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Entries in Landscaping (25)


A Dream Come True: My Visit to the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa: A UNESCO World Heritage Site

It had always been my dream to visit the Baha’i complex in Haifa, Israel. The site, which is made up of architecturally stunning buildings and take-your-breathe-away gardens, is the spiritual center of adherents to the Baha’i faith, a branch of Shiite Islam. In addition, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. When my opinion was canvassed to find out if I would be interested in joining a tour of the Middle East, I replied with a qualified Yes. Whether or not I travelled would depend on this garden being included in the itinerary. I’m glad that it was.

The tour took place during the hottest summer that the Middle East had experienced in recorded history. All of us were slathered in sun block, wore wide brimmed hats and cooled our bodies with Cobbers. Bottles of water were stuffed into all available deep pockets as we clumsily waddled out of the tour bus to appreciate this site.

Our guide had driven us to the top of the hill on which the garden is situated. This was an ideal vantage point, deliberately created, I imagine, by the Minister of Tourism so that visitors would be able to appreciate the vast scope of the complex and its overall design. After we had spent some time capturing images, we left the site for other destinations. No sooner were we settled into the van, when the guide mentioned, in passing, that some tourists also book a guided tour of the of the Baha’i complex.

I had not known that an optional private tour of the grounds was available, for I would have insisted upon it. Unfortunately, we had committed to a heavily scheduled trip that was overflowing. Within one hour of settling into the van, we would be far away from this city and there were no plans to return. Neither was there any possibility of tweaking the itinerary to revisit the gardens. Happily, the guide had allotted a large block of time for us to enjoy the view from atop the mountain.

To better appreciate this magnificent site, here are some interesting details:-

  • The site employs over 100 full-time gardeners.
  • Annual maintenance cost of the gardens is around US $4 million.
  • The garden includes 8 environmentally-friendly irrigation systems that conserve water.
  • About 500,00 people visit this garden complex, annually.
  • Each year 8,000 Baha’i followers make a pilgrimage here.
  • Followers of the Baha’i faith number 5 million.
  • The faith promotes world peace and the creation of one worldwide community based on justice and equality.
  • Operational cost for the garden and complex are funded solely by members of the Baha'i religion, as donations are only accepted from within the Baha'i community.

Baha’i teachings maintain that the human purpose is to learn to know and love God through prayer, reflection and being of service to humankind. The role of the gardens in this religion is to create a peaceful, meditative atmosphere that uplifts the soul of pilgrims as they approach the shrines. The serenity that is created here is palpable. 

In the complex, a golden-domed shrine is surrounded by 18 immaculately-maintained terraces featuring symmetrical formal gardens that hug the steep slope of the Mediterranean seacoast elevation known as Mount Carmel.

The gardens are designed in nine concentric circles that look like waves extending out from the shrine at their center where Bahai prophet Siyyid Ali Muhammad -- known to Bahais as 'The Bab' -- is buried.

Included in the landscaping are works of stone and metal as well as fountains, waterfalls, shrubbery, ornaments, and lawns. The manicured gardens blend in with the natural flora, enliven the surrounding panorama of the mountainside, and create a small nature reserve.





In August, when we visited, the seasonal plant in bloom was Bougainvillea.

A view of the complex as seen from below. AFP photo –Sven Nackstrand.A night scene on the opening of the newly re landscaped gardens in May 2001, taken by Sven Nackstrand for Associated French Press. This view of the gold dome is not easily seen from above.



Energy-Wise landscape Design: Book Review for

Energy-Wise Landscape Design by Sue Reed, New Society Publishers

Don’t let the title of this book put you off. This may sound like a technical or an academic publication, but it is not. It reads like a friendly user’s manual. It explains how some landscaping design ideas help to conserve energy. With clear and clever illustrations by Kate Dana, and with simple step-by-step suggestions, the author coaches us into creating a sustainable, energy-efficient property. Primarily, the book explains how to help cool a house in summer and warm it in winter, using sun, wind, trees and plants. In addition, the goal of the book is to help property owners use less energy in building, landscaping and maintaining homes and gardens. A long term objective is to reduce dependence on foreign energy and to improve the environment.

The book is divided into 7 sections: In sections 1 and 2 suggestions are offered on how to arrange the landscape in order to make houses more comfortable in summer and winter. Included are the role that tree placement plays in providing shade in summer, the strategy for capturing cooling breezes, and reducing ground heat that surrounds a home. The winter section explains how to maximize the sun’s heat, plant windbreaks and buffers, and position the home to deflect wind.

Sections 3 and 4 provide design ideas for saving energy in the landscape. These include the use of regionally native plants that harmonize with local soil conditions and the re evaluating of the lawn in order to conserve water and operating energy for mowers. This section also offers help in designing properties that sparingly use electricity for outdoor lighting and watering systems. Further topics discussed here are the using of slopes to their ecological advantage, the efficient use of landscaping materials, optimal locations for homes in relation to sun and wind, and designing a car park area constructed with the least amounts of energy and natural resources.

Section 5 advises the reader how to develop and care for a landscape while conserving energy. Topics include the role of top soil, amendments, plants, mulch, wildflowers, planting techniques, low maintenance lawns, and water conservation.

Section 6 instructs the small property homeowner how to generate energy from wind, sunlight and flowing water.  

Section 7 offers a discussion about energy efficient outdoor lighting.

The book is rounded out with a helpful appendix that, among other things, instructs on how to determine a pitch of a slope or a tree shadow’s size and direction. This is followed by an invaluable appendix listing the size of the the shade canopy of trees.

Sue Reed is a landscape architect and educator. Her focus is environmentally sound, energy efficient and sustainable landscape design and she has worked in this field for over 25 years. With a style of writing that is easy to absorb, she has created a valuable manual that readers will enjoy exploring. The ideas and suggestions found in this book are described in such simple detail that anyone will be able to adapt them to a variety of different landscape projects. Sue Reed is a gifted writer with a remarkable ability to tackle complex, technical information, distill it down to its essence, and explain it in everyday language. This reviewer hopes she will write more.



Bloom's Best Perennials and Grasses: Book Review for

Bloom’s Best Perennials and Grasses, Adrian Bloom, Timber Press

At last, a book for gardeners who are overwhelmed by the huge size of iconic estates, when they study them for design inspiration. Adrian Bloom understands the predicament; he is a reliable mentor for the do-it-yourself gardener. In this book, he acknowledges that it is impossible to scale down an estate garden to fit a suburban plot or to copy a prairie, meadow, or wildflower garden in a small garden space. Instead, Mr. Bloom advises readers to use the famous gardens only as a source of learning for plant use and combinations. His publication contains a wealth of illustrations that demonstrate how one can create lush gardens of any size while using a select, pre-determined group of perennials and grasses.

The author’ premise is that gardeners should work only with reliable plants. One is grateful to Mr. Bloom for sifting through over 8,000 species and cultivars of perennials and ornamental grasses to create a collection of 400 plants, which he then distills down into 12 essential ones. All recommended plants have proven to be timeless, best performing, and reliable in both the UK and the USA.

The reader is also encouraged to include woody plants and shrubs into landscapes, to enhance the garden with year round visual interest. According to the author, these plants are critical to the success of a garden, because they supply continuity, formality, focal points, and backgrounds; they balance out the seasonal transformations that perennials and grasses display.

To say that this book is lavishly illustrated is to beat an old metaphor to death; but that is exactly what the author has done. Image after image of successful, easy to copy, plant compositions fill each page. By including images of plant combinations in realistic settings, and by giving us not one but two and sometimes three garden designs to a page, the author has created a publication that one might call a page turner, because each image is more inspiring than the one that precedes it.

The book divides conveniently into six segments: five chapters plus an in-depth directory of plants that surpasses the combined previous five chapters in size. The first chapter illustrates the author’s main theme that plants need shrubs to enhance them. Chapter 2 is a pictorial essay on how a combination of both perennials and grasses enhance gardens. Because the choice of plants can be overwhelming, in Chapter 3 the author narrows down the vast number of plants to twelve. Chapter 4 deals with the history, origin, and growing conditions of plants because the author believes that understanding what a plant needs is essential to achieving success. Chapter 5 discusses the systematic process to follow in creating and maintaining a garden. Finally, the book ends with a plant directory that is a cornucopia of information about four hundred reliable plants, a feature that happens to be this reviewer’s favorite section. The photos are beautiful and inspiring, the information is clear and interesting, and the advice is timeless.

Adrian Bloom has accumulated over a half century of experience as a nurseryman and hands-on gardener. He is past owner of the world-renowned Blooms of Bressingham nursery in the UK, and appeared on the television program BBC Gardening World. He is also the recipient of the Victorian Medal of Honor from The Royal Horticultural Society. In America, Mr. Bloom appeared on the PBS television program The Victory Garden and received a Medal of Honor from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

The author belongs to a new generation of horticulturalists who have embraced a style of modernity in the garden that is neither cold nor minimalist. All of the images that Mr. Bloom has collected for this publication have a lush meadow spirit where ornamental grasses are abundant among the perennials. What sets these gardens apart, from traditional romantic ones, is the luminosity captured in the grass plumes, the rich, bold, and earthy colors of the flowers, and the sensuous textures of the foliage. Readers, who are looking for design elements that are both contemporary and warm, will be inspired by the forward-looking garden ideas in this book. The plants suggested may be traditional but the gardens are not.



Designer Plant Combinations: Book Review for

Designer Plant Combinations: 105 stunning gardens using six plants or fewer, Scott Calhoun,                      Storey Publishing

There is a new language of garden design, and it is decidedly American. Appropriately named the New American Garden, it takes its inspiration from the recently introduced meadow gardens, the warm climate and flora of Southwestern USA, as well as a casual garden style that seeks to embrace the informality of nature. The New American Garden style is an alternative to traditional design. It is more relaxed, requires no deadheading or pesticides, and uses tough perennials such as Perovskia and Echinacea as well as ornamental grasses. 

The author makes it very clear that some old rules about gardens design no longer apply. We now allow ourselves greater freedom to combine plants in original and creative ways. Contemporary designers and horticulturalists have deconstructed the rigidity associated with traditional color groupings and borders. Greater value is given to texture and shape more than flowers and colors. Native plants are included in the designs and perennials are mixed with trees, shrubs, annuals, accent plants and grasses. 

It is apparent that when the author decided to introduce this topic to his readers, it was not his intention to design gardens, photograph them, and add some explanatory text. Instead, he consulted the best and the brightest in American horticulture and design, including the talented Dutch designer Piet Oudolf whose work represents a successful pushing of the boundaries of contemporary gardening.

The book focuses on innovative ensembles, created by these prominent designers, using a maximum of 6 plants. The author and his colleagues believe that by limiting plants to no more than this number, one can create bolder, more cohesive, designs. The resulting plant combinations are not intended to be self-contained gardens, only portions of them. By breaking up a landscape into segments, readers will find it easier to start using plants in innovative ways.

Another interesting development of the New American Garden has been the relaxed attitude towards perennial maintenance, recognizing seed heads for their beauty, form, and foraging value. Furthermore, the monotony of the flowerbeds may be broken up by planting in graduated heights by placing some tall plants at the front of the border. Contemporary designers encourage gardeners to include globe shaped plants such as Verbena bonariensis or Allium Christophii, tomentose plants whose little hairs seem to illuminate them, and neon-colored perennials such as Papaver  Turkenlouis. When bold colored perennials are part of the plan, the gardener is encouraged to paint background walls in bright colors to balance out the bold. This is the only aspect of the new philosophy that did not sit well with this reviewer.

The liberal use of ornamental grasses results in softening the usual stiff or formal plantings by adding movement and dynamism. This contributes a sense of wildness and feelings of spontaneity. Annuals are recommended to add color and excitement; they enliven, brighten, and fill in empty spaces. Bold sculptural plants such as Yucca and Agave are recommended for drama. 

The author and his colleagues also believe that diverse groundcovers are more interesting than lawns and that attractive patterns may be created when different groundcovers are mixed together. For an effective multicolor groundcover treatment in warmer gardening zones, the author suggests using red-yellow Gaillardia pulchella combined with blue Scenecio vitalis. Newer cultivars of colored Heuchera are effective groundcovers as well as they combine effectively with light green Persicaria Virginia Lance Corporal.

The new phiolosophy also encourages the planting of woodland gardens that include trees and shrubs as they provide  the largest benefits with the lowest maintenance. Today, it is possible to find dwarf trees and shrubs that have been bred for the shrinking American garden. These smaller plants combine quite successfully with interesting perennials as the structure of their foliage provides a backdrop for other plants. 

Readers who expect illustrated garden books to be breathtaking and awesome will not be disappointed. Mr. Calhoun has searched wide and far to include only the most eye-catching combinations in this book. The graphic design of this publication is also commendable as the layout of image, text, and detailed background information is incomparable. The reader will be impressed. For those that still believe that landscapes need to be designed in the antique manner of the English, this publication will be a revelation when they see how the Revolution of 1776 has finally trickled down to the gardens of North America. 



The American Meadow Garden: Book Review for

The American Meadow Garden  John Greenlee and Saxon Holt, Timber Press 

I am enjoying the new crop of gardening books because most of them no longer masquerade as odes to gardening. Instead, authors and publishers make certain that books on horticulture empower readers to garden successfully. No matter how complex the topic, gardening advice now takes the form of an easily digestible manual, usually integrated into a reader-friendly text. The American Meadow Garden is a bold step in re-defining our outdoor environment. Here is a book that informs and instructs us how to use a meadow garden as an alternative for a lawn. Neat green lawns are becoming an albatross and an anachronism. Evolving lifestyles, shrinking natural resources, and a deepening concern about the chemicals that pollute our water table are causing some horticulturalists to re evaluate the role that lawns play in the quality of our life.

John Greenlee is a respected horticulturalist and writer who suggests using meadow gardens as an alternative to green lawns. This is not the stereotypical meadow with cows grazing. The author presents us with a relatively new concept for North America: a field of ornamental grasses punctuated by naturalized bulbs and native flowering perennials. The design of an urban park, influenced by this principle, already exists at the Lurie Gardens in Chicago. Mr. Greenlee believes that this landscape treatment is far more satisfying than either a lawn or a traditional mixed flower border and that it combines the best attributes of both. Furthermore, he argues, a meadow is more ecology-friendly than a lawn because it consumes fewer resources.

A meadow garden should not intimidate, as it does not need to be all encompassing and expansive. This substitute for a manicured lawn may be small enough to insert into any size garden plan. There it will serves as a place for the eyes to rest, or as a transition between formal garden and the wider landscape..

The scope of information covered by the author is vast yet distilled, so that the reader can learn without becoming overwhelmed. One chapter deals with grasses that work best for landscaping fields. Another chapter discusses the purposefulness of a meadow, because some grasses can be useful in dealing with issues such as slopes, drought, marshlands, and drainage.

A subsequent chapter introduces the art of designing with grasses. Some varieties work better as brushstrokes, others as groundcover, some as filler, and others as a background. In addition, much attention is also devoted to wild flowers and naturalizing bulbs. These plants work well among grasses to add continuous color, throughout the growing season. The last chapters that round out the book include a photo essay on drought tolerant meadow gardens, a user-friendly encyclopedia of grasses, and a chapter on how to undertake a meadow project, complete with a formula for calculating the number of plants needed.

A review of this book would be inadequate if it did not pay tribute to the visuals that illuminate its pages. Saxon Holt is an established and award winning horticultural photographer. The author is fortunate that Mr. Holt has taken a subject, ostensibly still limited in its appeal, and has propelled it into consciousness with photographs that are extraordinary. The luminescence and ethereal texture of the grass meadows captured in these images are a convincing testimonial that such gardens merit serious consideration.