This Week’s Guest Blogger is Walter Cudnohufsky, a Landscape Architect and Author of Cultivating the Designer’s Mind: Principles and Process for Coherent Landscape Design

THE FOREST: Design Origins? Forests are sources of calming inspiration for many people. Living in Ashfield, MA, Susan and I walk several times a week, often on wooded Bug Hill Road and similar neighborhood roads.  We always return refreshed, full of healthy oxygen and with new observations. I regularly bring ideas back to the design and painting studios.

Healthy New England forests are diverse in species and appearance and occupy all “life zones” from ground cover, to low and high shrubs and understory trees to high canopy trees.  This idea is strongly suggestive to the earth-conscious landscape designer and the conscious gardener.  They, like all of us, may harbor an urge to create a felt sense of harmonious unity perceived particularly in our nearby forests. Unlike human manipulated objects and places, we look to nature generated forests with a non judging eye accepting what we observe.

It may be argued that many of the most persuasive and compelling principles of design—and, beyond that, of community living—are a heritage of human life in or near the “primeval forest”.

Some of the ways forests guide design are obvious. The straightness of tree trunks is imitated in the straight boards and timbers from which we build. Vertical and then rectangular forms are most easily achieved using the predominating verticality achieved from trees reaching for the sun. The vertical emphasis in buildings, churches and civic structures, has been inspiring their human occupants for centuries.

The tapering of tree trunks has also been noticed and imitated, whether in a cathedral or a New England barn or church. Most buildings move from a supportive, thick base to the roof, with the size of timbers diminishing at each level. The columns of the Parthenon—or, for that matter, the New England Greek revival porch—also taper, in part to appear “authentic or natural.”

Tree branching, not unlike the branches of river systems, shows division into smaller and smaller branches, a dendritic pattern and form that is predictable and has also been reflected in the structure of cathedrals and other buildings.

Moving from the single trees to the forest, we see that villages, towns and cities have many of the key elements of the forest: edges, corridors/roads, districts, nodes/rooms and landmarks.

As in design, edges allow us to recognize an element or feature as separate from its surroundings; in this case, the forest itself.  In forests, edges are often biologically rich and visually complex. The edge is often where the action is!

The forests have within them, furthermore, special districts of a few or sometimes a single species of tree, always reflecting the influence of soil and water. Such forest districts (we might call them neighborhoods) are replicated in our civic and garden plantings at all scales.  There are more subtle but, to the forester’s eye, richly complex nodes where different forest districts merge, sheltering animal and other life. We parallel these nodes in our town and city markets, town commons and urban squares. The node is again, where the most action is!

We all cherish the experience of a forest glade or outdoor room, and the experience is mimicked in designed landscapes from the humblest backyard to the grand estate or college campus quadrangle. Forests are, among other things, assemblées of rooms.

The path is another forests component that human buildings and communities have mimicked. Sometimes first made by animals, paths are enhanced and amended by humans. We then imitate them in our internal hallways, and, externally, in tree-lined allees of grand estates or paths through humble gardens. Canopied tree-lined streets are yet another example, none more grand than elm-lined streets, once common in New England and the Mid West before Dutch elm disease.

Forests also contain isolated trees standing alone, often an older tree, as in the wolf pine or parent oak or beech. Designers have imitated this by planting specimen trees that serve as a kind of monument, in our villages and yards.  At longer distance viewing, a group of trees can serve as a specimen.

Another helpful design principle found in the New England forests is the power of “aggregating uniqueness.”  Rather than scatter the anomalies of a forest, nature often concentrates them in a single location—the largest and youngest tree, more than one lighting condition, the rock outcrop and the small vernal pool. Imitating and aggregating similar combinations can add richness to landscape design and as with a painting, simultaneously assure focus and coherence.

The pattern of movement landing—such as a forest path as leading to an expanded open glade— is yet another principle that designers would best replicate both indoors and outdoors. Landings appear naturally along pathways, along streams, where we find large rocks, or fallen trunks. As landscape designers, we imitate and strengthen these visual and physical landings by offering benches, or widening a path, purposely interrupting predominating visual flow.

Forest lessons for human living appear limitless. In this age when pollution of all kinds is in the news; CO2, methane and hexafluorethane and more, we must recognize what the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has professed and now accomplished, community, municipal and state nature protecting laws are now adopted by some 200 cities and towns. These measures assure that life sustaining nature has rights.

We know that forests do largely unsung heroic work in sequestering C02 and perform dozens of life-enhancing tasks, such as erosion control, pollution diminishment, shading and cooling, wind protection, flood prevention, soil building and more. They are truly the lungs of the earth.  In recent years, we have begun to understand more mysterious processes, that trees and plants have their own means of communication, warn against diseases and pests and live symbiotically as family and as community, modeling for us what we find in diminishing supply among ourselves.

We would do well by recognizing the true value and importance of forests. As with many subjects, they tend to be undervalued. We are better humans to the extent that we intimately know the forests as model, design guide, mentor, teacher, health sustainer, spiritual support, physical and recreational outlet, and muse.

High Meadow Farm Ashfield, MA  March 2020

http://www.cudnohufsky.com/

http://www.wcala.com/

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Stephen Mason an Organic Community Gardener

Garden life
As a small boy I remember my grandmother walking me through the local park. She wore one of those square patterned woollen coats with a big collar. Every now and then we would stop and she would pull a small paper bag from her very large pockets.
With her free hand she would snap off a small piece of whatever plant we stood by and would place it carefully into the bag and then her pocket. As I watched she would always say `green fingers make things grow`.
When we got home she would show me how to plant out each broken piece into small pots. Trimming the broken end clean it again before sliding carefully into its new home. My recollection is that they always rooted and her garden was the most eclectic melange of plants I ever knew.
At the end of her garden in Winchmore Hill was a wooden gate. One day she took my hand and with a pair of secateurs and a basket she led me down the garden to the gate which until then I had never been through.
Beyond the gate lay a wonderful place, Humming with activity and laughter, busy with people pushing wheelbarrows ,digging and chatting.
There at the end of her garden was a huge shared allotment. Every house around it had some space to grow. Every space was a collage of greens reds and yellows, canes and frames, sheds of all sizes painted in bright colours. Butterflies fluttered and bees buzzed while spiders spun their silken webs and candy striped deckchairs lay under worn out parasols.
Together we walked past runner beans and artichokes, tomatoes and cabbages, past grape vines and roses clambering overhead.
Everyone we passed said hello with a smile offering cups of tea and occasionally gingernut biscuits.
For me as a small boy it was special , magical, a place where life felt good. The memory of it and it’s magnetic attraction have stayed a part of my life ever since.
Since then I have gardened in many places and with many people, some for fun and others for more complex reasons. I have designed and constructed, planted and cropped, sown seeds, pruned and trimmed.
Currently I work in two Community Gardens in London, each a charity offering a calm green space in a crowded hectic city . I support biodiversity and am totally Organic in every aspect of my life.
The Hoxton Trust Community Garden
The Community Gardens I work in are very different and offer a multitude of possibilities to their visitors. They are used for birthdays, educational visits, art classes, music events, poetry evenings and the obvious summer and winter celebration’s
Forest Gate Community Garden
I run workshops and short courses on a wide range of topics from Composting and Biodiversity to Organic Food Growing and Container Gardening.
Here are the links to both garden websites

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Ed Bowring a horticultural therapist and gardener living and working in West Sussex.

Coming from a long lineage of gardeners it wasn’t surprising that I too caught the gardening bug but it wasn’t until faced with my own serious physical health issues that I took what I ate seriously and looked into where our food comes from. Retraining for a more active and outdoor life, growing our own produce and dietary changes have played a huge part in improving my ankylosing spondylitis and combined with the healing process of gardening, growing has been a blessing on my mental health as well.

Through previously working as an occupational therapist in mental and physical health I realised what an amazingly therapeutic medium horticulture can be. Through further training with the RHS, Thrive, Pershore College and Coventry University I qualified as a horticultural therapist and gardener and have run and managed therapeutic kitchen gardens ever since. I currently manage a community garden in Chichester for Grow Chichester where we run supported gardening sessions for all ages and stages, those with no outside space of their own, mental and physical health issues or those socially isolated. The community garden is a wonderfully supportive and safe space where the harvest is shared between the volunteers, offered to the public and given to the local foodbank and homeless projects. 

Due to the Covid 19 pandemic anxiety is sadly rife at this time, but gardening can help, GPs and the NHS have been and continue to prescribing gardening to help with anxiety and depression. The process of connecting with nature, focusing on a gardening task and experiencing the following sense of achievement can be so grounding and really boost our mood and sense of well being.

Being shielded I keep thinking thank heavens this lockdown happened at the start of spring and not winter providing a chance to be outside and garden! It’s no secret that as a person who likes to actively do and achieve, not being able to work for months has been a real challenge. But being able to channel the frustration, anxiety and despondency into growing and developing our new garden as a family has been a lifeline for me. It’s been a joy to potter with our 6 and 4 year olds in the garden over the weeks and to slow down and focus on the small things. Whether it’s bringing the first cut dahlias into the house to brighten up a kitchen table or seeing the children’s joy at their now 8 foot tall sunflowers towering over them. It’s these simple pleasures that mean the most and have such a direct benefit on our wellbeing.

The uncertainty we are faced with currently has the potential to overwhelm and chip away at our security, but nature has provided us with the great escape. No matter what goes on around us the plants and trees still carry on, birds sing like we’ve never heard before, the seedlings tenaciously push up towards the light, buds open and the bees go about their essential daily business. Here is the hope that life carries on regardless and all will be well again.

 

Website: https://www.chichestergardener.com

https://www.instagram.com/thechichestergardener

https://www.transitionchichester.org/grow-chichester