water parterre, which represents man's orderly conquest of nature through the use of reason.  The fountain of the Moors at it's center was added later.  Four naked Moorish boys hold a star aloft with water shooting from its points.  One of the more remarkable water elements is the Catena d'acqua, or water chain, a linear channel in the form of an elongated crayfish.  The name Gambara is similar to the Italian word for crayfish and became the families emblem.  After dropping down a dramatic cascade representing the element of Earth, flanked by huge stone River Gods, the water runs through a trough in the center of a banquet table, believed to have been used to chill wine during alfresco feasts.  From there the water drops to the next level at the Fountain of the Lamps.  Carved stone oil lamps with jets of water would light up in late afternoon sunlight like flames.  I was blessed to be the only visitor in the garden that day, one of the glorious perks of traveling in winter.

Fountain of the Moors, Villa Lante
The Tortoise and Whale, Bomarzo

It was a bit of an adventure to get to the town of Bomarzo via public transport to visit the Sacro Bosco, or Sacred Grove, also known as the Monster Park.  I was dropped off some distance from the garden outside what seemed to be a deserted medieval town.  I had dreamt of this garden, imagining it to be dripping wet, shadowy, and draped in mystery.  It was as I imagined the day I visited.  Again, except for a woman selling tickets and two grounds keepers, I was the only person in the garden that day.   Passing through a small stone gate, I entered the fantasy World of Count Pier Francesco Orsini, who's palazzo stands defensively on the hill where the town of Bomarzo is perched.  This garden was built as a place to amaze guests with surreal depictions of mythological characters from some of the Count's favorite pieces of literature.  As I  wandered down paths through the dense forest I imagined that festivities held here were perhaps of a theatrical nature.  Inscriptions on stone plaques built in to walls provide verses from stories relating to the sculpture themes.  The garden is filled with monumental moss encrusted figures, often surreal and even frightening.  Most famous is the 'Mouth of Hell', a wavy haired ogre with a gaping mouth you can pass through to a small cave with a stone table carved in its center.  It is popular to think that picnics were held here but I sensed that the table was more of a handy place for sexual liasons.  The Count was quoted in one of his letters as saying he was 'a dry straw before the flames of lust'.  This is perhaps the most pagan of all of the Mannerist style gardens as the Count was not deeply aligned with the church.  It is interesting to note that little significance is given to Christianity in any of these gardens, even though they were usually commissioned by high ranking members of the Papal community.  

The Sleeping Nymph and her Guardian Dog
It actually snowed while crossing the hills on a bus to the town of Caprarola, which got the students on the bus very excited.  This did not make for a good day for garden touring.  My destination was the fortress like Villa Farnese which lords over the top of the main artery of the old town.  The inside of the villa is intricately painted and makes an interesting tour in spite of the less than enthusiastic guide who led me around.  No matter how persuasive I tried to be, the staff would not allow me to visit the gardens, which were flooded by the heavy rains of the day.  Needless to say I was the only one here, and I was distraught to travel all this way and not be able to see the heavily architectural garden behind the massive pentagonal villa.  As the heavy fog lifted I was able to capture some gorgeous images of the town emerging from it's veil.

The idea of sunnier weather lured me south to the city of Napoli, a grand and trashy jewel on the great bay of the same name.  Mt. Vesuvius lords over the scene.  And yes, I had the best pizza I can recall while there.  One of the architectural highlights of the city are the beautifully restored cloisters at the Basilica Santa Chiara, which was heavily damaged by allied bombing during World War II.  Brick paths are flanked by beautifully glazed tile benches and octagonal columns wrapped in painted garlands of lush foliage, fruit and flowers.

Further south from Napoli is the infamous ruined city of Pompeii.  One of the most important archeological sites in the Western World, the city was buried under a flow of hot ash in 79 AD essentially sealing that moment in time and preserving it until excavations began in the mid 18th Century.  The erotic content of many of the frescos and sculpture found led to a kind of archeological censorship and those images were locked away until recently.  The mosaic work displayed in the National Museum of Archaeology are some of the finest I have ever seen.  Houses typically had rectangular courtyards with a cistern underneath for the storage of rain water collected from the roofs and pavements.  Pompeii is one of the most visited sites in Italy, with over 2 million visitors a year, but on this gorgeous sunny winter day I was able to find solitude, and by late afternoon was the only person still in the ruins.
Ancient Street in Pompeii

Italy is a feast of magnificent destinations and the Amalfi Coast is one of those places I have always wanted to explore.  I based myself in the tourist town of Sorrento and took bus rides back and forth along the narrow winding highway to Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello.  Sorrento is known for it's painted ceramics and grand hotels perched on cliffs high above the Bay of Naples.  It makes a good base for exploring the coast and the island of Capri.   Positano is one of those infamous towns because it is impossibly picturesque with its colorful buildings stacked on the steep cliffs rising from a sheltered gravel beach.  When I arrived and walked down the main pedestrian lane, I came upon a wedding at the church.  The well to do bride and groom were being showered with rice and symbolic Jordan almonds in the piazza.  The beautiful bride and groom later came down on to the deserted beach to be photographed, while I was sunbathing alone in my underwear.  They made a wide arc around as to avoid me.  I actually got teary eyed as the bus made its way along the cliffs and passed through tunnels on the way to the town of Amalfi.  The coastline is one of the most beautiful in Europe, with villas and medieval castles clinging to it's flanks and promontories.   

Cloisters, Villa Rufolo
High above the port of Amalfi sits the fabled town of Ravello, once the home of author Gore Vidal.  At the very edge of the cliff with an impossibly stunning view of the coast sits the Villa Rufolo.  Built in the 13th Century, the Norman style villa has an Arabic flavor.  Cloisters were added in the 18th Century and the gardens a century later.   When the composer Richard Wagner visited he exclaimed that he had found the 'Garden of Klingsor' from his opera Parsifal.  At the very edge of the cliff is the Belvedere, a formal parterre who's beds were dotted with perfectly spaced pansy starts the day I visited.  A major classical music festival is held here every year.

Courtyard, Villa San Michele, Capri
I took a ferry out to the Island of Capri to visit the Villa San Michele, the former home of Swedish physician and author Axel Munthe.  Built on the ruins of a villa built for the Roman Emperor Tiberius by the town of Anacapri, the whitewashed villa and gardens command a breathtaking view of the Bay of Napoli, Mt. Vesuvius, and the town of Capri.  The narrow garden clings to the cliff with a lovely wisteria draped pergola running along it's edge.  I was once again, the only person there that day.

Ornamental Grille on a Garage, Lecce
It would take years to do a proper tour of Italy, but I was only there for 2 1/2 months, so I had to chose wisely as to where to go.  It was a tempting description of the town of Lecce in the province of Puglia that drew me to it.  I wanted to take a ship across the Ionian Sea from Brindisi to Patra in Greece, so I took the train to Bari and then down to Lecce in the heel of the boot shape of Italy.  The city is nicknamed 'the Florence of the South' as it's historical center is packed with magnificent Baroque architecture.  I found a lovely bed and breakfast and spent 5 days soaking up the subdued atmosphere of its creamy yellow limestone architecture overlaying ancient Greek and Roman foundations.  The stone is soft and easy to sculpt so buildings tend to be richly ornamented.  Weathering of softer stone has created a fascinating organic decomposition of some of the ornamentation.  At the edge of the old walled city toward the train station I found a row of wonderful Moorish style villas with striped facades and crenelated rooflines.  This only reinforced my desire to return to Andalusia and to visit Morocco on my next journey.

After traveling to Athens for a week to meet with a Greek mosaic artist I flew to Beirut to visit friends for 10 days.  It was interesting to travel back in time civilization wise from Roman to Greek, to Phoenician cultures.  Even more interesting is that the largest Roman temples ever built lie in the Bekaa Valley at the town of Baalbek.  The largest stone columns on Earth and the largest known stones ever hewn lie here.  One weighs an estimated 1,200 tons.  Yet another pilgrimage for the stone obsessed person that I am.
Jupiter Temple, Baalbek, Lebanon

I returned to Athens for a short time and then flew to Palermo in Sicily.  The weather forecasts there were enticing and I had been asked repeatedly if I was planning on visiting this notorious island, so how could I resist?  Palermo was once the greatest city in Europe at the height of Norman rule.  Now a gritty relic of its glory days, the city has a wonderful patina and heaps of uncollected trash.  At the center of the city is a large white marble fountain, the Fontana Pretoria, which has an unique ring of fountain heads in the form of various animals.  The fountain was dubbed 'the Fountain of Shame' by prudish parishoners coming from the surrounding churches because of the numerous classical nude sculptures that ring the fountains balustrades.  The lavish exterior of the city's Cathedral has a rather stark interior, while the Cappella Palatina, a chapel in the Palazzo dei Normanni is covered with some of the finest mosaic work in the World.  There is a lifelike 3 dimensional quality to the imagery.  Outside of Palermo in the village of Monreale is a much larger Cathedral encrusted in gold leaf glass mosaic built by the Grandson of Roger II, who commissioned the Cappella Palatina.  Though magnificent, the rendering of the mosaics doesn't have the realism of their predecessor's.   On the other hand, the cloisters at Monreale are among the finest in Europe, with 216 pairs of columns, no two of the intricly carved capitals being alike.  Pebble mosaic is a common surface treatment in Sicily I found some lovely examples in the courtyards of old palazzos.  There is also a well maintained Botanical Garden in Palermo where many varieties of citrus were introduced in to cultivation.  Another of the perks of traveling in winter were that the citrus trees were laden with fruit.  The markets in Sicily overflow with wonderful produce and there is are 2 pages of images celebrating this colorful bounty.
Turtles in the Orto Botanico in Palermo

Catania, the other great city of Sicily lies on the Eastern coast on the Ionian Sea.  The city's historic center is a World Heritage Site based on one of the earliest and most ambitious urban renewal projects that occurred after a great earthquake destroyed the city in 1693 with the eruption of nearby Mt. Etna.  The stone work has a dark grey color that gives the city a distinctive look.  I found a great deal of pebble mosaic here, including the pavements of the pleasant Botanical Garden.  

Folly, Vill Communale, Taormina
Just to the north lies the ancient town of Taormina, which has been inhabited for nearly 3,000 years.  The most spectacularly sited Greek theater in the World is found here, and an eccentric garden built by the Englishwoman Florence Trevelyan at the end of the 19th Century.  A botanist and ornithologist, she was asked to leave England after having intimate contact with the future King Edward.  After moving to Taormina she began construction of extensive gardens paved in a mixture of pebble mosaic and perforated bricks.  The garden is dotted with impressive follies built using ancient stone remnants of previous Greek and Roman structures blended with brick.  The arched buildings are perforated by many arches and have whimsical projecting balconies and railings made of rustic branches.  I found the construction to be beautifully composed and often very ambitious.  One tower is at least 5 stories tall, commanding grand views of the surrounding landscape.  Most of the structures are closed to public access but that allows for them to be preserved without structural remodeling so that their rustic charm can be maintained.
Excavated stones from ancient Greek ruins are artfully combined with brick to create follies in the Villa Comunale

I returned to Rome by train.  The train actually drives on to the ferry for the trip from Messina to the mainland.  Needless to say I was very sad to leave Italy, and even cried on the plane.  It seems that everyone who spends time there becomes transfixed by the country.  I hope to return some day.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why I don't use Pesticides

Ortho's Bug b Gon
This is an article I wrote last year.  I think it is very important to consider...

This Spring, my sister in law was telling me about her garden.  Her most alarming story was the day she found aphids on her roses and decided to spray them.  She found a container of Sevin in the garage, and after reading the label decided that it was too much trouble to cover her entire body in protective clothing and don a respirator and rubber gloves.  A few minutes after spraying the aphids she could taste the Sevin in her mouth.  It had quickly been absorbed by her skin as that is how it works.  She felt a little dizzy, queasy, and had to go lay down. 

I decided to look up the more popular pesticides for garden use and see what kind of articles I could find.  I found an interesting range of results, the manufacturers downplaying the risks while other studies posed serious questions about the risks to humans.  Aside from that it was obvious that these pesticides are highly toxic to bees, bird and aquatic life. 

Here are some of the things I found:

“One of the rites of spring is planting those first bulbs or seeds in anticipation of a flourishing garden during the warmer months.  But backyard pests, who have spent the winter eagerly waiting to ravage your garden, also look forward to blooming flowers and tasty vegetables.  Fortunately, with the proper knowledge and techniques, your garden will flourish and be insect-free.”

From  We Call it Magic Dust
tchoate's Full Review: Sevin-10 Bug Killer Dust
Is it Magic Dust? I think so, and would like to tell you why.

We live in East Texas were it is hot, dry and the bugs just seem to love my garden. We plant a fairly nice size garden every spring and we seem to fight ants, worms, lady bugs and many other garden variety type of insects. We have used Sevin-10 on our garden for the last three years.

We start by using this as soon as our plants are in the ground. We sprinkle the Sevin-10 on the ground around the plants. As the plants grow, we begin to sprinkle the Sevin-10 on the leaves of the plant and the ground. We immediately notice that the bugs begin to fly away as we are sprinkling. I am not sure that this magic dust kills the bugs, but it sure seems to repel them from the plants.

Since beginning to use Sevin-10 our gardens have seemed to have less bugs. We usually have to retreat about every 14 days, after that length of time we see that the bugs seem to be coming back. We grow tomatoes, onions, beans, and okra, Sevin-10 has not ever harmed any of these plants. But it has protected them from the worms that tend to love my tomatoes, and the bugs that love my beans and okra.

Well now that I have told you what we originally bought this Magic Dust for let me tell you of a few other uses that we have found for it. We have 2 blue heeler dogs that live outside. The fleas for some reason tend to really be attracted to these two animals. We have taken our Sevin-10 and sprinkled it directly on the dogs and rubbed it into their hair and it works great. The fleas leave them alone for about 14 days until it is time for bath day and another treatment. I did question my vet and he said as long as we keep it out of their eyes that it would not hurt them. This is definitely a cheaper way to treat our outside dogs than the high priced flea medicine that didn't seem to work. We also sprinkle it around where they lay and sleep to help keep that area flea free also.

From Wikipedia:
Carbaryl (1-naphthyl methylcarbamate) is a chemical in the carbamate family used chiefly as an insecticide. It is a colorless white crystalline solid. It is commonly sold under the brand name Sevin, a trademark of the Bayer Company. Originally, Union Carbide discovered carbaryl and introduced it commercially in 1958, and it remains the third-most-utilized insecticide in the United States for home gardens, commercial agriculture, and forestry and rangeland protection. Bayer purchased Aventis CropScience in 2002, a company that included Union Carbide pesticide operations.
Its safety is somewhat controversial. It is a cholinesterase inhibitor and can be toxic to humans with excessive exposure, though no known fatalities have been reported. It is classified as a likely human carcinogen by the EPA. It kills various beneficial insect and crustacean species along with the pests it is intended for, so care must be taken when spraying in areas where such species are present. Carbaryl is acutely toxic to honeybees and can destroy colonies of bees that are foraging in an area where the chemical has been applied.

From the Sevin product label:
We do know that carbaryl is quite toxic to honey bees, certain beneficial insects such as lady beetles, and parasitic wasps and bees, certain species of aquatic insects, and some forms of shellfish such as shrimp and crabs. Care must be taken when using carbaryl in areas where these organisms exist.

Malathion is a pesticide that is widely used in agriculture, residential landscaping, public recreation areas, and in public health pest control programs such as mosquito eradication.[2] In the US, it is the most commonly used organophosphate insecticide. [3]

Department of Health and Human Services
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
The general population is probably not exposed to malathion regularly. However, malathion is used to treat head lice on humans, to kill fleas on pets, and to kill insects in gardens. Exposure to malathion may also occur at farms where it has been sprayed on crops. Exposure to high amounts of malathion can cause difficulty breathing, chest tightness, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, blurred vision, sweating, headaches, dizziness, loss of consciousness, and possibly death. This chemical has been found in at least 21 of the 1,636 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

  .    Effects on birds: Malathion is moderately toxic to birds.
  .    Effects on aquatic organisms: Malathion has a wide range of toxicities in fish, extending from very highly toxic in the walleye (96-hour LC50 of 0.06 mg/L) to highly toxic in brown trout (0.1 mg/L) and the cutthroat trout (0.28 mg/L), moderately toxic in fathead minnows (8.6 mg/L) and slightly toxic in goldfish (10.7 mg/L) [13,8,16]. Various aquatic invertebrates are extremely sensitive, with EC50 values from 1 ug/L to 1 mg/L [28]. Malathion is highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates and to the aquatic stages of amphibians. Because of its very short half-life, malathion is not expected to bioconcentrate in aquatic organisms. However, brown shrimp showed an average concentration of 869 and 959 times the ambient water concentration in two separate samples [12].

Dursban is a product name for the chemical chlorpyrifos. Chlorpyrifos is one of the class of chemicals known as organophosphates. These are complex chemicals widely used as pesticides in agriculture. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that approximately 60 million pounds of organophosphates will be applied to approximately 60 million acres of crops in the United States this year. Dursban also has been used in pesticide sprays for residential and institutional use, including the sprays used by professional exterminators.

From a CNN report. 
“But after a lengthy review, the EPA concluded that chlorpyrifos -- sold by Dow AgroSciences under the trade names Dursban and Lorsban -- poses a risk to children because of its potential effects on the nervous system and possibly brain development.”


Diazinon (O,O-diethyl-O-(2-isopropyl-6-methyl-pyrimidine-4-yl)phosphorothioate), a colorless to dark brown liquid, is a thiophosphoric acid ester developed in 1952 by Ciba-Geigy, a Swiss chemical company (later Novartis and then Syngenta). It is a nonsystemic organophosphate insecticide formerly used to control cockroaches, silverfish, ants, and fleas in residential, non-food buildings. Bait was used to control scavenger wasps in the western U.S. Residential uses of diazinon were cancelled in 2004; it is still approved for agricultural uses.

Clemson University Pesticide Information Program:
DIAZINON is the most widely used pesticide by homeowners on lawns, and is one of the most widely used pesticide ingredients for application around the home and in gardens. It is used to control insects and grubs. The agreement betwen EPA and diazinon manufacturers (5 December 2000), Syngenta and Makhteshim Agan, will eliminate 75 percent of the use which amounts to more than 1 million pounds of the pesticide used annually. Diazinon's use on turf poses a risk to birds, and it is one of the most commonly found pesticides in air, rain, and drinking and surface water.

Department of Health and Human Services:
Diazinon affects the nervous system in children and adults alike. Some mild symptoms of exposure are headache, dizziness, weakness, feelings of anxiety, constriction of the pupils of the eye, and not being able to see clearly. More severe symptoms include nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps, slow pulse, diarrhea, pinpoint pupils, difficulty breathing, and passing out (coma). Very high exposure to diazinon can result in death.

  .    What advice does EPA have to consumers regarding disposal of any unwanted or unused diazinon product?
  .    Consumers who chose to dispose of remaining diazinon products rather than use them up should contact their state or local hazardous waste disposal program or local solid waste collection service for information on proper disposal in their community. Consumers who have opened containers should be informed that the pesticide is potentially harmful to the environment, and should not be disposed of in sinks, toilets, storm drains, or any body of water. 

The local government may recommend that consumers take diazinon products to a household hazardous waste collection site.
Acephate (Orthene)
Acephate is an organophosphate foliar insecticide of moderate persistence with residual systemic activity of about 10-15 days at the recommended use rate. It is used primarily for control of aphids, including resistant species, in vegetables (e.g. potatoes, carrots, greenhouse tomatoes, and lettuce) and in horticulture (e.g. on roses and greenhouse ornamentals). It also controls leaf miners, caterpillars, sawflies and thrips in the previously stated crops as well as turf, and forestry.
Oregon State University Extension Toxicology Network
Organ Toxicity: Exposure effects of acephate in humans can include: cardiac responses (bradycardia/tachycardia, heart block), central nervous system impairment, eye problems (miosis/mydriasis, loss of accommodation, ocular pain, sensation of retrobulbar pressure, tearing, dark or blurred vision, conjunctiva hyperemia, cataracts), gastrointestinal problems (abdominal cramps, heart burn, hyperperistalsis), respiratory effects (apnea, dyspnea, hypopnea, atelectasis, bronchoconstriction, bronchopharyngeal secretion, chest tightness, productive cough, rales/ronchi, wheezing, pulmonary edema, laryngeal spasms, rhinorrhea, oronasal frothing) and death due to respiratory failure (108).
One walk down the garden chemical aisle at Home Depot, with its awful smell, is enough to wean me from using these products.  I stopped using pesticides and herbicides several years ago out of concern for my personal health and that of the environment around me. 
Even if the negative affects were minimal to non existent, the manufacture of these chemicals is a very toxic one.  Many of the country’s Superfund sites were created by companies making pesticides and herbicides.  Monsanto, the maker of Roundup is linked to 56 superfund sites, those found to be the most toxic places in the United States.  Bayer Cropscience, the maker of Sevin, is linked to 26 sites.  Ortho, a division of Chevron Oil is responsible for a superfund site near Orlando, Florida.  3/4’s of a million people live within 10 miles of this site.
This is serious stuff, and as gardeners, we have the option of not using toxic chemicals in our gardens. Better to not buy them and properly dispose of what you have and live on a healthier planet.

  .    Disposal Contacts
                        To identify a local solid waste agency, consumers may look in the government section of the phone book under categories such as solid waste, public works, or garbage, trash, or refuse collection.
To identify your state pesticide disposal program coordinator, see

Aphids do not cause nausea and blurred vision, or kill amphibians, birds, or honeybees.  A strong jet of water will remove them and you wont feel sick afterwards.  Neither will your garden.