Friday, April 27, 2012

Happy Arbor Day

Hundred year old magnolias planted as seeds or cuttings in the Bishop's Close Garden in Portland
Arbor Day is a national holiday in the United States that falls on the last Friday of every April.  It is a celebration of trees.  Arbor Day's original founder was a man named Sterling Morton.  He was a pioneer who moved to Nebraska in 1854 and as a journalist, become the editor of the Nebraska City News.  He and his wife Caroline were great lovers of nature.  On arrival to Nebraska, like many pioneers, they were affected by the lack of trees there, and began advocating the planting and preservation of trees by writing an article for the paper.  He went on to become Secretary of the Nebraska Territory, and later the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.   The first Arbor Day in Nebraska was celebrated on April 10, 1872.  Prizes were awarded to counties and individuals who planted the most trees, which inspired the planting of more than a million trees in the state on that day.  Arbor Day became a legal holiday in Nebraska in 1885 and the official date chosen was Sterling Morton's birthday on April 22.  Students in schools planted trees that were marked by their respective grades and were then cared for by each class, instilling in young people the idea of planting and tending trees.  The tradition of planting trees began nationwide shortly afterwards.  When I was in grade school we were given tree seedlings to take home and plant in our gardens on Arbor Day, which was instrumental in my wanting to become a garden designer later in life.
Tree planting ceremony with the children of my clients.  
Rare old growth Caribbean coastal forest in Colombia
Trees are essential for our survival on Earth.  They create the stable balance of elements in our atmosphere to make life possible.  They mitigate temperatures, regulate moisture, and bind the soil.  Their symbiotic relationship with a host of other organic components makes this planet hospitable for us as a species to survive.  Yet as a species we tend to strip away life from the Earth's surface and replace it with dead space for short term economic benefit.  It is believed that 30% of all tropical hardwoods used in furniture, and our ever more popular Ipe decks seen in gardening magazines is illegally logged.  That doesn't take in to account that what is legally logged is usually not environmentally responsible.  Plantation trees are grown on what was formerly wild forest.  I've seen vast areas in the tropics turned in to plantations. That teak bench with the seal of approval that makes you feel better came from wood that was grown in eroded monoculture rows of trees with no understory and little benefit to wildlife.

Old Growth Forest on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon
When I was growing up, Eugene, Oregon, my home town, was called the 'Timber capitol of the World'.  In my lifetime, vast areas of virgin forest were felled to supply the state's economy with lots of money.  When the trees were gone, the mills were automated and the economy became stagnant as thousands of timber industry workers were laid off.  Today only about 5% of the original old growth forests remain in the state.  Eugene is no longer the 'Timber Capitol of the World'.  It wasn't sustainable, although the industry still logs as much as it legally can.  In the Northeast of the United States, less than 1% of the original old growth forests remain.  It is far less than that in the Southeast and Southwest, and Great Lakes region.  We've cut it all down.  It is our duty, and essential for our survival that we plant trees and restore our forests.  Planting native trees will have the most benefit to native species, but there are many non native trees that can provide for a diversity of life as well.
Me sitting by the world's largest known Sitka Spruce Tree, Olympic National Park, Washington
Polly Hill Arboretum on the island of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts is a prime example of how one person planting trees can have a large scale impact.  Polly Hill was a woman who planted seeds, collecting species of native and rare exotic trees from around the world to create a garden that now covers 20 acres.  She preserved another 20 acres of her land as wild forest.  Growing trees from seed requires great patience, and she didn't start doing this until she was 51 years old.  In some ways what is most impressive about the arboretum is the ways the trees are arranged, so that they have room to mature to their best potential.  She had the vision to not pack them too close together so that they would become problematic or competitive with each other later on.  She passed away in 2007 at the age of 101 years, and her seedlings will live on for future enjoyment.  The Big leaf Magnolias (Magnolia macrophylla) and Stewartias, with their beautiful peeling mottled bark are the largest I have ever seen.

Inhaling the fragrance of a Bigleaf Magnolia blossom at Polly Hill Arboretum

Urban areas tend to be heavily paved.  The amount of area that actually contains living organisms tends to be rather small in comparison to the amount of space we need for housing and to drive and park out cars.
An aerial view of a section of the city of Los Angeles shows how trees are the only spots of green, and there aren't enough of them.
Street trees can help mitigate the lifeless lids that street pavement creates, shading the otherwise hot asphalt and reducing temperatures.  Do you have street trees in front of your house?  This could be a good place to consider planting a tree.  It is important to take into account the conditions required to grow in the strip between the sidewalk and curb.  How much space is there?  Will you be watering it?  Are their power lines overhead?  Be very thoughtful and do your research if you don't know what kind of tree to plant.  The city of Portland where I live has an active and successful program called 'Friends of Trees' that has instigated the planting of hundreds of thousands of trees along city streets.  I am not always thrilled with the species on the list, or the predominance of small trees over large ones, which eventually will change the look of streets that now have grand canopies of towering giants, but it is important to take seriously the scale with which a tree will attain with age.  Some trees, like Gingkoes, which I use a lot, will be able to adapt to increased pollution and temperature increases due to Global Warming.  Your town may very well have an organization that can help you make a selection, acquire the tree, and plant it properly.
A Koelreuteria paniculata tree I planted in the parking strip for my next door neighbors this spring.  I grew it from a seedling that I dug up from a clients garden 12 years ago.
Arbor Day is a symbol to remind us of the importance of planting trees.  The pink flowering dogwoods I bought for $10 each 30 years ago when I was quite poor and planted in front of my little house as street trees are in full bloom right now.   They are so beautiful.  Before that there were only two trees on my street.  I've since planted 5 more for my neighbors.  It is one way that I can make the street I live on a more beautiful and environmentally viable place to be.
Cornus florida 'Rubra' trees blooming on Arbor Day in front of my house in Portland
Happy Arbor Day.  Plant a tree!

Trees often outlive us and can become part of our legacy

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A lecture on April 10 in Eugene, Oregon

I will be giving my presentation called 'The Pleasure Garden' in Eugene at the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Hardy Plant Society on April 10.  Eugene is my home town, so it is a pleasure to bring some tales from my adventures back to my roots.  I first gave this talk at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Madrid, Spain last year, and later in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Bellingham, Washington.  It covers the history of gardening from its roots in the deserts of Persia, to the Phoenicians and Romans, Pompeii, the Arabs in North Africa and Spain, the Moghuls in India, and the colonization of the New World.  I follow a thread that binds the gardens that most resonant with, which just happen to be those that inspire pleasure.
A blurry image of the flyer

Growing up in Eugene and camping and fishing in the surrounding mountains instilled in me an intrinsic bond with nature.  We are not separate from nature but we are all too often divorced from it.  True paradise to me is one where the connection to the forces of nature are strongest.  What better way to awaken that connection than by lying down on a comfortable bed with pillows, or to soak in a hot scented bath while tricking fountains sing the song of snowmelt brooks and the sweet scent of jasmine drifts through the air.  The man made structure around it can invoke divinity through symbolism, numerology, and orientation to the sun, moon, and stars.  When the atmosphere is divine, the energy that is cultivated reinforces it.  Birds become trusting hop around while you blend in, and a joyous coexistence results.  To garden is to play with life.

It will be at the Campbell Senior Center at 155 High Street, at the edge of Skinners Butte Park (a place I love dearly).

If you are in the Eugene area and can come, I'll try to make it worth your while.  Ciao, Jeffrey

Glass floats in the pool in my garden

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Generalife

This essay is a continuation of the last one about the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.  In that essay we accomplished the equivalent of two days exploring the citadel of the Nasrid Emirs.  We will now cross the small valley that separates the Alhambra from the Generalife, which is one of the world's great water gardens.
The Generalife from Carmen de la Victoria in the Albayzin
"HIGH ABOVE the Alhambra, on the breast of the mountain, amidst embowered gardens and stately terraces, rise the lofty towers and white walls of the Generalife; a fairy palace, full of storied recollections."  Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra

The Generalife was once the summer palace of the Nasrid dynasty, which by being separate from the Alhambra was also considered to be something like a country estate, even though it is but a short walk away.
Patio de Acequia
The palace was commissioned by the Emir Muhammad III at the beginning of the 14th Century on the site of gardens that had been developed for 200 years previously as a playground retreat for the royal families.  They were considered to be outside the jurisdiction of the Alhambra city complex.  These gardens are located on a slope at a higher elevation than the Alhambra and encompass fine views of that fabled citadel.  The Generalife was subsequently remodeled by his nephew Abu l-Walid Ismail a decade later, adding additional palace structures and garden patios.

A dotted winter planting of ornamental kale
Crossing the ravine via an arched stone bridge that connects the tops of high defensive walls, the wide path skirts a broad modern plaza that is the site of of the Generalife Theater and the Festival of Music and Dance of Granada.  This outdoor auditorium was built between 1952 and inaugurated 1954.  It has undergone several renovations to improve the quality and range of performances but feels rather unworthy of the glorious space it inhabits when not in use, which is most of the time.  On the slopes below are orchards and beds of row crops consisting of artichokes and kale and fava beans in winter.

At the bottom of the ravine runs the road leading down to the Rio Darro and the Albayzin neighborhood, on the Cuesta del Rey Chico.
Cuesta del Rey Chico
Once past the theater, steps lead up to another terrace and the cypress hedged lower gardens of the Generalife.  The first part that you enter was built in 1951 as an extension to the hedged gardens further on that were built in the 1930's.  The gardens were designed by the architect/politician/preservationist Francisco Prieto Moreno in the Muslim style.  The state acquired ownership of the palace from the last private owner, the Marquis de Campote'jar, after a long legal battle.  He was a descendent of Familia Venegas, of whom a high ranking member of the family was deeded the property in 1631.  The site was formerly an alley of walnut trees and vegetable gardens to provide fresh produce for the palaces.

Interlocking circles in pebble mosaic in the lower gardens
The first thing you notice are the wonderful pebble mosaic paths framed by clipped cypress hedges that form rooms and alleys leading up to the palace on a long terrace.  The first part of the lower gardens of the Generalife are divided by a brick framed water channel in a style that is mimicked in gardens of this type throughout the world.  Two low marble basins anchor the ends of the long narrow pools, with another basin at the center in which thin arched jets of water splash.  The brick coping on the pools are ornamented with potted Pelargoniums in the summer.

Axial pool in the lower garden of the Generalife
At the center of the garden, dividing the two sections of the axial pool is the small round pool with four square cornered bays and a marble basin at the center.  This is the intersection of a perpendicular pair of shorter linear pools.  Fountain jets arching through the air shimmer like sparkling diamonds splashing in to the basin from all sides.  The four linear pools represent the Four Rivers of Paradise, water, milk, honey, and wine.  Everything in this garden is connected by water, as in the Alhambra.  Cypress trees frame the fountain and this is a popular place for people to stop to look up and down the long pools and pose for photos.

Central fountain in the lower gardens of the Generalife

Beyond the garden with the long pools are several intimate rooms created by the hedges on either side of the central axis.  The hedges are densely planted rows of clipped columnar cypress trees.  When they plant a hedge row, they place steel poles near either end with taught cables stretched between them at different heights to prevent the hedges from leaning.  Over time they fill in, covering the armature.  You can see an example of the cabling on the lower left side of the photo below.  The tops are clipped at different levels like towers framing the arched gateways carved in to the hedges that connect the garden rooms.
Cabled armatures provide stability in new Cypress hedges in the lower gardens
Hedged room in the lower gardens
Each room has a different pebble mosaic pattern.  On some of the paths there are wonderful mosaic vases with bouquets of flowers.  Another is a ring of birds, probably swallows.  Others are  tessellated geometric patterns like simpler versions of those carved in the stucco on palace walls.

There are fine views of the Alhambra across the ravine from here.

As you approach the palace of the Generalife there is another lovely fountain in the shape of a square with rounded bays on each side, and tiny arches of water splashing in to the center.

A brick edged fountain near the entrance of the Generalife
Below this is a narrow walled pathway that leads up from the ravine that was the old medieval access ramp to the palace.  This entrance is now closed to the public.  The entrance to the palace itself is through a courtyard called the Patio de Descabalgamieno, or Court of Dismounting.  There are footrests here that would have been used for mounting horses, hence the name.  The courtyard is a simple walled enclosure, with arched niches which might have been the stations of guards.  The floor is now a mosaic of pebbles with lines running from the four corners to a central fountain basin.  There are four orange trees planted in the corners of the patio that would fill it with the sweetest fragrance when in bloom.

Patio de Descabalgamieno
Espaliered orange trees frame arches on a patio off the Patio de la Acequia

From here there is a flight of steps to another small guard room and then you enter the Patio de la Acequia, or Court of the Water Channel.  This is the patio for which the Generalife is famed.  Two elegant pavilions anchor the ends of a long rectangular space, with an open arcade of white stuccoed arches along the south side that afford beautiful views of the Alhambra and the vegetable gardens below.
Patio de la Acequia
A long water canal bisects the courtyard into which a great many high arched narrow jets of water shoot through the air.  This makes a lot of delightful splashing sounds and cools the air on hot summer days.  The canal is flanked by flower beds and is bisected by a perpendicular path creating a symbolic four part paradise garden.  There are two of the very comfortable style Nasrid folding chairs on either end of the patio to sit and absorb the ambience of the space and it is well worth indulging in taking leave here.

Arched fountains in the Patio de Acequia
The Generalife has undergone a great deal of alteration over the years, in part because of the poor state of condition that resulted from years of neglect.  While doing archeological excavations after a fire in 1953, clay pipes were found that would have run 12 fountain jets in to the canal, but not so exuberantly as the many fountains that line the pool now.  The Nasrid preference seems to be rather more peaceful. The system that you see today was added in the 1,800's, and is considered a classic example of Andalusian waterworks that is often replicated in ambitious gardens around the world whenever a Moorish influence is desired.

The southern arcade of the Patio de Acequia
The patio was once entirely enclosed except for the mirador (viewpoint) in the royal chambers at the west end of the court.  The narrow open arcade along the south side was added after the reconquista.  The opposite side contains royal bedchambers and a high terrace wall.  The rooms on the west end are graced with elegant carved stucco and stalactite muqarna ceilings.  The mirador windows are low so that people could recline on cushions on the floor and gaze out over the gardens below and the city across the valley.  Unfortunately the mirador is roped off now for the sake of perservation, and it is difficult to get a good view of the parterres and fountains below the walls.
Facade of the royal chambers on the west end of the Patio de Acequia
The sculpted arch leading to the mirador
The beautiful mirador looking out to the Albayzin, with fretwork windows above.
A small muqarnas dome in the royal chambers
Arabic calligraphy in a doorway in the royal chambers
From the royal chambers on the west end of the patio there is a passageway that leads to another arcade opening on to the Patio de la Sultana, which was built in 1584 after the reconquista by Catholic monarchs.
The royal chambers
16th Century arcade opening on to the Patio de la Sultana
The patio contains a rectangular Myrtle hedged U-shaped pool with a square pool and a simple stone fountain at the center.  Several slender, tall water jets arch in to the pool from all sides.  The pool was drained for restoration this year but was opulently splashing away last year so I have photos of it in its full splendor.  It is quite deep and holds a great deal of water, being connected to the royal canal that is diverted from the Rio Darro far up the hill.  This water supplies all of the fountains in the Generalife and the Alhambra.
Patio de la Sultana with the ancient cypress tree of legend to the right.
The patio is named for the ancient cypress tree that dates from the time of the Moors.  Legend tells the story that the last Nasrid Emir, Baobdil's Sultana had secret rendezvous with a knight from the Abencerrajes family in a hollow in the tree's trunk.  On discovering this potential infidelity, Baobdil had the knights of the family summoned to the Patio de los Leones, where they were beheaded one by one in the hall that bears their name to this day.  This tale was immortalized by the writer Gines Perez de Hita, a 16th century Spanish writer who's historical novel, 'Guerras Civiles de Granada' was perhaps the first of its kind ever published and widely read.

Central fountain of the Patio de la Sultana
Two pebble mosaic paths with diamond patterns lead around the pool with a coat of arms of the Venegas family at the base of a handsome staircase that leads to the upper gardens centered on the far end.

Pebble mosaic path in the Patio de la Sultana
Coat of arms of the Venegas family in the Patio de la Sultana
Stairs leading from the Patio de la Sultana to the Upper Gardens
The upper gardens of the Generalife lie at the top of these stairs, which are guarded by two ceramic lions fashioned in the Granada style.  The gardens afford beautiful views of the Generalife and the Alhambra.
The Patio de Acequia from the upper gardens
Parts of the gardens date from the 19th century, while the famed Water Stairway is a heavily remodeled version of a staircase that dates from the time of the Moors.  They were described in the writings of the Venetian poet Andrea Navagiero in the early 1500's.  The stairs have round pebble mosaic landings with a simple fountain in the center of each.  What makes the staircase so charming is the water channels running down the balustrades, in which you can trail your hand in the cool water as you climb the stairs.  A bower of Laurel trees arches over them making for a cool retreat on hot summer days.

The Water Staircase
Detail of one of the pebble mosaic landings and fountain on the Water Staircase
Water channel on the balustrade of the Water Staircase
The upper gardens contain high walled terraces with low clipped hedges in geometric shapes surrounding a variety of trees, including old cypresses and large evergreen Southern Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora), a tree native the the Southeast of the United States.   Fountains mark the junctions of paths, bringing the element of water once again in to every part of the gardens.

Parterres in the upper garden
A fountain and the peculiar winter form of tree roses in the upper gardens
A double staircase frames a grotto while connecting two terraces in the upper gardens
Water from the royal canal spills from a terrace wall in the upper garden
The gardens of the Generalife are a difficult place to leave behind, and I have twice now been flushed out by guards wanting to go home at the end of the day.  It is tempting to hide somewhere to be able to experience the enchantment of solitude in such a magical place.  As Federico Garcia Lorca once wrote:

"How hard it is for the daylight to take its leave of Granada!  It entangles itself in the cypress, or hides beneath the water"

The exit is via a long pebble paved path under an arched bower of bent Oleanders.  A spiky fence discourages people like me from trying to duck behind a tree unnoticed.  I'm sure a great many people have been as reluctant as I to depart from this paradise on Earth.
The Promenade of the Oleanders
There are obscured views of the fantastic cypress hedges of the lower gardens of the Generalife and the Alhambra along the way.
Cypress hedges in the lower gardens of the Generalife with the Alhambra in the background
The Promenade of the Oleanders leads to the Promenade of the Cypresses, which was planted in honor of a royal visit by the Queen of Spain in the early 20th Century.  This path takes you to the exit and out in to the world at large.
The last ones to leave, walking down the Promenade of the Cypresses
"All these sights and sounds, together with the princely seclusion of the place, the sweet quiet which prevailed around, and the delicious serenity of the weather had a witching effect upon the mind, and drew from some of the company, versed in local story, several of the popular fancies and traditions connected with this old Moorish palace; they were “such stuff as dreams are made of...”  Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra 

Thanks always for taking the time to read these essays, Jeffrey