A group of twenty pages from the blog published in the book
(please have a look to the sample of the book)
an introduction .1
(please have a look to the sample of the book)
an introduction .1
I am trying to write an introduction for these pages and I realize, now that it is evening, that the simplest introduction would be a suggestion to watch the film "Priona", while the most personal would be a recommendation to read my text "garden me". Or finally a third, that which I choose: lose yourself in a garden.
I want to share what I know of making a garden, of plants, and of the sense of place from which the garden is born, of the community created therein, and of that broader landscape which the garden always fondly imitates.
The apple seed that I planted in the nursery garden was already an orchard, like Elze'ard Bouffier's seed, that in the drawing that comes to life, takes form from the hand that touches the ground. The present of the garden is born from the desire to put your hands in the ground. Only if we are immersed in the present we return to our right to imagine that a park built on the roof of a parking garage will last forever although it may last for only twenty years.
How to keep everything together? This is what the gardener does. In the 1800s he could have easily performed the role of majordomo, with his good eyes and his love for the plants and no thoughts beyond the pleasure of doing, like the birds that do not worry about the limiting garden wall when they perch on a branch. The images and texts herein speak of these things.
Copying, copying, and copying again the doings of Nature, but this copying will ever be an innovation because one always has the pleasure of forgetting something. Infact we are talking about a garden that is always a return home from afar, where one rediscovers that tree which is the sum of all trees, like a tree seen from the distance.
This is why the images collected here unfocus as soon as they are seen. It is because the plants move in our thoughts, they cannot help but go to and fro, between now and before, rooting themselves where it is easiest, in the cracks and crevices, and running to the sea.
"The gardeners who plant watching their own boots are haughty" it is said.
It is an undeserved arrogance which is felt by those who take care of gardens in countries where the garden culture had not been popularized as it had been for example in England on the threshold of the 20th century. A certain idea of democracy opened the back of houses to 4x5 meters of land, which permitted the diffusion of what had heretofore been the joy of kings.
And in other places there have been centuries of lawns, and that is an entirely different matter.
During those centuries practices built up like layers of soil. They pushed horticulture beyond the horizon of survival, and extended the boundaries of the body to the place inhabited by the soul (one is free to use any name), in that place where the necessity of taste meets the pleasure of sight. Thus we no longer ask ourselves, in times of peace, if a zucchini is better than its flower. Now horticulture also includes flowering plants, gardens, and even biodiversity projects published by the Royal Horticultural Society. Not bad.
All of this originated from the garden? Actually, the point of origin is the kitchen. Those 4x5 meters of land open out to the living room and once the cooking is finished, the vegetable plot opens out to the garden. Those millions of vegetable plots and gardens which make up the whole garden of Ken Thompson (University of Sheffield) which is so important for urban biodiversiy. ... A little lower, beyond the channel, begins the planetary garden of Cle'ment, to whose political criticism the English seem to prefer the libertarian adventure of going to gather well rotted manure in the farm next door.
Arrogance due to lack of experience. Completely understandable. This is why one English critic characterized the Mrs. Jekyll's haughtiness as 'unjustified', even though she had deep practical experience.
The lady could permit herself a little arrogance, not for her own prowess (which arrogance mars at least a little), but for the fact that the garden culture in her country wasn't damaged at all. Very different is the damage sustained by the less uncultivated lands, where democratization of garden culture never happened, lands in which arrogance becomes synonimous with cultural and biological impoverishment. In the absence of centuries of experiments, horticulture was not consolidated as an aesthetic habit. The imagination rises from habit, need, and desire combined, but if we lack of experience, the whole landscape in which we live suffers. And just so, the opportunity to open our eyes, to broaden our gaze, suffers as well.
"Some gardeners don't have time to watch the trees growing, they see them already grown," it is said.
designing to the sea .3
Sooner or later, the plants slink out of the design.
This is why the gardener is the inheritance of the garden. To believe otherwise, that the garden is the work of the gardener, is not only false but also less poetic. Isn't it perhaps true that the new gardener grows around a plant that was there before him? It is the pietas of the project, of he who loves the Terra Firma. And plants on the Terra Firma migrate, spread seeds from which other plants of the same species are born, always just a little further. By contrast, in the ocean everything is possible, the seeds are transported by the water, but trees do not grow. And in that infinite possibility there is no pietas, because there is nothing that asks for it and nothing that is worth defending.
The gardener simply helps the plants grow faster than they would without him. He plans something that flies away with the wind, that is borne by animals and by our own steps. The gardener pushes the plants to leave the place and grow beyond where he planted them. He does this without conscious decision (the beauty of it is when he does decide to do it, a decision that marks the highest point of the garden culture; it is of these that the pages of "garden me" speak).
In short, the gardener is the inheritance of the garden because, constructing it, he cannot but connect himself to the march of the plants from the city to the sea. There is always pietas in the doing, because it is the gardener's only way to not lose himself, to take pleasure in what he does.
The plants slink out of the design because they cannot be contained. The gardener has learned to follow them.
Two oaks are in front of my house. One close to the other, even more so now that it has been snowing for two days. Beneath them there is a desired walk, a path where people love to run and walk instead of using the officially marked ones.
This night, returning home, I followed my desired walk where the snow had not seen any footprint. Suddenly, the white at my feet faded under the canopy of one of the two oaks towards the dark of fallen leaves. It was so dark under the trees. The trees had collected all the snow with their branches.
While I was crossing that dark space I was not paying attention to a point where the ground became white again, for a second, and dark again, when I realized it was a narrow strip running between the two trees, right in the middle: a line where the snows had opened a way through the closed canopy.
I looked up at the branches, where the two dark masses met. A line was marked on the white sky. A white winding line drawn by the empty space left by the shoots of one tree meeting the shoots of the other. The canopy of the first oak did not interfere with the canopy of the second one; they grew attuned to each other according to their necessity.
How the desired walk could be deliberately and fortuitously marked following this line, invisible all over the year except when it snows, is something that spoke of the necessity that sometimes ties things together. Obviously the path runs in between the two trees and the two canopies of the same age meet at that very middle: nothing strange about that, nor mysterious…
It is about this white line on the ground, one night visible, surrounded all around by a dark carpet, a line invisible all the rest of the year and so similar to the empty line of sky, above, usually invisible too during the night, except when it snows. Two invisibles offering themselves to a winter night. This is wonder.
The necessity of biology meets human enchantment. They live together one beside the other and allow us to discover how much enjoyment is in walking their unknown distance. A unmeasurable distance, because it is not made of matter nor of space nor of time and has no meaning. In that distance we find our life as a place where biology and dream meet in the unexpected richness of something real in front of us, measurable and meaningless that makes us dream: a line of snow, just in front of us, measurable and meaningless that makes belonging start.
The measure of that line could be: “From a snowy day to a snowy day,” a measure of time more than of space, though… So the measure of this space could be “a walk along an invisible line for 360 days” (given an average of 5 days of snow per year)… Invisible just as the desire of the walk is invisible, made visible by snow, as prints are made visible by dust, and ghosts by flour.
The blackbirds are already there singing, before the sun rises, only before and just for a little while. Who knows what they are saying? (piano solo Brad Mehldau)
I would love to know what they say, and why they say it so early in the morning. Because that is the moment closest to what the night consented, in its preparation for more subtle conversations. It is the hour of waking dreams. And the song of the blackbirds is translating them, it's just that we can only understand them with our eyes when they are closed in sleep, not with our ears when we are awake. Then the songbirds are just beautiful, and they only comunicate a subtle joy without any real content.
"Blackbird" it is called by the English, who are still as pagan as the night.
Just for a little while, the duration of dreams, brief and sufficient as their peace that, without content, without translation, warms the day.
This is what they say? This ineffable joy that has no need for content, that restores curiosity to its original spark?
Blackbird singing in the dead of night / Take these sunken eyes and learn to see, sang the Beatles.
Happy to have planted the anemonies and the other plants in the garden, I realize something: water? …Ah yes, in my design the flowers grow by the grace of God. On one hand it is true (call Him what you like), but as usual, some help from the hand of man would not be amiss.
The European project Hybrid Parks ended with a Final Report.
Hybrid Parks 2/2
The Wood Claudio Abbado
Eugenio Montale .6
I discover with pleasure that the white path alongside the future 'Bosco' is dedicated to Eugenio Montale. The edge of the ditches is the starting point for the grove, from which the traces of the design spill out and continue along their way, becoming signs of a grove that I had only imagined and that, with such grand ambition!, I would like to see escape from the plan.
"... Personally, I love the roads that spill out of the grassy ditches..." Eugenio Montale, The Lemons
the vertical Byzantine gardens .7
The naivete’ in the mosaic portraits of the Byzantine emperor was an idealized choice, that did not need corrispondence between his image in the mirror and the representation on the wall. A different idea of exactness than the pleasure of the realism of 10 pieces per square centimeter seen in the Roman portraits in Turkey some centuries before. An idea, therefore, to leave to posterity an image even stronger than that of the emperor's real face, stamped into the silverleaf finish.
Now this face is entrusted to the consecration of the spirit it preserves, something that is worth more than its physical traits, a visage transfigured. A portrait which does not resemble him, but manifests him. Thus the face relies on the very sacredness that it is meant to represent.
The emperor entrusts his imperial persona to ineffable things, and the representation of the ineffable is a real challenge. It is the creation of the possibility that what one desires to see can manifest itself. The representation is a preparation for perceiving and essentially relies on just light and air that pass over the face and dress of the emperor. The light, in which dwells every apparition.
You need to search not for the resemblance to the person, but for the resemblance to the soul. Gold is actually a diaphanous mirror, set before the visage almost as if to caress it, no longer a piece of metal in which to find your own reflection. It is really light, discovered and preserved as if it were the same material with which we are made, in which the face renews itself and becomes eternal. No longer visage and reflected image, no distance anymore.
The 10 pieces per square centimetre in the portrait of the gypsy girl of Zeugma has red and brown shades that recall the almost-black hair of the girls that I met in Turkey while I was concluding the reportage on the dams.
Those gradations of color, now submerged in the water in the basin of a dam, make me reflect on the calm light of the emperor. And they cheer me.
Only a transfiguring force can overcome the tenacity with which human attachment to the earth affects the world. That feeling, which cannot forsake the image of the visage, follows it and tries to drown itself in it without even realizing that thus it will lose itself. That tenacious sense which makes men hold on to important things, then, tempers itself in the light of something that from the depths illuminates the visage. And so you can abandon the resemblances and accept that they are submerged in the water of the dams without losing yourself, without harming yourself too much: there below, in the silence of the water that paints the desert blue, the shades return to their past.
The green of the mosaics on the walls of Byzantine churches is a vertical garden.
the home garden / first page .8
The house where I lived sporadically with my family until the age of 30 has a garden. Or rather, it has a space open to the sky, 5 by 7 meters, which I call 'garden' because in the past it had been so. And now it wants to become so again.
Lacking grass, but with a Cydonia oblonga (quince) – which in the tapestries woven in my city in the mid-fifteenth century is forest green rather than hot yellow – the garden also includes an apple tree and a pear tree, added only recently since I decided to retake control of it.
This afternoon, where there was a mild lack of earth, I put in terracotta tiles. Rough work, without a foundation, because, at every corner of the tiles, a different garden can begin.
It is just so. The artichoke dye colours the woven quinces, and everything starts made of wool: castle, lady, trees, and hills. This is the landscape: there is a castle in my city and there are the girls, the trees and the hills too, at least when there's good weather.
And so the garden begins from some ferns. Of course I hadn't found the ones I wanted, but already I like these even more than those I had imagined. There are some Heuchera sanguinea 'Splendens', of that particular red-orange-pink that would have been too expensive for a tapestry not meant for a prince, admitted that the Americas had been discovered 40 years later, along with the heuchere of their wooded mountains.
This is about loving the grove to retrace that which makes it. Obviously it doesn't matter much if it is a real grove somewhere, where together with ferns live heuchere, apples, and pears. But as the artichoke green covers everything, along with the hot yellow, just so all the groves of the world bring to our imaginations as many plants as we want, and we are surprised by an apple tree in a real grove because it has been born from the droppings of a bird. And so we can no longer tell if it is a grove-grove or if its randomness is created by some imagination, with a bird ready to follow it.
This is about learning that Nature, in its extreme precision, amazes as it approaches unpredictability, because there is nothing to observe besides light and water. And so I concentrate on the half-shadow of the grove, which is the light of my garden and, for a vague fascination with the wooded landscape, on the wildness that the light confers to that which grows in it. I begin from this.
And now the grove enters into my garden, ready to exempt itself from the necessity of a correct foundation of sand, three fingers deep, as taught in every garden design book. Because in exactly 3 years, that foundation will be corroded by even the most lovable of weeds which, together with mold, will turn everything green, even the fallen quince, already turned brown-orange-green in the middle of November.
Michel Petrucciani, in an interview, says that the note Sol is green. Dear Petrucciani.
mind the garden! .10
I went to make a visit to the legacy Pizzetti at the Biblioteca della Fondazione Benetton per il Paesaggio, at Treviso. A small reading room, almost like a room in a private home: a window, the canal outside, the Epimedium x versicolor just as the professor had imagined.
Eating a gelato with the professor and my friend Federico, one day, we spoke of girls and all of us were of the same mind. Perhaps because of this, my eye settled on a splendid book: 'The teachings of the painting of gardens as large as mustard seeds.' It is an educational text, a collection of the important characteristics of landscape painting in the various historical Chinese schools up to the 17th century. Splendid, and trait d'union with Silvia, whom I tell every time she tries to return it to me that it'll happen sooner or later, so there's no rush; and so, since 2003, we have remained in contact. Evviva i libri!
A little lower, another book. In 1902, the Rev. Henry N. Ellacombe, vicar of Bitton, Gloucestershire, wrote In my vicarage garden and elsewhere. I imagine his thick sideburns and a glass of warm beer and come upon Chapter XV: "Railway Garden." Mind the Garden! Vicar of Bitton, next Spring, Earl's Court subway station, London.
planted! / second page .11
Thus my little garden is reborn.
In other times, when I was a little boy, there were lettuce and raspberries in this garden. The shadow of a Christmas tree and of a Sofora brought by the wind transformed the garden into a perfect place because, one day in that April, a woodsy garden could be born in those slabs of old terracotta and cobblestones revealed in the hands of my mother, just arrived in this house. In short it is spring.
I think that a bit of grass wouldn't be bad, but then I want to plant the perennials of the grassland and I imagine the river that brings them with it, and with it the garden, and it runs, runs to the sea... How do you do it? How do you accept that the beauty of a woodsy garden, a shady garden, cannot become a prairie, too? How can you have two beautiful things? Cocteau teaches, saying to the soldat of the Histoire: "Un bonheur est tout le bonheur. Deux, c'est comme s'ils n'existaient plus." In English: "One happiness is all happiness. Two, it is as if they didn't exist anymore."
weeds and the melancholy .12
The weeds grow everywhere, testifying to the conditions under our feet which we don't know about: exposure, humidity, clayey or sandy soil. They come from the nearby train track, or from the desert, borne on the cuffs of trousers returned from vacation, recently or less recently, perhaps even centuries ago. They are, it seems, the impossibility of stopping life. Some call it Liberty, and others fear it.
In Melancholy, Albrecht Durer depicts the sand in the half-spent hourglass. It is 1514, he is 40 years old, quite old at that time. Perhaps he felt he was at the midpoint of his life.
Another time, years before, Albrecht laid himself down in a field, followed the filaments of the grass... who knows if he feared spiders... the blank white space of the sky will stain of yellow in the depths of the parchment, so the page will seem an herbarium and the earth, below, the mud of the pressed roots... but here is the field in which he's lying, not an herbarium, and the sky is white because: "... why should I make it blue!"; he knew the scientific names of the plants, although he recalled them with difficulty; in summer the field is 'surpassingly beautiful'; "... Do I bring home the clod of earth?...".
Painting, painting, painting, thus his gaze is not lost in these ever-moving things. Thus, the gaze cannot simply pass over, skimming.
The Great Clod is a tiny bit of earth that becomes grand because is chosen for the page that measures 31cm x 40cm. A declaration of love, liking, fortified serenity. It is 1503.
But perhaps it is not a question of youthfulness or of age. Anyway, another time, Durer stops the sand at the halfway point, forever, because the ink of the engraving will never go overflow, never push down the grains of sand.
I would had liked it if lying in the grass had become a habit for him, a little more and he would have let himself fall from that vertiginous height of 30 centimeters from which one may only learn to fall, just as Leopardi learned in the sweetness that the infinite had by then taught to his gaze.
Albrecht Durer chooses the most confusingly useless forms of plant life, the arbitrary and even feared, used by pharmacists and witches, sometimes banned. Look, choose, and raise them. They do not scare him, they flow, and because they do this without a precise plan he knows it is better to get to know them slowly, take his time, perhaps using watercolors, fast and light, but always contributing to the design. Indicating where he is, constantly, even in a field during summer, and later, even the specific point in his walking route (it seems inevitable for those who live here below).
This is the significance of weeds: they gather like companions, because they mark the emptiness, they reveal it to us, and they say: 'buon viaggio.'
cra... cra... / third page .13
Happy to have planted the anemonies and the other plants in the garden, I realize something: water? …Ah yes, in my design the flowers grow by the grace of God. On one hand it is true (call Him what you like), but as usual, some help from the hand of man would not be amiss.
I must therefore come up with an irrigation plan. I get shivers that run like the little tubes of black plastic so necessary to the survival of the garden. I don't remember the necessity of guaranteeing the constant presence of water. The garden was the 'house garden,' it belonged to the past years of high school, trips, reports, distances, snow, cat-paw prints, calicanthus and spontaneous reveries, settled into the ground with the snailshells and a fig-bricks-roots-other bricks and time and even more time. That garden had become the casket where I brooded on the rickety little bench… now I am laughing.
"Excuse me, garden, but what do you want, I can't always be there to water you, I can't... and you plants must learn to adapt just as the books say you do, you can’t show off only on British terrain... well, I guess it's easy to take care of yourselves when it rains and there's sun at least four times a day!"
But you know, gardening has its own rules: "If you want a garden without effort, pave it." ... clear enough, it seems to me. Thus, since yesterday the little 6mm tubes run just about everywhere: goodbye to the seeming of naturalness. No burying can contain them, I know that they are there below.
At that point in the afternoon, however, the pact with time, necessary for the absent gardener, the lazy gardener, and for those who prefer cement to plants, became a pact of absence-presence that pushed man to trust himself more and more to his own inventiveness, leading to the innovation of a magical tool, which removed my slight sense of unease when I activated it at the end of work. The timer is incredible, the pump that opens and closes! My reluctance to read the instructions (a friend, on the other hand, loves to read them), combined with the surprise of discovery, led to me playing for a half-hour with the only button, pressing with regularity until the trustworthy responses had revealed all of its functions.
... The water was everywhere and the shady garden had become a bog garden: cra... cra... cra... between the anemones.
A garden in iron wire with lions and monkeys and curtains and a whip and a ring of fire and tumblers and of course roses... one begins from the sky, from a cloud like that which brings the sky inside the MOMA. I love Calder.
He would plant a Lunaria annua with its papery, translucent seeds that move in the even finer wind and he would call it Lunaria annua 'Mobile'!
kings, pirates and gardeners .15
A gente trabalha o ano inteiro
Por um momento de sonho
Pra fazer a fantasia
De rei o de pirata ou jardineira
(Gal Costa singing Tom Jobim)
Kings, voyages on the sea, gardeners searching for plants at every cape, and the pirates, bothering the English: likeable crew. But I like better the gardeners who traveled on sea and land to find marvelous plants to send home. Of course, the fame... yes, if you lived. They were follies, instigated by the demon of love for the discovery of unknown plants. Plain and simple, try to understand...
How beautiful, an epoch of scientific discoveries founded solely on Liberty, that liberty which went by the name of observation and experimentation, rather than philosophical reflection or religious truth. A little like finding oneself in front of a chesnut-flour cake and, instead of tasting it, asking oneself if the use of knife and fork, recommended for the tasting of wheat-flour cakes, would be suitable or not... just so, more or less, discovery was frustrated in the minds of scholars who still hadn't directly observed the phenomenons. Also because those scholars risked much with open eyes. They were pirates, really... gardeners and pirates, therefore, a little more similar than we thought.
And think of the portrait of John Tradescant the Younger (1608-1662), son of John Tradescant the Elder (1570-1638), like his father the royal gardener of England: the hand rests on the spade (the style of the handle the most comfortable ever invented, today recreated by the best manufacturers and, of course, present among my own garden tools...), the sword of the King of the Garden. The sword that we Italians, mimicking the English, pronounce ''speid''... and this is, of course, the correct pronunciation of the English word spade which means: vanga! The two Johns knew themselves to be kings. No one before the elder Tradescant had lived the adventures of traveling on land and sea and, once returned, of creating a wunderkammer of objects and plants, The Ark, open to the public and the first English museum, not to mention the nucleus of the future Ashmolean Museum of Oxford. Gardeners, pirates, and kings.
Or in another order: ''De rei o de pirata ou jardineira.'' It is some centures later in Brazil, in the age of Tom Jobim, surely a friend of gardener Roberto Burle Marx, and these three historical archetypes had never been so intimate.
Cards combine if there is the freedon to do so. Destinies wind together and everything becomes possible following the path you want to follow, that you are able to follow. A garden is the putting together of plants that voyaging gardeners had the freedom, the courage, and the pride to imagine.
No sea voyage, no mutiny (the Bounty was searching for plants, but later, fatigued by the quest, its crew contented itself with the island sun), a pencil, and 10 scientific names of plants to memorize every week. Yes, this is my little Herbarium of 47 plants, one plant drawn out of 10 plants studied, every week, over 2 years at the College. Thanks to Carolus Linnaeus.
That good man Linnaeus gave to the new plants (and to those already known, infuriating the old botanists who with their tired memory had to return to their schooldesks) the names of his friends and enemies. And if those friends became evergreen plants with perfumed flowers, imagine his enemies (and he had many).
I have a soft spot for Linnaeus, young at heart right up until he died, conscious from the start of his own genius for organizing and naming things (today it would be called a form of autism), and resentful of the arrogant English scholars. What could be better?
His only fault was that he was not generous. Plants and drawings from his colleagues, merchants, and researchers from all over the world were not reciprocated. Just so he would be abandoned by his pupils, without understanding why. Children do not understand this, and adults sometimes do not have the critical detachment that permit the understanding that a pear tree will not bear apples. And given that the fruits Linnaeus gives are already wonderfully sweet, let him run over all the fields with his students, organized in playful battalions, dressed for spring with butterfly nets, lenses, sticks, and spades to name the plants, birds, and stones. Observing for the purpose of seeing. Everyone had fun, and they learned from the greatest botanist of their era, an era in which ordinary women who prescribed herbal infusions were burned in front of a mob of ignorance and fears.
Linnaeus imparted order, simplifying contemporaneous methods for the classifications of living things, subtracting life and his names from arbitrariness, which always can be penetrated by superstition.
Anyway it is true that scientific names are difficult to remember, even more now that I am very aware that there is no basis for a name like Siegesbeckia: its evil odor and its tendency to grow in uninhabited wastelands, connected the poor plant with the hated Siegesbeck, Linnaeus's archenemy, detractor of the definition of the Sexual System based on Linnaeus's work.
Robin Hood .17
The Fraxinus excelsior seed seems to not want to germinate. I'm sorry about that, because it would be another tree to plant someplace in my city. However, given that the two Acer negundo I planted three spring ago had not survived the diligent public lawnmowing of the summers, perhaps it is better that the tree which does not grow will stay where it is, in that same place from where, one day, Brancusi's nouveau né had come to light.
It is a question of courtesy to refrain from planting trees in public lawns if the public office involved has not mandated it. The diffusion of uncatalogued, previously unmonitored plants may result in a proliferation of diseased or invasive species, which would harm the cohabitation of all the trees. Taking from the rich to give to the poor can be important, but that is not what this is about, and communicating with the public administration is more sensible and preferable to losing the future 'pirate' plants, which are not remotely at fault!
I believe, though, that a tree here and there, planted by a young man to dedicate to his fiancée this new promise of profound roots, is the greatest conquest of urban society. If that young man planted an Ailanthus altissima (perhaps the most happily invasive tree species in the world), then I would ask him to pick a new species the next time (always, of course, for the same fiancée) and to perhaps not allow himself to be confused by the name ''Tree of Heaven'' and to choose instead a terrestrial fruit tree: because, as ecology professor Jonathan Silvertown writes, the seed of a fruit tree is an ''invisible orchard.''
But as for the mowing, the summer after? Well, propose in autumn, and then we'll take it from there...
bassa padana (my region) .18
Yesterday I was going to the beach and on the way, in the center of a roundabout, a splendid landscape opened up before me. After a moment of pure pleasure, I asked myself who could have completed a project so cool in the Bassa Padana. Farther ahead was the edge of the road that became that splendid landscape which, without interruption, continued for kilometers... Finding the artifice of the roundabout and of the whole landscape around me was easy: forgetfulness.
Your own forgetfulness enriches such a project. Thus a roundabout becomes a splendid garden thanks to having neglected, during the planning phase, to guarantee a high density of planting which, reducing the empty spaces between plants, would have rendered difficult the vegetable competition, which, in open country and with the rain of this spring, didn't need anything more.
The opportunistic aerial plants become the stars: the grasses arrive after the chosen species as in a bicycle race. The chosen species, "the right plants" inspire a project, the acquiring, the planting, the watering... and these others, already omnipresent in the air, make the final touch when, so beautifully, they impart an unexpected sense to our doings.
A garden that no imagination could have inserted with such continuity in the surrounding landscape becoming itself that same landscape.
(At the College they sometimes describe a flower as so sexy! so cool!)
A distance separates the movement at the same speed as that of the Earth, the speed at which events and people happen, and that of making gardens. It is the same distance as that between looking through a window and going beyond that glass. To stay on this side, and with dignity, requires a critical distance, which you learn with the passing years even at your own risk, if you can. But there are people who have broken that glass and moved beyond, and for a little while moved at that velocity. However, having it in your blood is completely different, and after a certain period something takes you home. Or rather, after a certain period you calm yourself and enter a garden.
I call it a garden because the Paradises were those spaces surrounded by walls in the immense Persian desert, where fruit trees grew: gardens. The walls were raised to protect the work of the gardener from the desert. Defense not from enemies, to whom the wall would have been but a minor annoyance, but from the desert which little by little enters and treacherously fixes itself between the plants and the work necessary to cultivate them, weakening the enchantment. An enchantment necessary in order to see a garden in the midst of the sand.
The enchantment self-destructs if the speed is mismatched to your legs and your eyes. Thus the garden is born. Thus, if it is true that the critical distance must come with experience – the one antidote to inadequacy – it is also true that cultivating your own Paradise is a sacred homage to enchantment.
mr. Dario .20
I call him because I want to visit his park, oasis, grove... I don't know, I had heard about it. I am curious. Close to Ferrara. I know the man by sight. He is the yoga teacher of one friend and the cousin of another. I take the car and drive. Above me the wind and sun are splendid.
He invites me in, through the living room – here a photograph, a chair, and a window white with light – and opens the door of the garden.
It is called London Wetland Centre, we are in London and Peter Scott had imagined it. You need inspiration and intelligence to realize it. It is the need of living in a landscape richer than that which it nurtures, of creating connections among people, discussions, and wealth... which someone, perhaps, might offer, infatuated by the same necessity and surely more well-to-do.
Ferrara and the London Wetland Centre: I can only describe yesterday's stroll with multiple reflections on a single wonderful thing, so that little by little I can approximate the image that I want to communicate. That image without real connections, in which idea and geographically walkable landscape are held together to become paths, views, profound and durable serenity.
Peter Scott was also a cousin of someone, and someone else will have crossed the threshold to the living room-a chair-a photograph: Peter Scott was never able to see the immense pools of the marvelous project that, south of Tamigi, in what was one of the most polluted capitals of the world in the Sixties and Seventies, would have had the strength to flood an area diminished by the dense urbanization and permit me, walking with my head continously tilted back, to see ducks fly and nest in the center of London. He was the president of the WWF, a good man for the job, who had killed a bird during a hunt and from that moment on had decided that its young must be born and live by the millions.
I leave London and the water ripples in the wind, from one 2.50-meter pond to another, 1.50 meters, and from there to yet another of 30cm, passing in tubes, from canal to canal to the Ferrarese countryside, refreshing itself from the water that emerges from a 8-meter dig "... look, there's the little island with the Salix sepulcralis...". Spaces created where no one had ever set foot. The door of the garden is open and the light becomes green and blue ahead, where we can only bow to the force of 18 years of plantings, digs, and fixes for the thing done the day before, every day after.
A grove of plants at the forest edge, a path moving among trees whose fruits dirty your hands "... but you aren't getting dirty? ... Ah yes, I thought so!...", a circle in the land from the ether of Scottish dreams, to be happy, because only thus do we succeed at being so, at doing things, so that the street forms at every step, as it opens, hospitable, ahead: here I was accepted, like the wild grasses that you can't help but allow to take root. Retake the path.
He had chopped a salad for me and left in front of the lane so I could remember to take it on my return route. In the car on the bank, to the left the sun is a bit more yellow, the white road ahead.
A garden as long as a river
Text written for a german garden magazine, 2017.
(translated by the sweetest Amelia Linsky)
Text published in Garten Land NRW 02/2017
The second edition of the EGHN-Magazine is likely to be published in April 2017. The thematic focus will be on “art and culture in parks and gardens”. The “View from abroad” on North Rhine-Westphalia will be written by an Italian landscape architect.
A grassy shore, a great river, horses basking in the sun, a Baroque fountain, a lake, a wooded grove, a perpsective star traced in the grove, a factory, coal, a thin lawn, a lifeless trunk, a field of grain, a pool-mirror, a tower, the courtyard of a castle, a lime tree inside the courtyard, its perfume filling the air - I am traveling.
I go out again to the countryside and then to the woods. I have arrived where the Rhine begins to open itself to the sea. I am far from home.
I came from Italy to visit certain gardens of the North-Rhine, guided by a friend. Everything that passes before me is founded in the image of a single garden, the confused borders of which, however, I still do not want to define.
“Learning occurs through a combination of the new with that which already exists in the mind”, as a friend tells us at dinner that night.
Over the course of a week, 14 diverse landscapes* pass before my eyes, progressively coinciding, one then another, with an increasingly apparent logic. They combine until they create a precious, imaginary “palette” of compositional tools. Tools that come out of their assigned space - their borders melt - without losing their own identity: each one of these tools fades, perhaps, in order to affirm its gratitude toward its neighbor. Compositional tools that span centuries and that tell me the story of the garden in this region north of the Rhine.
Encouraged by the long-awaited heat of summer, and by the comfort of the car, I fall into a strange dreaming state at every relocation. I confuse names and forms and, despite my faithful travel journal, I realize only that I am passing from habitat to another, from sandy soil to clay, from the open sunshine of a grain field, to the half-shade of a country lane, and the vast countryside that opens up before me and the thick woods from which all the gardens of this region are born, and from which they cannot help but be born.
I am bicycling now and I discover the game of the climbing head of grain; if a head of grain is placed inside the hem of one's trousers, it will climb up to the knee and create an incredible itch! A child's game, says my friend Wolfgang; I tried, and I was scratching for the whole day: the memory fixes a certain totality within its geography. The childhood of others, the landscape of others where I hope to enter in. It is a voyage through centuries in a great garden, as much as a whole region, and what has begun is the story of a belonging. So then the names and specific forms of these landscapes do not matter that much, when that which emerges before my eyes is a clear permanence of signs and a faithfulness to them, declared through the centuries.
This tells me many things.
The wild horses are basking along the beach of the Rhine, they sleep beside a herd of oxen wading in the water. I am in the twenty-first century and to remind mysef of this, I call them, and I watch as they awaken and gather together to begin a new game. Never would I have thought to begin from a sun-drenched shore...
But this is exactly the point: how to introduce nature into the “constructed form” of the artistic tradition of our European history? How to open up the necessity of the form of our creation to a nature that knows not how to hold itself (how could it?) in a fixed form?
This is the form that in the Tiergarten of Cleves was given to the hill, creating a perspective star out of open spaces in the copse to reveal the movements of the deer, a form that now time has restored to nature, weaving its star together with the boughs of splendid beeches.
A challenge is contained in this question and the attempt to find a response is the great opportunity to create, to experiment in a new landscape. The tools are here before us.
I'm distracted for a second, I am thinking about Italy. The Renaissance had been too intense in its affirmation of the value of the form to allow our modern eyes to open easily to the forms of nature. The theatrical representation of power was expressed, at its apex, in the gardens of sixteenth-century palaces, diffusing its infinite variations into the courts of all of Europe for centuries. Along with the fading of the spectacle of these palaces, that strict faithfulness to formal representation was concluded; and the form learned to become a little more willing to open itself to that which it could not contain.
Outside of that spectacle begins nature and its strength, and the necessity, for us, to begin to know it. It is not an easy lesson nor yet understood everywhere. Fortunately, among the tools of landscape-shaping there is patience, necessary to explaining that nature that's a little bit wild should not inspire fear, and that an opening to it begins a great opportunity to define a landscape which is truly adaptable to the ecological, social, and economic challenges of our time.
Maybe it is necessary to learn to follow that which of our relationship with nature most persists, and which is most rich in consequence. I am thinking about my cultural tradition and I think that it is necessary to learn from other places how to follow the common thread of such a rapport, and I find myself again along the Rhine river, where the marvelous challenge of using abandoned industrial spaces opens up before me.
I walk in open parks where the form cannot impose itself in time and leaves space for nature's suggestions as it makes itself a space among the remnants of an abandoned building. Parks that learned how to grow around pre-existing things without presuming any sense whatsoever outside of their own simple existence as green spaces, there where the past had been hostile to nature. It will be the citizens, then, to create the park with their presence.
For a moment, I sense the nearness of these parks, more than that which perhaps one imagines, to the hunting preserves born two centuries ago of a need for play and for freedom retraceable only to the nature of the woods, and also to the parks of the ninteenth century, where already the form did not presuppose itself, as it had just a short time before. At Cleves, one sensation approaches another within a few meters.
This is the common thread. A whole region slowly opening itself to nature, fleeing the geometric measurements of form of the days of hunting on horseback in the Tiergarten, and some time later, stopping at the border of a little lake to view the new fashions in greenery reflected from across the Channel, and finally reaching the useless accident of iron and cement around which, finally, it is able to open the doors to the wild side of the world and to sign a new pact with nature.
The trip is reaching its end, the river runs to unite the woods and the fields, to renew that sense and that function that hold together the cities of this region. It is from the riverbed that every legible combination of the tools of the palette for all these gardens is born. It is along the river that these tools have engraved ancient signs in the territory: they are those lanes along which run the ditches of the countryside, they are the rows of oaks, streams, the ponds, the woods, the falcon that crosses the alder grove, all figures of a familiarity that cannot remove itself from the territory, and which learn to endure by faithful use of the land, with diverse forms, but always constant signs of belonging.
There is a reason for such faithfulness; it is necessary to keep reading this Reason in order not to lose our way.
I think that I did well to awaken the horses on the shore of the Rhine. My friend pointed out something to me: horses can also sleep lying down; I had not known this. Whoever says that horses only sleep on their feet has perhaps not yet met the garden which, in sleep, those shores open up to those who come by.
Klever Gartenlandschaft, Kleve (EGHN)
Theetuinen, Millingen (NL)
Schloss Moyland, Bedburg-Hau (EGHN)
Sculpturpark Waldfrieden, Wuppertal (EGHN)
Nordsternpark, Gelsenkirchen (EGHN)
Maximilianpark, Hamm (EGHN)
Botanischer Garten, Münster (EGHN)
Aasee/Promenade, Münster (EGHN)
Haus Hüshoff, Havixbeck (EGHN)
Krickenbecker Seen / De Wittsee, Naturpark Schwalm-Nette, Nettetal-Hinsbeck
Garten Alst, Thorsten Matschiess, Brüggen-AlstNursery Höfkes, Kempen
Nursery Hortus, Peter Jahnke, Hilden
You may want to have a look at its pages and if you bump into the Epilogue you might recognize my writing hand. The Epilogue (the text published below) is my contribution to that Final Report.
Hybrid Parks 2/2
Text written for the final conference of the project Hybrid Parks, Colonia 14, 15, 16 Settembre 2014
In these two years the Hybrid Parks project has sought the most appropriate management for the public parks which comprise a territory more or less as vast as that of Europe. An ambitious project begun with the faith of the enthusiastic; a project that closes, now, with the same faith, but with the discretion that comes with the knowledge of a long and unknown road ahead.
No one of us, at this point, would presume to believe that the Hybrid Park model which he sought exists.
And this is the true success of the whole project: to have removed the seductive tendency to simplification, and to have demonstrated the complexity and the fascination of the European territory.
If the problem to confront is the ecological question, then it is easy. We have all the knowledge to create green spaces adapted to the slow, progressive decline of climatic and ecological variety, the trend of rising temperatures and the scarcity of water.
Technically, it is easy. All we need is attention to the sustainability of plant choices, along with informed planning regarding naturally occurring biological systems, in the creation of somewhat self-sufficient plant communities. Sturdy, resistant plants placed in a plan which mimics natural landscapes, so that the dynamism of those ecological communities enters into the landscape of our cities.
The corollas of dried flowers for insects and birds, to be pruned only in winter, with a notable reduction of expenditures, will bring beauty to cities which no longer expect it, a new aesthetic, in which the plants can finally express their whole life cycle.
Sustainability in the choice of the species, sustainability in planning, and sustainability of management.
We are talking about a culture of green spaces that opens up to a beauty that we're no longer used to, a beauty constructed of formal, yet unusual solutions.
And here the ecological issue opens up a vista that goes beyond the purely aesthetic.
As I was writing I realized that thinking about these unusual methods of planning, capable of following the plants in their natural development, led to another, parallel thought which very gradually took form. I realized that I was looking at plants in a way that I was no longer used to. I realized that concentration on the plant forms necessarily led to thinking about social ones, and that the way of looking at plants became a sort of suggestion of how to open my eyes wider.
Perhaps the understanding of biodiversity contributes a comprehension of the social diversity in our cities.
We discover that that new aesthetic is capable of exceeding the confines of ecology, and tells us something about our parks' potential to adapt better to the dynamic social fabric of our cities; parks capable of allowing that dynamism to express itself without being impoverished.
An aesthetic of ecology which is totally new, simply because only recently have we learned to notice the abandoned patches behind our house, where the plants occupy the space best adapted to them.
At the Ferrara conference last November, I hinted at the risk of not heeding ecological urgency in planning green spaces: the risk, beyond the obvious ecological issues, that the landscape in which we live would cease to represent anything for its inhabitants and that its forms would no longer generate any sense of belonging.
I asked myself, then, what form our landscape should have.
I talked about how, in the first half of the fourteenth century, the frescoed Allegoria del Buon Governo painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti at Siena, exemplified the representation of the landscape most suited to contemporary ideas of well-being, social cohesion, Peace.
In these two years, Hybrid Parks has sought to represent the landscape most reflective of our idea of Peace.
And at the end, the project admits a sort of wistful diffidence, and asks if it must necessarily develop a specific sort of “laboratory model” super-park, or if, instead, we must think about a park privy of predefined form, a park to redefine every time, capable of adapting in any moment, always responsive to what happens inside and around it.
Contemporary Peace, as is now evident everywhere in the world, lives in the successful management of ecological integrity and social cohesion.
A territory's social cohesion depends on the sharing of common values formed around life's fundamental necessities, needs which are the most direct expression of our relationship with the environment.
Sustainability and Peace are identical.
Public spaces are definitively most appropriate to allow the formation and maintenance of urban cohesion because it is therein that sharing may express itself in all its myriad forms, growing without weakness.
The multiplicity of forms in which this sharing manifests itself becomes an important tool for us.
If, at the technical level, as we have seen, the differentiation of management of the green zones guarantees the quality of the biodiversity of a natural environment, then responding to the various needs of those who will use and share public spaces is required. In other words, it is required to to differentiate the opportunities for use of those spaces.
From plants we have passed to people, because society and environment share the same destiny, and both can function only as a unified system.
It is possible to create differentiated public spaces only if one draws on a multiplicity of management techniques capable of satisfying as many needs. This is the spirit of the Hybrid Parks project – the synergy among crafts, businesses, technicians.
Thus we see that “hybrid” and “biodiverse” are effectively synonymous. The same spirit animates them, teaching us to resist every temptation to specialize our gaze. The gaze must maintain its bird's-eye view of the differences, it must remain capable of taking in the diversity of things by seeing them as a unified entity without any reduction or impoverishment.
If we imagine seeing a city from above – as I said back then at Ferrara – blessed with a bird's-eye view, the fragmented totality of its gardens reveals itself as a single garden. Birds do not notice dividing walls between gardens, or whether a plant is in one garden or another... they fly above a single garden as large as the entire city. The rich biodiversity of this single garden is due, simply, to the random variety of the larger and smaller habitats which comprise it, not to the presence of model super-gardens specially designed for biodiversity.
Thus Hybrid Parks did not arrive at a formal model, but the bird's-eye view of the unified totality of each of our material and spiritual needs.
The fact is that we need to dust off our imaginations. At least this is what certain events, as you will hear shortly when I talk about Palermo, have taught me to do.
I believe that Italians may more naturally understand something that other, more orderly and precise cultures have difficulty in recognizing, if they even remember it.
This summer I traveled to Sicily. My plane flew in to Palermo. It was the first city I visited. A masterpiece!
Visiting Palermo is like going to the psychologist: the more you walk, the farther away you drift from familiar things. But at the same time, you feel as though you're coming home, only with a clarity that you never had before.
Walking around historic Palermo, one slowly learns to welcome the chaos of its streets and facades, and at the end of the day, what you see – in a mixture of reality and transfiguration – is a unified totality of formal richness, become a sort of sensation of belonging.
What I called chaos on the day of my arrival, the day after, I called multiplicity. The city appeared to me as a palimpsest. Palermo is a leaf of parchment on which is written a text written upon a preexisting text, scribed centuries earlier and then scratched away to fix a new text upon the sheepskin, without the previous writing being completely lost. The traces remain upon the transparent sheet for us to find.
In Palermo one perceives the resemblance between our lives and that palimpsest where the signs are left upon the surface, all rich with significance. At present those signs appear confused, all in their own space, all with their own fragment of sense, all abiding together and ready to tell us something. One only needs the patience to read them.
And perhaps we, who have begun to notice the beauty of the unkempt lawn behind our house, are becoming more capable of that kind of patience.
This is nature, this is the city, this is us.
Cities have always endured by their care for pre-existing things. The richest and most long-lived civilizations cared for multiplicity. In Sicily, the Normans did it with the Saracens, and the Saracens with the descendants of the Greeks. To deny complexity meant death, to welcome it welcomed also prosperity.
We have always been hybrid.
And so it is necessary to re-train our gaze to the habit of complexity. It must relearn to be hybrid; only then will it be able to see the hybridity of the space around it and able to plan it so it's truly adapted to material and spiritual needs of those who inhabit it, against the temptation to reduce that which we hold to be important in fixing upon a form that presumes to be exemplary.
A palimpsestic landscape capable, too, of losing things by the wayside because, as this experience demonstrates, what is needed often manifests itself outside any planned project.
And so a model hybrid park, a hybrid park par excellence, does not exist. There exist ecological and social needs that must be attended to together, within the specificity of the conditions in which they exist, until the form of the park that is born is their most coherent representation.
Perhaps the hybrid park is that which allows such uses to settle upon the urban layout, a park that takes on meaning just as a formal opportunity for the layering of use, a park able to return the spaces of the city to the needs which present themselves.
This park which welcomes and increases multiplicity of use, by means of an internal differentiation of forms, becomes an instrument of social cohesion. Diverse members of society find the space most appropriate to them because that park reflects them as though it were the form of a habitual use. There, common values express themselves.
I like to think that our hybrid park already exists. It is different from every existing park and yet takes the best of all of them, in a Europe that we know is not more complex than fourteenth-century Siena in the eyes of its citizens.
Hybrid Parks 1/2
Testo scritto, come relatore, in occasione del workshop del progetto Hybrid Parks, Ferrara 6, 7, 8 Novembre 2013
(translated by the sweetest Amelia Linsky)
and The Allegory of Good Government
or “Comb your grasses at the end of the season...”
Our topic is Hybrid Parks; in Italian, Parchi Ibridi. We can even push farther and think about translating the phrase from spoken language to a visual one, as did Ambrogio Lorenzetti when he painted The Allegory of Good Government on the walls of the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, in 1338.
Some sing and some dance, some go about their business. A city opens up to the countryside, the people go in and out, some hunting, some bringing in goods. The city changes into countryside through a strip of orchards and vineyards adjacent to the walls. It is the image of Peace, an image of diversity and harmony, variety and color. It is The Allegory of Good Government. On the opposite wall, an indistinct blot, the gray and brown of devastated woods and abandoned fields, is The Allegory of Bad Government.
The landscape becomes a way to represent the condition of the city. But, through the power of allegory, something more happens. The allegory is comprised of certain elements: the laughing, dancing girls, the open windows of the houses, the shops, the cultivated fields. We identify these things with Peace; they are Peace. The allegory establishes the shared identity of Peace and its Landscape, inspiring a sense of familiarity and belonging in us, the viewers. This is the power of the allegory: the creation of an indissoluble unity out of that Landscape and our basic needs. In that room in the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena, Peace and the city of the fourteenth century have found their perfect Landscape.
In Ferrara from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, the great economic and military power of the Estense dukes assumed a double form. First, technologically advanced weapons to use and to sell to Europe's great powers; second, the Delizie, landscaped palaces in which the court lived during part of the year. The garden, in an age of war, grew out of power and came to represent it.
The presence of these green areas in today's city has remained, for the most part, intact. A bird's-eye view reveals the northeast part of the city colored in unbroken green, and here transpires an interesting experience. Here one wanders through a rare fusion of the sacred and the profane set amid medieval gardens. Within the perimeter of the walls, the countryside maintains its proper use, not only its formal persistence as a venerated area between the Christian and Jewish cemeteries that have protected its longevity.
Perhaps Ferrara is particularly suited to host a discussion on Hybrid Parks since it is familiar with ancient ways of managing public green spaces in such a way as to make them sources of inspiration. Here we find, almost incidentally, some roots of the idea of Hybrid Parks. This concept, fitting itself into Time, takes on a patina of normalcy, of obviousness, which restores to us the evidence of its most authentic character and richness: diversity. The Ferrarese perception of normalcy in this regard renders the idea of the fusion of the urban and the agricultural more familiar, more customary, and therefore readier to settle, like rich sediment, into the minds of everyone crossing these fields. Thus, we aim to reach the end of the workshop with a sense of rediscovery regarding the visual and attitudinal obviousness around the meaning of hybrid, and, with it, the aesthetic need for this type of landscape. Belonging tout court.
The plans and projects to be undertaken in light of this rediscovery, of course, must yet be invented.
A garden – and every Park is a garden – takes a form which represents the urgent concerns of he who creates it. Thus, the history of a garden is a continuous transformation of forms and ideas. It is a theater of representation with changes at every performance.
We all know that the urgent concern of ecological change is the dominant idea of our time. And so it is that we must find an answer to the question: what is the form of garden suitable for performing this urgency? I like to think that the garden capable of performing the things closest to our hearts has an uncommon form, following the plants during their natural development.
The beauty of it is, in accounting for ecology, one arrives at a point of never being able to forget it... On the 21st of December, 1978, the most adventurous of English gardeners, Christopher Lloyd, wrote that it is a “question of upbringing”: if you grow up running in tall grass, nothing less will do. Nothing less than a Beauty coming to light in forms no longer traceable to a conventional idea of order, but synonymous with biological diversity.
(Read the page below: Drifts / Fillers (Matrix) / Natural Dispersion / Intermingling with accents/ Successional Planting / Self seeding and watch the video of Piet Oudolf's "Potters Fields Park" in London)
This involves the creation of a green culture open to solutions for the slow, progressive decline of climatic and ecological variety, addressing the trend of rising temperatures and the scarcity of water. Attention to the sustainability of plant choices, along with informed planning regarding naturally occurring biological systems, in the creation of ecologically based, designed urban long term, somewhat self-sufficient plant communities. Hardy and enduring plants set into the heart of a project which, mimicking natural landscapes, can conduct the dynamism of biological communities into the urban landscapes of our cities. The management of these spaces will yield, in autumn and winter, food for birds and insects which eat the heads of dead flowers, as well as the formal beauty of perennial grasses in their winter phase, intervening only in their pruning, resulting in reduced expenditures. And so even the grassland communities may be open to maintenance as no-mow zones, where public use permits it, leaving them to their natural development. In this case, too, expenditures are reduced by entrusting end-of-season mowing to farmers to use for grazing their animals. Sustainability in the choice of the species, sustainability in planning, and sustainability of management. Thus “sustainability” becomes synonymous with “diversity”, that same diversity which makes up the Landscape of Peace in the Allegory of Good Government fresco, but for a totally new landscape.
The risk of not heeding ecological urgency, not translating it into the forms most consonant with it, is that the landscape in which we live might cease to represent anything for anyone, and instead presents repeating forms that nevertheless do not contribute to a sense of belonging. And it is belonging which creates a City. If Good Government and its Peace had found, in the fourteenth century, the appropriate pictorial representation in that perfect Landscape, we must ask ourselves how the twenty-first century's ecological urgency, our Peace, can be adequately represented.
What will our allegory be?
Ferrara does not have great economic resources, but it is equipped with a tool for the management of public green spaces which allows innovation. It is called Adozione Verde; in English, Green Adoption: a non-profit association of private citizens who adopt from the City Council, for five years, an area from 20 square meters to 2000. Differentiated use of pubblic space is thus spread throughout the entire city, enriched by the most varied contributions from private citizens. At this point we arrive to the importance of awareness and the culture of citizenship in protecting the quality of the adoptions and this workshop addresses the culture of citizenship since it can establish agreement for the building of broad public consent in different countries.
And so hybrid loses every connotation of size and becomes a habit of thought, and thus it can push beyond the idea of the Park to enter our homes, enriching our fragmented private green spaces in order to transform them and include them in a greater unity. If we imagine seeing the city of Ferrara from the air, blessed with the sight of its birds, the fragmented totality of its gardens reveals itself. Birds do not notice dividing walls between gardens, they fly above a single garden as large as the entire city, whose richness comes from the variety of the many smaller habitats which comprise it. It is not a question of scale so much as one of approach, and it has a name: once again, it is “diversity”. If this vision matures, Ferrara, like many other cities, may not need a Hybrid Park, because it is already a Hybrid Park, in that it already functions as such. It is only necessary for it to mature, that is, diversify, in the functioning of its green spaces as a whole, while each piece is valued for its unique particulars.
In Ferrara, multiplicity maintains the unity between the present and the medieval within an unexpected chronological jump. Perhaps we must think to a spatial multiplicity capable of perpetuating the little garden and the great park, making them work together, rendering intervention at every scale more fluid, more adaptable; or rather, making our Allegoria more attentive to the fragile unpredictability of our times.
Ready for Christmas 2015 the new born little Wood Claudio Abbado is glooming in the winter fog of my city Ferrara, Italy: pear, apple, quince trees and oak, acer, elm trees to embrace a vulnerable neighbourhood. Here you will discover what it is all about.
(translated by the sweetest Amelia Linsky)
Thinking about “The Great Clod” by Albrecht Dürer
We are in 1503 and Dürer, at 32 years old, is painting some tall grasses.
Two years later, during his second trip to Italy, Dürer is in Ferrara, where he visits the construction site of Biagio Rossetti's fortifications. He is gathering elements for his study on the defense of the city, to be developed in subsequent years and published in 1527 as a treatise entitled:
Etliche underricht zu Befestigung der Stett, Schloss und Flecken (Some instructions for fortifying towns, castles and small cities)
It is a treatise written for the purpose of defense.
The art of war had changed dramatically with the appearance of firearms, becoming an almost unknown discipline for the first time in centuries. Firearms decrease physical contact and introduce the invisible and the loud. The psychological impact of fear when faced with something invisible and loud is paralyzing.
The appearance of these previously unknown psychological factors was accompanied by another discovery: the old defensive apparatuses for the city, the walls, were suddenly revealed to be inadequate.
The high walls were no longer useful: cannonballs did not go very high, but were more terribly powerful than battering rams had ever been. A low hit, so destructive that one could not resist it, only attempt to soften it, absorbing it into the mass of the wall. In the best-case scenario, this resistance avoided even being hit. The walls had to be relatively low, very thick, and possibly have an uneven profile to be more difficult to hit. A new form, an appropriate form, had to be found.
It is this form that the Duke of Este and his architect Rossetti were discussing, and this form that the young Dürer arrived to study at the construction of the new fortifications of Ferrara.
A thirty-two-year-old man
A 32-year-old man walks in a field of wildflowers, takes up a clod of earth, and brings it to his study to paint it.
Dürer chooses that most delicate of existence, blades of grass, and at the same time mentally cultivates a study (then, perhaps, only a vague idea) dedicated to the defense of cities.
This propels the watercolor well beyond the virtuosity of a still life.
Dürer succeeds in uniting two such distinct worlds: blades of grass and fortifications: that which is dear to us alongside that with which we defend it.
Dürer's times necessitated new defenses of the city, and with such urgency that he dedicated a portion of his life to it. They were times certainly not concerned with environmental crisis, but contemporaneously with that urgency of defense, some fragile blades of grass became his best watercolor.
That small canvas of 31 cm by 40 cm speaks of a profound sense of beauty conceived by an intelligence capable of applying the verb to protect at every scale, from the smallest to the largest.
And this is what brings Dürer's watercolor closer to us than we imagine.
“The Great Clod” speaks to us about a suspended state of mind, between a sense of fragility and the urgency of defending it; a state of mind so present and diffuse within us that just a few blades of grass can evoke it. We need to defend something beyond the walls of the city, something that involves the entire environment in which we live: our urgency has become one and the same with our idea of Ecology.
A closer look at “The Great Clod”
As a designer, I concentrate on the watercolor and try to understand what draws me to it.
… I believe that it is something related to the order of those blades of grass.
It is in the less-ordered order in fields of wildflowers that I feel comfortable; the less-ordered order where I find my idea of ecological equilibrium. This lesser-order is the means by which “The Great Clod” becomes the most fitting representation of this idea.
I ask myself if the representation of an idea can succeed in defending that same idea.
The history of the garden is the history of a continual alternation of forms that represented the unique urgencies of those who created them. The more coherence between urgency and the form that represented it, the more able the garden to take on meaning, and endure.
If there is coherence between urgency and form, the representation of an idea can defend that same idea.
What form can best represent our own urgency? What idea of form and of order do we have when we imagine a park?
Lingering on that watercolor
If “The Great Clod” is the most fitting representation of my idea of nature, maybe its composite character: that not-very-ordered order, can become an instrument in its design.
Nature offers us an opportunity to enter into contact with a beauty whose forms are not traceable to the usual idea of order because they follow the logic of plants. Plants, when left free to develop, spontaneously form vegetal communities of great richness. We should follow the model of these landscapes.
We must learn to design without falling upon the page from above, but penciling on paper as though following a path near to a tree-trunk, following its crown of foliage and imagining it in twenty, forty, one hundred years... what will happen when the elder leans against the oak in three years? Almost as though designing were the description of some place, who knows when or where it was seen, in which we were happy (these are the layered landscapes, escaped from the control of design, a hundred, two hundred years ago, where the park has been returned to a vaster Nature and its vegetation to Ecology).
The risk of ignoring the urgency of ecology is that the city parks in which we live will no longer represent anything for anyone. The risk is that the urban vegetal landscape multiply in forms around which there is no sense of belonging because these forms do not defend that which is most dear to us. And if the sharing of social habit weakens, it is also the sense of community held within it that weakens.
The garden most able to represent our urgency will be a garden able to mimic existing vegetal communities, a garden capable of following the logic of plants.
The birth of the Bosco Claudio Abbado Project
Now it is necessary to introduce three ideas learned during my years of study at college in London.
1 – On arboriculture: voluntarily abandoned woods; an area of temporary experimentation meant for the study of the future development of existing vegetal groups left in a state of abandonment.
2 – Urban woods: abandoned areas that have become woods, managed by the London Wildlife Trust.
3 – Gilles Clément's sanctuaries of biodiversity: urban areas not involved in the building market or the city infrastructure that are populated with a great variety of plant species.
These three experiences bring to light a phenomenon: the Apex of biodiversity.
Now it is necessary to introduce the meaning behind Ecological Succession, the phenomenon according to which plant species, in colonizing a virgin terrain, succeed each other in the fight for light, water, and minerals: from the first state in which lichens and mosses are the pioneers, one moves to an intermediate state of grasses, perennial weeds and shrubs, to a final state in which the forest takes form with its dominant tree species.
Over the course of this succession the richness of biodiversity, that is, the richness of the present varieties of animals and plants, which is not always the same, grows to a peak. This peak is the apex of biodiversity, or the highest level of variety of plant and animal species that are present in that place. This state corresponds to a set of perennial weeds, shrubs, and trees similar to that which one finds in the forest edge, that is to say in the first 20 meters between woods and countryside, the strip of woods richest in light and air.
This apex of biodiversity is a temporary state; the level of biodiversity, in time, will degrade (into the dominance of some species over others) until it reaches a condition of stability.
If one permits plants to develop according to their own logic, allowing them to form their own vegetal communities, green spaces will succeed in autonomously generating the maximum level of biodiversity within themselves.
It is interesting to ask if it is possible to create a vegetal space able to reach, in a relatively short time, such an apex of biodiversity and if, having reached this state, a stable maintenance of this richness is possible.
The Bosco Claudio Abbado is proposed as this type of landscape.
A strip of forest edge, 26 meters by 40 meters, imagined as a unified landscape capable of translating the qualities of a woods into the urban environment. The Bosco Claudio Abbado combines two of these units for a development of 80 meters along the margin of Ferrara which is most vulnerable to the effects of pollution, where the Barco residential quarter meets the industrial area northwest of the city. A linear wood of 80 meters capable of combining the value of environmental relief, expressed by a high density of planting, with the vocation of a public park guaranteed by the high permeability of walking paths criss-crossing the 26-meter width.
The vision of the wood
The vision of the wood for a landscape intervention in the urban environment is certainly an emotive suggestion. A suggestion, however, that developed in the understanding of the ecological dynamics of the wood. Learning the grammar and the syntax of the woods little by little, one discovers that there exists a fundamental principal which defines the wood: the density of planting, that is, the relative distances among the plants that comprise it. This principal informs the quality of the wood independently of its dimensions: it does not matter whether it is a “vast wood” or a “small wood”, as soon as one learns of this fundamental of composition from which stems quality. Conveyed in this project, this principal of composition allows us to propose the true quality of a wood at various scales of intervention, permitting the urban space to accommodate a landscape of great richness.
The beauty of it: it's contagious
Like the beauty of “The Great Clod” from which the Wood is born, this rather wild beauty can become a visual habit, its principals a common heritage, and thus a less-ordered order can arise from the green rectangle of the Bosco Claudio Abbado, to enter into our gardens and enrich the fragmented private spaces to transform them into a greater unity. If, in fact, we imagine a bird's-eye view of the city of Ferrara, we no longer notice the walls between garden and garden; we see a single garden that spans the entire city.