Archive for August, 2010

private gardens

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Yesterday I was gardening with an old friend of mine. Helping to rework her raspberry beds with her lil’ baby boy near by cooing, sighing, and singing. It was a nice scene, sunny, good company, and by the end of our session we had a huge pile of raspberry canes, and no more room in the garden to tuck them. So over the fence they went, roots and all… into the hands of the neighbor who’s patio and garden I recently had the pleasure of redesigning and then building with my brother (and my 8 month old nephew in a baby bjorn, never too early to start teaching him what women can do!).

A little labor of love that garden became!

The home itself is a quaint crafts man, housing a modern family with a fun sensibility… I wanted to make sure that this all came through in the design. I decided to not just use the stone that already existed on site but to expand the spaces small size with fluid lines and simple, innovative materials.

Materials have a unique way of expressing style. The way they preform dictates the space and says something about what choices you like to make. So to give a fresh take on the crafts man home we used sheet metal liners for beds. I extended these lines to form the shape of the stairs. I wanted the materials to be inexpensive but durable and relatively easy to install. This was a twist on box steps with an elevated patio. The stairs serve as a transition to the patio, and as seating for large parties. This means the long rectangle is broken up with only a few visual tricks like containers or seating. The architecture of the space then stays available for large gatherings by moving furniture.

One of my happiest epiphanies during the building process was realizing that in rebuilding the stone wall and getting rid of an expanse of stacked cinder blocks we would not need to take down the existing fence. In its new context, the open style fence, made much more sense. And of course my clients were happy that we could take a few grand off the project by just making some sensible choices that conserved materials and precious resources. Often all a design really needs is a simplification of materials. In this case getting ride of the cheap cinder block and using only granite in it’s stead.

Another important trick is creating shifts in depth and height in a space. I do this often by obscuring views (entrances and exits) with earth and plants, or by creating a new point of view from the higher ground. I think the feeling of innovation and the fun we had building the space comes through best when you use it. I’ve heard happy words from both sides of the fence in fact. It seems the fruits of our labor have been good!

Conservatory blooms

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Aristolochia or better known as Dutchman’s Pipe is in bloom at the Conservatory. A very unusual plant with a flower that measures nearly two feet in size! Come learn about how it attracts the pollinators it prefers… Or look at an example up close under a microscope at the education kiosk in the gift shop.

Growing Conservatory

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

In a city full of gardening, and with some of the best growing conditions in the world, it has always struck me as strange that Seattle has so few publicly funded display gardens. If you drive across the border into Canada, you’ll find there millions of dollars are being invested every year in multiple gardens in and around Vancouver. Here in Seattle, the Volunteer Park Conservatory is one of the few exceptions to this trend.

However, this rare and exceptional example of a public display garden may be in danger. With a small dedicated staff, the Conservatory maintains five separate climate zones within its Victorian glass house. Known by many as the jewel box of Seattle, it really is a dazzling collection of the rare and beautiful flora of our planet. So how could the city even consider shutting down this historical landmark, especially on the eve of it’s centennial celebration? I tremble at the thought… If the conservatory were closed and the collections sold off, I fear it is not the type of institution that could be started up again — especially in a climate already somewhat hostile to public parks spending.

Not that it is doesn’t celebrate the support of many — the Conservatory is well loved. It is very hard to quantify and describe the value of the parks and public spaces to those that can’t see beyond the near future, but try to imagine New York City without Central Park? Imagine Olmsted and Vaux’s grand project being approved in today’s economic and political environment. You have to have a particular kind of mind to be able to project into the future and sense what people will need in 100 or 200 years (read A Clearning In The Distance about Olmsted’s legacy). I also think of cities that were once great beauties, but have suffered as of late. Consider Hartford Connecticut, whose natural beauty and society attracted the likes of Mark Twain to settle there, but whose river is now overshadowed by the interstate and whose downtown houses very little greenery indeed. It didn’t take more than a few poor decisions to sap the vitality, beauty, and unique charm of an urban community.

The Volunteer Park Conservatory is exactly the type of institution that should grow. Not only is it a link to our past with its architecture, but it is also is a link to our future. With collections of plants from all over the world, busloads of international tourists that arrive for informative tours, and hoards of curious and eager children visiting from our local schools — this is the type of place to preserve. Where else is a young budding ethnobotanist, biochemist, or horticulturalist going to discover their calling? While examining chocolate covered coffee beans in Starbucks? Probably not. While using our newly donated microscope? Most definitely.

Every one’s feeling the economic crunch, and the City of Seattle is no exception. I was let go, rehired, and let go again this past year by an employer that I had a solid history with that went back almost a decade. Luckily I’ve always maintained my own business. This change in my life combined with what I knew about the city budget cuts and the Conservatory was the perfect cocktail for me to drink before finally writing the check to becoming a member and volunteering oodles of extra time… I just wasn’t about to let my favorite place in Seattle disappear with a whimper rather than the terrible roar it deserved.

I make my sacrifices sound extraordinary, luckily they’re not.  Just when memberships are falling everywhere else – who couldn’t renew at my favorite radio station this year? – membership has been way up at the Friends of the Conservatory. This development is no accident. Its during poor economic periods that we need our clubs, organizations, and yes parks most. We need them in order to be able to network, stay connected, continue to learn, and enjoy places that cost little but bring a real sense of peace and joy to our lives.

Just to give you an example, today I had a chance to hear the story of one of our members who dropped in to chat and catch up. He had helped to build the small floral shop we were sitting in and in which we sell plants and offer information and expertise to visitors. His own nursery had closed it’s doors just recently and despite that loss he was in the Conservatory on his day off talking about learning to live with less. Again this is not an unusual story, people everywhere are losing what they have worked hard for. What is extraordinary is that the conservatory is gaining memberships during a period of austerity.

Partnerships are what the Conservatory needs in order to weather this storm, and partnerships are exactly what the organization has been seeking as a means to secure funding. Sometimes its tempting to keep a good thing a secret. In France they shy from sharing their favorite restaurants even with good friends, luckily this would be positively un-American. Something good should be shared, hopefully taking care not to distort or destroy it in the process. Your friends will thank you. On that note, if you haven’t experienced the Volunteer Park Conservatory, you should come check us out. So many Seattleites don’t know we are even here. If you fall for it like I did, then ask yourself what kind of partnership with the Conservatory might benefit the organizations you are already a part of? If you are a scientist, an artist, or a teacher and you love the type of questions this place inspires you to ask and the sense of wonder it encourages — bring your class here; or volunteer. Do whatever you think would be cool!

Just don’t let the city be really regrettable.


Luau on the Lawn

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Seattle’s Volunteer Park Plant Conservatory is hosting a Tropical Evening Event. Luau on the Lawn, this Thursday, August 5th 6-8:30pm. Why join the party? It’s a rare opportunity to experience the glass conservatory lit up at night, connect with other garden and plant enthusiasts, and get a behind the scenes tour of the production greenhouse area. Seattle’s own Polynesian dance troupe, will help us celebrate a summer evening of tropical delights! Come and enjoy!

Applying the final touches as we get the collections ready for the big event (here removing the stamen from the Lillies in the seasonal display)!