Interview with Clare Cooper Marcus on the Healing Power of Nature

Clare Cooper Marcus

Clare Cooper Marcus is Professor Emerita of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at University of California, Berkeley. Most recently, she is the author of Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces, co-authored with Naomi Sachs, ASLA; and Iona Dreaming: The Healing Power of Place.

This interview was conducted at the ASLA 2017 Annual Meeting in Los Angeles.

In your book Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Design Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces, co-authored with Naomi Sachs, ASLA, you argue we’re returning to the wisdom of the ancient Greeks, who understood the healing power of nature and mind-body connection. Why has it taken so long to rediscover these essential understandings?

While the understanding was not entirely lost, the medical world needed proof. They were not interested in aesthetic arguments that gardens are “nice” and people appreciate “green views.” Those didn’t cut it.

The whole start of the healing gardens and therapeutic landscapes movements was Roger Ulrich’s famous study, The View from the Window, published in 1984 in the prestigious magazine Science. With access to medical records of people recovering from gall bladder surgery – some with a view to trees, some who could only see a brick wall – data showed that those with a view to trees called the nurse less often, asked for fewer high-dose pain killers, and went home a little sooner than those who viewed a wall. This study offered proof of the benefits of nature, using empirical data the medical world could understand and appreciate. Healthcare facilities took note and said, essentially: “Oh, I see. Trees outside windows and gardens around a hospital are not just cosmetic niceties, they can also affect the bottom line!”

There’s now an understanding that access to nature, sunlight, fresh air, and interactions with nature can reduce healthcare costs and patient recovery times. What has driven the explosive growth in therapeutic landscapes in hospitals and other care facilities? Has it been the financial benefits? Or are there other reasons?

There are certainly studies now that show if people have certain conditions and then have access to nature, they may call for fewer pain killers. That’s certainly significant. Studies of Alzheimer’s facilities where residents have access to a garden have shown that there is less need to prescribe drugs to reduce agitation or deal with insomnia.

Yes, the financial benefits have been important in encouraging the growth of therapeutic landscapes. But marketing is also important. It would be rare to find a senior retirement facility or hospice where a garden is not an attractive element, appealing to family members or to prospective staff.

Many hospitals are now providing gardens and that is good. However, in their marketing, some use the term “healing garden” as a buzz word. Sadly, in some cases I see in the trade magazines, there’s a photo of a chaise lounge on a roof with two potted plants, and it’s labeled a “ healing garden.” Some of us in the field are beginning to say perhaps there’s a need for a certification of healing gardens, although, just how that would work is very complicated.

There’s also been important recent research on the significance of access to outdoor space for the staff. Hospital staff work long shifts often under very stressful circumstances. Here’s a shocking number: more than a quarter of a million avoidable deaths occur in U.S. hospitals every year due to medical errors. This is just a speculative question, but could access to nature for hospital staff on their break times result in lowering stress and result in fewer medical errors?  I doubt this could ever be proved as there are too many variables. But there is research where staff are saying, “Oh, yes, we want to have access to gardens.”

Hospital staff typically have window-less break rooms with no outdoor access. Also, did you know that the average lunch break for a nurse in an American hospital is just 38 minutes? So, even if there is a garden, and it’s at a distance, they’re not going to go there because they don’t have time. A trend now at hospitals who are aware of this is to put smaller gardens close to break rooms, so that staff can at least get outside for 10 or 15 minutes. That’s very important. Research has shown that is long enough for a significant reduction in levels of stress.

Roof garden for staff only, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, London, England. It is increasingly recognized that hospital staff often feel burnt-out and stressed and need a quiet garden space of their own, away from patients and visitors. The wooden arches are in memory of two nurses from this hospital who died in the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London. / Clare Cooper Marcus

What are the key elements of a well-designed therapeutic landscape? What separates a great one from an OK one? Can you provide a few examples?

Oh – where to begin! It’s not rocket science, and some might argue its not vastly different from just a beautiful, well-designed garden. But there are many elements that are critical and are over-looked by even the most experienced landscape architects. First, it needs to be predominantly green; I would say about 70 percent green 30 percent hardscape. If it flips the other way, you’ve got a plaza; you don’t have a garden. The garden needs to be green, lush, and have all-season vegetation to the extent that it’s possible, depending on the location. It needs to be colorful and appeal to all the senses – smell, sound, touch, even taste – not just the visual.

The garden should serve the most vulnerable users. So, if this is, say, an acute care hospital, the most vulnerable users might be someone pulling an I.V. pole or using crutches. Pathway surfaces, non-glare elements, universal design – all are critical. A user may be someone who’s so weak they can only walk from the entry to the first bench. A person who is frail needs upright seating with arms and a back to help them get up – no slumped seating in the ubiquitous Adirondack chair!

A successful garden needs to be easily accessible and visible from a well-used interior space – foyer or waiting area in a hospital, day room or dining area in a senior facility. There should be a hierarchy of pathways for people to exercise who have varying degrees of energy. There must be adequate shade in an entry patio or under trees or a shade structure — an obvious thing but often overlooked. A lot of people are on medications — chemo, HIV-AID medication, psychiatric drugs — where they have to stay out of the sun. If there’s no shade, people aren’t going to go out there. We are seeing more and more patient-specific gardens – for those with cancer, PTSD, dementia, mental health problems, children with disabilities. In those cases it is critical that the designer works with the clinical staff and the maintenance staff in a participatory process.

So what separates a great one from a merely decent one? If the garden just had some greenery, paths, and a few benches, it wouldn’t be really therapeutic. Here are a few very good examples, in no particular order:

The Olson Family Garden at St. Louis Children’s Hospital is an 8,000-square-foot roof garden on the eighth floor. It has lush plantings, fairly large trees, and winding paths where children love to run, disappear, and appear again. There are five different water features. It has elements that intrigue children without turning it into a playground: stepping stones across water, telescopes so you can look out over St. Louis, cubby windows, a kaleidoscope, a sundial. It also appeals to adults and care givers with many semi-private places and a variety of moveable seating. It’s used by everybody and is well publicized within the hospital. The garden was designed by Herb Schaal, FASLA, with AECOM. It cost $1.9 million and was paid for by a local philanthropic family, who also gave an endowment for maintenance, so it always looks beautiful.

Olson Family Garden, St Louis Children’s Hospital, St Louis, Missouri. A roof garden popular with visitors, children and staff where children find plenty to engage them – stepping stones, water features, cubby windows, telescopes – and adults appreciate an oasis in complete contrast to the hospital interior with choices of semi-private places and moveable seating. / Clare Cooper Marcus

Another great example is the garden of the Oregon Burn Unit in Portland, Oregon, designed by landscape architect Brian Bainnson, ASLA, Quatrefoil. The reason this one works so well is Bainnson worked closely with the clinical staff at the Burn Unit to find out what patients and staff would need outdoors. He incorporated lush, beautiful, all-season planting.

Garden of the Oregon Burn Unit, Portland, Oregon. A garden designed with crucial input from the clinical staff. It has all-season colorful plant materials, shade structures essential for patients with burns and skin grafts, and varying surfaces for those learning to walk again. / Clare Cooper Marcus

A third example is the Living Garden at The Family Life Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, an Alzheimer’s care center designed by landscape architect Martha Tyson, ASLA, who understood the literature on Alzheimer’s and dementia. She worked with the staff. The garden completely recognizes the main issue of these patients, which is lack of spatial cognition. I has a simple figure-eight path with destination points, so patients can’t get lost. There’s one exit and entry to the garden. No plants are toxic.

The Living Garden at the Family Life Center, Grand Rapids, Michigan. A garden designed for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. To avoid confusion for those with limited spatial cognition there is one way to enter and exit the garden, an arched entry, a simple figure-of-eight path, a gazebo destination point were staff program events. Lush, layered planting around the garden boundaries disguises walls and fences – essential as those with dementia sometimes try to “elope.” / Martha Tyson via Landscape Architecture Magazine
The Living Garden at the Family Life Center, Grand Rapids, Michigan. / Clare Cooper Marcus

In Japan and South Korea, there are efforts to expand the use of forest bathing to improve health and well-being and also to fight addiction to new technologies. South Korea is creating a network of national forest healing centers. What do you see as the value of forest bathing? What will it take for this practice to take off in the U.S.?

The evidence from research in Japan is that breathing the air in these forests, particularly those of Hinoki cypress, lowers stress levels, blood pressure, and pulse rates. I think it has definite value, but we also know that walking in any kind of forest or non-urban green area has positive effects on health.

We’re really at a stage of infancy in this work in the U.S., but I do see a lot of media attention.

It’s funny, but the U.S. is often at the forefront with technological innovations, but rarely with social innovations – at least involving nature and play environments. Forest kindergartens have been popular in Germany and Denmark for decades; they are just catching on here. Adventure playgrounds have been around in western Europe since the 1940s; there have never been more than two or three in the U.S. (one is in Berkeley!). The Netherlands spearheaded the notion of the woonerf , or a street shared equally by vehicles and pedestrians; the idea spread across the developed world. But hardly at all in this country, largely, I would guess, because of resistance from transportation engineers.

However, in the realm of healing gardens in healthcare, the U.S. is at the forefront. It’s sad to see that in my own country of origin – Britain – famous for its gardens, those within hospitals are often poor or non-existent.

In a recent study, the Nature Conservancy estimates that, despite all the high-profile tree-planting campaigns, Americans city currently lose around 4 million trees a year. But just planting more trees in cities could reduce healthcare costs by decreasing the impact of air pollution, namely ozone and particulate matter. Other studies have found correlations between lifespan, sense of well-being, and proximity to trees. Unfortunately, however, even most arborists aren’t familiar with many of the health benefits of trees. Why aren’t the health benefits more widely understood?

Yes – there is a lot of valid research linking trees and health. Like so much material in this field of health and design, the studies produced in academic or semi-academic journals don’t filter out to people in practice. This is why it isn’t well-understood by people out in the field running tree planting programs in cities. I would not expect the people pruning trees in the street to know this. But the people in charge of trees for the city should.

There just needs to be more coverage of this information transferred from academic writing into more popular writing and hence the need for journalists and new messengers rather than new messages.

Some innovative doctors are now prescribing time in the park for a variety of conditions, testing to see if exposure to nature or a particular exercise in nature helps. What will it take for the mainstream medical profession to buy into this approach? What will it take for parks to be considered an essential part of our healthcare system by healthcare providers and insurers?

I see more and more references to the idea of providing prescriptions for people to go to parks. I believe in Washington, D.C. doctors can be provided with a list of available parks, so they can give those to their patients. For it to catch on, it will take a while, as with forest bathing and these other innovative things. It’s going to be some time before there’s research to show to the medical profession — proof that prescribing time in the park for someone with condition X improves that condition. But parks and their links to health have long been part of the landscape architecture profession going back to Olmsted.

Some hospitals being built or rebuilt are not only putting therapeutic gardens within the hospital confines but also putting a park or garden at the entry that is open to the general public. They’re providing green space for the city as a whole within their site.

Some examples include University Hospitals’ Schneider Healing Garden, Cleveland, Ohio; and Good Samaritan Medical Center’s Stenzel Healing Garden in Portland, Oregon.

Some re-built hospitals are specifically orienting patient rooms towards an adjacent park. These include The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, England.

Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Liverpool, England / © Parry Family Charitable Foundation

This will continue as more hospitals recognize how important access to greenery is. Providing green space within the hospital or adjacent is relatively inexpensive compared with the cost of a new MRI machine.

Lastly, to recover from your own serious illness, you immersed yourself in nature for six months in the remote Scottish island Iona and then you wrote a book about it. You said nature there mirrored your soul and had a profound healing effect. Can you talk about that experience? How can we find those magical places? And how do you know you’ve found yours?

I found mine by serendipity and intuition. I don’t think you can go out and search for such a place or know that it has certain characteristics. When you find this place, it’s probably not your home, probably somewhere you found by chance. It may be somewhere a little different, a little distant, maybe a place you go now on weekends or maybe once a year.

In the mid-80s, I went to live with my children at Findhorn, an innovative, intentional community in Scotland from the 60s that still exists and flourishes today. They own a retreat house on the island of Iona on the other side of Scotland, and, once I had been there, I knew that the island was my healing place.

After two diagnoses of cancer shortly after retirement from academia, I went on retreat and lived alone there for six months and began to write. I now go back every year and have done so for 18 consecutive years.

All I can say is, when you find such a place, it feels as though you have come home. Not home as in a house. Home as something much deeper on a spiritual, psychological level, a place that resonates with something deep inside you.

Iona / Clare Cooper Marcus

I’ve met people who’ve come to Iona for the first time and stepping ashore they find themselves in tears. For other people, it feels like they have at last come home, yet they have absolutely no familial roots with Scotland or Britain. There is no logical reason; its not an issue of logic or reason. It occurs to numbers of visitors to this island, but that doesn’t mean to say you have to go to this particular place. You might find your place through a dream, or coming by chance across a mention in a book, or some other unexpected event.

Follow your heart; it knows. No one can give you a formula.

Visionary Landscapes: Japanese Garden Design in North America

Visionary Landscapes / Tuttle Publishing

In Visionary Landscapes: Japanese Garden Design in North America, Kendall H. Brown explores the work of five contemporary Japanese-style garden designers whom he has designated masters of the art.

What does it mean to be a master of the contemporary Japanese garden design? To answer this, once must consider what constitutes a Japanese garden. The first images that come to mind might be of bamboo, or perhaps coy fish, or raked patterns in gravel. Japanese gardens are more than their components, though; they are a set of principles. And because principles should be transferable, it is possible for Japanese gardens to manifest themselves in very un-Japanese ways.

As Brown notes, Japanese gardens nowadays are less microcosms of Japan than they are “Japanese-inspired microcosms of nature.” Hence the flourishing of Japanese gardens outside of Japan, to the extent that they outnumber those inside Japan.

There is of course a fraught social history of Japanese gardens in the West, one that Brown fully recognizes. Taken out of their regional and historical context beginning in the late 19th-century, Japanese gardens became curios and projections of status and sophistication (the irony being that constructing a Japanese garden can, at least now, be in questionable taste).

To suggest one has mastered the art of Japanese gardens is to therefore suggest mastery of the art’s principles, as well the ability to reapply those principles without creating, as Brown puts it, a “garish pastiche.”

Perhaps none of the designers featured in the book more deftly graft the Japanese style into the North American context than David Slawson. Born in Ohio, Slawson spent a number of years in Japan studying the art of garden design before returning to the mid-West and applying his knowledge on college campuses and residences.

In recounting the story of his time spent in Japan, Slawson speaks reverently of power: the power of the dry landscape at Daisen-in, the power of rocks “disposed in space” at Ryoanji. These gardens moved him, and his designs seek to reproduce that impact.

At the Hoeschler residence in Minnesota, Slawson evoked Lake Superior’s north shore with a formidable river of stones.

Hoeschler Garden Stone Stream & Home Fall
David Slawson’s Hoeschler residence garden / Tuttle Publishing

Power can overwhelm, however, and this dramatic garden left the rest of the yard feeling weak. So Slawson complemented the initial design with an equally adamant garden entrance, replete with boulders that call to mind a north shore gorge.

Shin Abe, another of the book’s featured designers, has at times demonstrated a tremendous capacity to abstract the natural world. He pushes this traditional Japanese technique to its extreme at the Education First office building in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At the building’s entrance, slabs of stone suggesting frozen waves emerge from “dry” pools, geometric patterns filled with blackish aggregate and gravel. Low-sitting granite rectangles serve as benches, and the whole design gives the sense of water represented through rock.

Education First Bldg 2 Stone & Glass
Shin Abe’s dry pools outside of EF Building II / Tuttle Publishing

Several of the book’s featured designers evoke Japanese landscape painting in their work. Marc Peter Keane’s Tiger Glen Garden, which refers to a work titled The Three Laughers of Tiger Ravine, possesses what Brown describes as a “gentle intensity.” A miniature stone ravine, patterned like a roman road, winds through the tiny courtyard garden, a rocky gash amidst moss and an elegantly-branching Tanyosho pine.

Tiger Glen Garden Stone Bridge View
Marc Pete Keane’s Tiger Glen Garden / Tuttle Publishing

For all the talk of adapting the Japanese style to North America, many of the book’s gardens are still loaded with features some might consider cliché: Sand raked just so, a smattering of Buddhist paraphernalia, the unmistakable preference for Ponderosa pine. And then there are the lanterns. Modest, often camouflaged, they beg not to be considered kitsch.

And maybe they shouldn’t be. Maybe there is something we still don’t understand about our attraction to Japanese-style gardens, and how we can’t seem to adopt the principles without indulging in a bit of the exoticism that Japanese culture represents to the West. And maybe a little indulgence is good now and then.

Movement and Meaning: The Landscapes of Hoerr Schaudt

Movement and Meaning / The Monacelli Press

Movement and Meaning: The Landscapes of Hoerr Schaudt highlights the depth of work created by landscape architects Doug Hoerr, FASLA, and the late Peter Schaudt, FASLA. From private gardens to lush civic spaces, this coffee table book chronicles major works by the Chicago-based studio, from inception to final installation.

The book, written with Douglas Brenner, begins with Hoerr’s first residential project, a garden in Lake Forest, Illinois, a suburb north of Chicago.

Garden in the Round, Lake Forest, Illinois / Scott Shigley

And then moves to bustling plazas and civic spaces, like the Michigan Avenue streetscape in Chicago, recipient of the 2016 ASLA Landmark Award, which is given to projects of longevity that have maintained their design integrity and contributed to the public realm.

Michigan Avenue, Chicago / Charlie Simokaitis, Steven Gierke, HSLA staff

In 1991, then-Chicago Mayor Richard Daley tapped Hoerr and Gordon Segal, founder of Crate & Barrel, to redesign the landscape of Michigan Avenue, a hotspot for tourism amid Chicago’s towering skyline. Hoerr’s goal was to “make the horticulture so bold that it looked ready to jump out of the planters and compete with any skyscraper.”

Michigan Avenue, Chicago / Charlie Simokaitis, Steven Gierke, HSLA staff

Schaudt also renovated Daley Plaza, a much-loved iconic square in Chicago. Designed by Jacques Brownson in 1965, Schaudt called the Modernist space “‘the Italian piazza of Chicago.'”

Schaudt sought to “replace the thin stone pavers with more durable lookalikes, double the tree court without changing the number or location of planters, and leave the plaza’s landmark character intact.”

A charming moment is documented in the book: “After Daley Plaza reopened, a Chicago architect confided, ‘This looks great, Peter, but I can’t figure out what you did.’ Schaudt took the comment as the highest compliment to his craft.”

Daley Plaza, Richard J. Daley Center, Chicago / Martin Konopacki

It’s these bits of personal context that make Movement and Meaning compelling.

The book offers insight into design challenges and decisions, explaining the unique circumstances under which each project came to be.

Take the Greater Des Monies Botanical Garden. Brenner explains that since its heyday in 1979, the site around the garden fell into disrepair. Visitors struggled to find comfort in the landscape surrounded by an interstate and a double-lane parkway. After joining a design committee in 2004, Hoerr concluded the design should be based on water and sought to bring the river to the botanical dome.

Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, Des Moines, Iowa / Scott Shigley
Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, Des Moines, Iowa / Scott Shigley

In the Dwarf Conifer Garden, another Midwest plant-focused space, the studio increased accessibility and conducted a “plant-by-plant assessment of the two-decade-old garden.”

Dwarf Conifer Garden / Plan courtesy Hoerr Schaudt
Dwarf Conifer Garden, Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, Illinois / Robin Carlson, Linda Oyama Bryan

The sheer variety of images, drawings, and photography make this book an absorbing overview of Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects’ work.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (August 1 – 15)

Approaching the Japanese Garden Cultural Village / Jeremy Bittermann

Portland Japanese Garden Cultural Village by Kengo Kuma & AssociatesArchitectural Record, 7/1/17
“Surrounded by majestic Douglas firs, Oregon’s Portland Japanese Garden (PJG) is a piece of Japan transplanted to the Pacific Northwest.”

Chicago Botanic Garden Exhibit Brings a Little Bit of Rio to Glencoe The Chicago Tribune, 7/2/17
“Burle Marx, who died in 1994, was a famous modernist landscape architect and artist, and his style is being celebrated in a summer-long event at the Chicago Botanic Garden.”

The Underline Is Set to Transform Miami’s Metropath into a 10-Mile Linear ParkDesignboom, 7/7/17
“Following in the footsteps of New York’s high line and Seoul’s Skygarden, Miami is set to build a linear park of its own that will transform the land beneath part of the city’s metrorail.”

Why Hong Kong Is Scared of Trees: The Fight for Urban Forestry in City That Sees Them as a Threat, Not an Enhancement The South China Morning Post, 7/7//17
“The Chinese city of Liuzhou has begun construction of a pioneering “forest city”, designed by Italian architect Stefano Boeri, in which 40,000 trees will create a green urban paradise for residents.”

How a Landscape Architect Turned His 300-Square-Foot Balcony Into a Lush Private Oasis Toronto Life, 7/8/17
“Owning a private, landscaped backyard used to be an achievable goal for a great many people in Toronto. Today, many starting homebuyers with horticultural ambitions have to make do with whatever outdoor space is afforded to them by their condo balconies.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (July 1 – 15)

06
Manhole in Central Park, NYC / Cole Wilson, via Curbed NY

Sprucing Up Your Garden for Summer, the Tropical Way Vogue, 7/2/17
“Fernando Wong knows how to make a lush, enviable garden. The accomplished landscape architect has done so time and time again for his various private clients.”

Seven of America’s Top New Museums and Monuments The Architect’s Newspaper, 7/4/17
“Last year saw one of the biggest and most publicized museum openings in recent memory: the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).”

Why Do Some Graduate Landscape Architects Have a Poor Understanding of Planting? Landscape Architect’s Network, 7/12/17
“In the pursuit of a landscape architecture degree, students have the opportunity to acquire a wealth of knowledge on planting, but as with other subjects there are some students who take this issue more seriously than others.”

The Manhole in the Meadow Curbed NY, 7/12/17
“Standing in the Long Meadow, pondering a manhole cover, I realize that I never look at this significant urban place with the critical eye that I routinely apply to the city around me, and that my neighborhood expanse of greenery is, as it happens, a primary example of engineered nature.”

Lawrence Halprin’s Freeway Park in Seattle to Undergo Wayfinding-focused RenovationThe Architect’s Newspaper, 7/4/17
“The renovations are being undertaken by the Freeway Park Association (FPA)—a nonprofit organization created in 1993 ‘in response to the community’s demand for greater public safety in their aging neighborhood park.'”

Hamptons Homes Blur the Line Between Inside and Out The New York Times, 7/14/17
“Twenty-foot-wide glass walls retract electronically at the tap of a cellphone app at the over-the-top $39.5 million furnished mansion John Kean built last year on four acres in Southampton.”

Inside the Garden, and Mind, of Peter Marino

The Garden of Peter Marino / Rizzoli USA

Peter Marino’s garden is about as unexpected as you would expect from the celebrity architect, whose name has become synonymous with high-end fashion lines like Chanel and Luis Vuitton. The Garden of Peter Marino offers a look inside the designer’s sprawling 12-acre Hamptons property, where over the course of two decades he has carefully curated a series of gardens that blend formal landscape elements with unexpected details.

The Garden of Peter Marino, azaleas / Jason Schmidt via Rizzoli USA

Marino organizes his garden by color. But he also agrees with a friend’s assessment that he’s created a network of outdoor rooms, which are home to his 42-piece collection of Italian artists Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne’s surreal, cast-iron sculptures. Spread after spread reveal a pristine, manicured garden dotted with art, often placed to interact with the plants. In lieu of a masterplan, these photographs of the sculptures orient the transitions between colors.

The Garden of Peter Marino/ Jason Schmidt, Artwork: 2017 ARS, NY, ADAGP, Paris

But perhaps equally as interesting as the images is the book’s insight into Marino’s design process, which is both thorough and technical, and random and personal. Sometimes, he goes to great lengths to explain the layers and spacing of planting, where at other times, he states unqualified preferences: “I don’t care for yellow flowers mixed with other colors, so I planted them all together in what I intended to be one big explosion of yellow.” He will detail his plant choices with Latin names and variety, and in the same paragraph use phrases like “mad amounts” to account for the density of hydrangeas.

The Garden of Peter Marino, yellow garden / Jason Schmidt via Rizzoli USA

Marino also gets personal. He describes the whimsical forest section of the estate as “Harry Potter-esque,” imagined for his daughter.

The Garden of Peter Marino woods / Jason Schmidt via Rizzoli USA

The Zelkova trees in this section of the garden date back to the Civil War, he was told by an arborist. One was among 16 trees lost in Hurricane Sandy. “I was devastated,” Marino writes. “But nature has a way of doing its thing, which is why I will never really consider any garden as ‘finished.’”

The Garden of Peter Marino / Manolo Yllera via Rizzoli USA

These moments, coupled with the photos, offer an absorbing visual essay of a decades-long pursuit of an architect designing a home for his art in the unpredictable medium of the garden.

Seoul Turns Aging Overpass into Botanical Promenade

Seoullo 7017 Skygarden / Ossip van Duivenbode via DesignBoom

Seoul is the latest cities to reclaim a piece of aging infrastructure for public use. Last month, South Korea’s capital city opened Seoullo 7017 Skygarden, an inner-city freeway transformed into a pedestrian artery and botanical garden.

The elevated public park was designed by Dutch architects and urban designers MVRDV as a series of gardens with 24,000 trees, shrubs, and flowers. Fifty plant families and 228 species and sub-species are organized according to the Korean alphabet along the pedestrian-only walkway.

Ben Kuipers, lead landscape architect on the project, said the unique arrangement highlights plant nuances. “The species are organized by genus and family. So people can experience the differences between species,” he wrote in an email. “There are small, themed gardens, like the maple garden and the pine tree garden, and a surprising contrast walking from family to family, in Korean alphabetical order.”

Seoullo 7017 Skygarden / Ossip van Duivenbode via DesignBoom

Over 600 concrete planters dot the approximately 3,000-foot linear park, which stretches across the city’s central train station and connects the Namdaemun market area to the east and neighborhoods to the west. Each pot has nameplate identifying the plants in both Latin and Korean. At night, the pots are illuminated in blue and white.

Seoullo 7017 Skygarden at night / Ossip van Duivenbode via DesignBoom

“The trees are the stars,” Kuipers said. “We turned the bridge into a ‘walk of fame’ with every tree in a pot like on a pedestal. And every season shows different features.”

With over one million visitors in the first 10 days, Kuipers said the high volume shows the concept resonates. “We wanted to create not just a pedestrian connection, but also a place to visit, be, and meet people. Therefore, we also added ‘activators,’ such as little shops and cafes.”

Seoullo 7017 Skygarden / Ossip van Duivenbode via DesignBoom

MVRDV won an international competition in 2015 held by the Seoul Metropolitan Government for the design of the park with their entry, The Seoul Arboretum.

The original freeway, known as the Seoul Station overpass, was built in 1970 at the heart of a city undergoing rapid economic and population growth. The structure was slated for demolition after a 2006 safety assessment determined it would soon be unsafe for vehicular use. Officials ultimately decided to recycle the freeway, incorporating the structure into its plan to make the city more walkable.

“This overpass has special meaning because it represents Seoul’s modernity,” Kim Joon Kee, deputy mayor of safety management for the Seoul Metropolitan Government, told CNN in 2016, as construction was underway. “It was built to relieve traffic congestion and, after 30 years, it  became worn down, so we saw an opportunity for the city’s development.”

The name, Seoullo 7017, pays homage to the transformation of the freeway over time. The word Seoullo means “Seoul road,” and the numbers 70 and 17 reference its original constructed and when it reopened to pedestrian traffic, according to The Korea Times.

Implementing such a diverse planting design on an aging freeway structure came with a unique set of challenges. Kupiers explained there was little space for soil for the roots, given the load-bearing limitations and the inclination of the bridge destabilizes the soil. Designers also considered the safety of pedestrians and vehicles, ensuring no branches or trees would fall on the road or railway tracks below. 

Seoullo 7017 Skygarden / Ossip van Duivenbode via DesignBoom

Furthermore, in a region with hot summers, cold winters, and typhoons, Seoul’s varied climate also posed a challenge. “We decided to create the right conditions for trees, shrubs and plants [by] making huge tree pots. These pots are isolated to prevent freezing and have a drainage, irrigation, and aeration system,” Kuipers explained.

The arrangement of over 600 pots, in varying sizes and depths, adds a distinctive, constructed quality to the design, a departure from the more organic style seen in many landscape designs in Asia, Kuipers said.

Seoullo 7017 Skygarden / Ossip van Duivenbode via DesignBoom

MVRDV’s design envisions the skygarden as an “urban nursery.” Kuipers said they plan to use the bridge in combination with the city’s own tree nursery to grow new trees and species, eventually distributing the pots along pedestrian routes in additional neighborhoods.

Seoul is hardly the first city to build an elevated urban walkway. Many have drawn connections between this project and New York City’s High Line. In fact, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon was inspired by the famous James Corner Field Operations’ project, according to the The Korean Times. Still, the projects differ in their relationship to the surrounding urban fabric and the way they use plants.

“Although the High Line is a great example, Seoullo is different in many ways,” Kuipers said, noting the Seoullo Skygarden’s elevated views of the city and central location at Seoul Station in the heart of the city.

Sowing Beauty: A Guide to Designing Meadows

sowing-beauty-cover
Sowing Beauty. Copyright 2017 by James Hitchmough. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

In Sowing Beauty: Designing Flowering Meadows from Seed, James Hitchmough tells us about what we’ve lost. “Meadow-like vegetation” was once “much more abundant.” He traces its decline to industrial agriculture and development.

Hitchmough saw the design potential of meadow communities early in his career as a horticultural ecologist. He has spent the last few decades studying their characteristics and experimenting with their composition. The resulting knowledge compiled in Sowing Beauty will push meadow design forward.

Planting meadows is a departure from planting gardens. It isn’t planting with particularity; it’s painting with broad strokes. That isn’t to say meadows lack sophistication. Change can be observed in sown communities, and there is “nearly endless variation.” Spontaneity informs meadow communities more than gardens, which partially explains their charisma.

Artistic intention in the design of meadows appears through seed mixes, what you scatter on the soil to materialize a meadow. A good seed mix requires an understanding of how natural meadow communities occur and function. However, seed mixes don’t have to have to be identical to naturally-occurring communities. Hitchmough encourages experimenting with seemingly incongruous seeds to produce novel results.

Southern Hemisphere Garden, London Olympics park / James Hitchmough

“The choice of plants is the central challenge in all planting design,” Hitchmough writes. The planting site must factor heavily into any decisions. Meadows are complex communities, with ground, middle canopy, and upper emergent layers to consider.

Oxford Botanic Garden, UK / James Hitchmough
Meadow garden / James Hitchmough

Management of meadows must also be considered. Cutting helps manage weeds, but the cut material must be removed. Other practices, such as grazing and mowing are more suitable in some climactic zones or scales.

The complexity of meadows offers a lot of opportunities for the meadow designer, but also several possible pitfalls. Sowing Beauty, gracefully, does not deal in vagaries. Need to know a handful of species with high-design potential found within Rocky Mountain steppe communities? That’s on page 77.

The back half of the book is composed of case studies of Hitchmough’s own projects. Each case study is documented with species used, target numbers for seedlings, and the total plants required for each project. The projects discussed range in scale a from a couple hundred feet to over 24 acres (Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London). Each study has a “What Worked and What Didn’t” section, where Hitchmough discusses in detail the successes and failures of the project.

Planting a meadow / James Hitchmough
James Hitchmough at work / James Hitchmough

At one point during the film, I Heart Huckabee’s, the main character, an environmental activist, bemoans the over development of our landscape to the point “you can’t remember what happens when you stand in a meadow at dusk.”

“What happens in the meadow at dusk?,” asks an earnest Jonah Hill.

Some of us might smile at Hill’s ignorance, but too many others can relate. It would be wonderful if the advice and knowledge offered in Sowing Beauty resulted in many more of these endlessly-interesting and beautiful landscapes.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (April 16 – 30)

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Grant Park deck rendering / Smith Dalia

They Turned the Front Lawn into a Welcoming Extension of Their Woodland Hills Home The Los Angeles Times, 4/19/17
“What happens when an architect and a landscape architect renovate a front yard together? In the case of architect Carmel McFayden and landscape architect Louisa Relia, the result is a grid-based landscape that thoughtfully complements the lines of McFayden’s 1969 Midcentury home.”

Saving Bertha: The Effort to Turn a Piece of Seattle History into Art Seattle Magazine, 4/20/17
“After Bertha’s dramatic emergence from the nearly 2-mile-long tunnel she diligently, if erratically, drilled in service of a new, underground stretch of SR 99 (and re-opened Seattle waterfront), a certain post-drill pallor has descended upon the city. After all the fanfare and ceremony—not to mention millions of tax dollars—Bertha is scheduled to be dissembled and sold off for scrap, and soon.”

Using RPGs to Solve Environmental Problems PC Magazine, 4/21/17
“Landscape architects at North Carolina State University developed open-source modeling software that uses the basics of role-playing games to help solve environmental problems.”

World Landscape Architecture Month: Let’s Celebrate All Things GreenThe Missoulian, 4/25/17
“It’s been a long, hard winter here in western Montana, what with blizzards, sub-zero temperatures and lots of snow. As spring slowly emerges, it’s time to celebrate all things green. Let’s celebrate April – it’s World Landscape Architecture Month.”

Grant Park’s Zoo Parking Deck Redo Moves Forward with Greenspace and Restaurant Curbed Atlanta, 4/26/17
“Parking spaces and park spaces may be separated linguistically by only a syllable, but as urban features, the two are diametrically opposed.”

São Paulo’s Mayor Tries to Make the City Greener The Economist, 4/27/17
“The phrase ‘concrete jungle’ might have been coined for São Paulo. Brazil’s megalopolis has 2.6 square meters of green space for each of its 11 million inhabitants, a tenth as much as New York and a fifth of what the World Health Organization recommends.”

Understanding What Makes Plants HappyThe New York Times, 4/30/17
“First, we have to understand that plants are social creatures. Our garden plants evolved as members of diverse social networks.”

Serenbe’s New Wellness District Features a Food Forest

Deep in the woods southwest of Atlanta, Serenbe is a unique designed community — a mixed-use development, with clusters of villages comprised of townhouses and apartments fueled by solar panels and heated and cooled by geothermal systems, and vast open spaces with organic farms, natural waste water treatment systems, and preserved forests. A leader in the “agrihood” movement, which calls for agriculture-centric community development, Serenbe is now moving into wellness with its new development called Mado.

On a tour of the new town, which will add 480 homes, including some assisted living cottages, to the 1,400 that already house some 3,500 people, Serenbe founder Steven Nygren explained how his vision of wellness was inspired by the sustainable Swedish city of Malmö. He and his wife Marie traveled there, and they brought back lots of photographs, which they then gave to their planners, architects, and landscape architects.

The community now under construction is organized around common spaces set in gardens. Nygren fears a scenario in which you have two older residents out on their porches, but both are waiting for the other to invite them over. In Mado, the ground-level shared patios may create more opportunities for interaction.

Also, Nygren reached an interesting conclusion from his trip to Malmö: “They always connect streets into nature.” He decided to recreate that relationship in Mado, organizing the housing and common spaces along a central axis with ends that extend into nature trails.

Mado development plan / Rhinehart Pulliam & Company, LLC

Once this central organizational structure was decided upon, they brought in landscape architect and University of Georgia professor Alfred Vick, ASLA, who then created an innovative “food forest” to realize the concept of wellness in landscape form (see the bottom portion of the image above). It will function as an accessible outdoor living room, given throughout the space the gradient is less than 5 percent. It’s also a place where people can gather and also learn how to forage in the wider Serenbe landscape (see a close-up of its design below).

Mado food forest / Solidago Design Solution, Inc.

Vick said his vision was of a “edible ecosystem, an intentional system for human food production.” Using the natural Piedmont ecosystem as the base, Vick is creating a designer ecosystem of edible or medicinal plants, with a ground layer, understory, and canopy that also incorporates plants with cultural meaning and a legacy of use by indigenous American Indian tribes.

He imagines visitors to the forest foraging for berries, fruits, and nuts, including serviceberries, blueberries, mulberries, and chickasaw plums, as well as acorn and hickory nuts, which can be processed and turned into foods. Mado residents and chefs can harvest the young, tender leaves of cutleaf coneflowers, which are related to black-eyed susans. Or reach up to an arbor, which will be covered in Muscadine grape vines and passion flowers. Or take some Jerusalem artichokes, which were used by Cherokee Indians and today cooked as a potato substitute. Or pluck rosemary or mint from an herb circle. Vick left out peach and apple trees because they require fungicides.

“The primary goal is to engage residents,” Vick explained. There will be interpretive guides to explain how plants can be consumed, which will also “help encourage wider foraging when they are out in the Serenbe landscape.” Nygren wants everyone in the community connected to the productive cycle of nature and to know when the serviceberries, blueberries, figs are ready to be picked.

And the landscape is also designed to both provide a safe boundary — so grandparents can let kids roam — but also provide a natural extension into the rest of the landscape. While the Mado designs are still being developed, we hope that universal design principles, which call for fully-accessible seating and nearby restrooms, will be incorporated to ensure an 80-year old as well as an 8-year old can comfortably access and enjoy the landscape.

Learn more about Serenbe in this interview conducted with Nygren in 2015.