25 January 2010

"A Scents of Place"

'Guinea pig' is the term some people use when they are the first to be subject to a new plan or process that has never been done before. I prefer the term 'ground breaker', for what could be more appropriate than that to describe what the PG Class of December 2010 will become when the newest garden project here at Longwood is realized? We will literally be breaking ground - with more than shovels and spades, I might add - when we install the very first public display gardens at Longwood designed solely by students in the Professional Gardener Program!

Throughout the history of the program students have been required to design and maintain both a vegetable garden and an ornamental garden. The allotted space measures 15' x 50' with two-thirds dedicated to veg and the rest to ornamentals. You can read about my garden adventures from last year here, here, and here. Oh, and here! The blogs of my esteemed classmates are linked over on the right if you want to see what they did with their gardens and, really, why wouldn't you?

Our gardens on the Row gave each of us an outlet for creativity and serious hands-on learning but only we students and the other tenants on the Row were able to enjoy them since they're located far away from the public eye (which, in the case of my garden, was a good thing I think!).
Somewhere along the line the idea germinated that the students' talents should be showcased in the gardens proper, for all the world to see (gulp!). What better way to show Longwood's guests some of the things that students learn and do in the PG Program? And so it happened that a PG alum named Danilo Maffei, who is now a Landscape Designer at W.D. Wells and Associates, Inc., was called upon to design the space that would one day become what I like to think of as the PG students' version of the Festival des Jardins de Chaumont-sur-Loire.

The most logical place to put the new gardens turned out to be the Example Garden, which is part of the Idea Garden (see map). See the tiny space to the left of the label for the Special Events Pavilion? That's where our gardens will be. Until a few short months ago the Example Garden was, well, an example of how a typical suburban backyard could be planted with ornamentals and vegetables both in a unique and creative way. Here's what the space looked like last July:

Now, grab hold of something, because I'm sure you'll be shocked and will clutch your heart, gasping in astonishment, when I tell you that this entire space has been gutted. Yup, none of this is there now (only the brick patio and the water feature were given a reprieve from the backhoe!). If you were to peer over the temporary plastic construction fence, what you see today would probably not be too impressive since it's mostly mud and gravel punctuated by a few pieces of heavy equipment. Were you privy to the behind-the-scenes workings of this project - as you soon shall be, you fortunate reader - you would be rather impressed at the progress made in such a seemingly short amount of time. I know I am, coming as I do from a design/build background in a climate where a project can safely commence without threat of postponement due to blizzards or hurricanes! Even with the amount of Weather the contractor has had to deal with, they've done a pretty nifty job of whipping this space into shape!

So let me regale you with the process thus far: when it was decided that this was going to pass from Concept to Reality, the process of designing the gardens was incorporated into the curriculum by becoming a major focus of our Landscape Design class, which took place last summer. The very same Danilo Maffei who designed the space for the display gardens was our instructor and guiding hand throughout the beginning of the project. Keep in mind some of us had had design classes or first-hand experience before, some hadn't. We were teamed up in such a way that those who had never worked on a landscape design project were paired with someone who has then each team was assigned one of the four plots to design. Four gardens, four teams (three teams of 2, one team of 3). And we were off!

The first step was to interview the client - in this case, Longwood Gardens, personified by head designer Rodney Eason. We all peppered him with specific questions about what he wanted for the gardens and came away with three main things for our design programs: "Wow!", "Fragrance", and "Safety". Easy, right? Right. Try interpreting what someone means when they say they want to be "wowed". Since our gardens are intended to be temporary display gardens, they will only exist for three seasons (spring through fall) and also have to conform to the overall theme of the gardens for 2010 which is Fragrance. Also not as easy as it In the end, we were encouraged to let our creativity run rampant. So we did!

Here we are conducting the site evaluation:

From there we began to draw concept diagrams, running through several iterations before deciding which one we would pursue as a final design. My partner in design, Shannon, and I decided on a modern rectilinear design that mimics a cityscape. Our design theme (with much coaching and hinting from Dan) became "A Scents of Place" (which trumped the silly yet catchy "Smellapalooza"). This is one of the drafts of our concept design:

It was really fascinating to see how differently each team approached the process and the designs that each ultimately came up with! Team A designed a garden based on a concept of "The Four Corners of the World". Their garden is divided into sections representing the four corners of the globe, with fragrant plants from each continent, as it were, divided by an ocean of plant material.

Team B is Shannon and me! Here's our final concept drawing showing our city scape and an elevation detail.

Team C went all out and designed this funky garden with fragrant mounds of varying sizes aligned along a central curving path. I can't wait to see this one when it's finished!

Team D's concept centered around water wheels or, in this case, wheels of fragrance. Their path curves around three herbaceous 'wheels', around and within which are planted different kinds of fragrant plants flowing from one wheel to the next.

This drawing shows you the entire space and how the plots are divided. A circular patio is set in the center touching just a corner of each plot. One side of the patio is outlined by a curved seat wall with two plots behind, these separated by a hedge. Opposite the seat wall is a screen of the same hedge plant with the other two plots behind, also separated by a hedge. A gravel path runs the perimeter of the entire space and up the middle through the circular patio. The space is screened from the Idea Garden beyond by a slight rise to the north, planted with trees and shrubs, a small structure to the west, existing plantings to the south, and the existing wall to east.

And here are Shannon and I hard at work in the concept development phase (that's my housemate Gavin back there, contemplating his next move. Or maybe he's just gnawing on his pen?).
The fun part of this whole development was presenting our design concepts to a committee consisting of Longwood staff from such departments as Horticulture, Guest Services, Design, etc. Not to mention our supportive and attentive classmates (grin)!

("This is where the new PG spa will go...")

Wait, did I say fun? It was absolutely nerve-wracking because the committee members were severe in their critiques and suggestions (I mean that in a good way - they brought up many good points and keen observations). After that it was back to the drawing board to refine our designs and investigate ways to incorporate some of the suggestions that were made. Compared to the two committee presentations, our final presentation to the Board of Directors was actually quite easy. They all loved our ideas and expressed great eagerness to see the finished gardens! Afterward Dan escorted us into the adjoining room for a debriefing and proceeded to do happy dance! I guess he liked what we did, too!

That was last summer. Fast forward to now: we're in the Landscape Construction class (also taught by Dan) learning all about how to take a design and translate it to the ground. Construction on the Example Garden is nearing completion and now that we have our budgets, we'll finalize plant lists and start procuring materials. The average last frost date is estimated to be April 17, so we anticipate a late spring installation. As part of the mentoring process, the newest PGs (Class of 2011) will lend a hand in the installation and maintenance of the gardens. They get to design their gardens when they have class with Dan this summer then they will mentor the next class (Class of 2012) when the process starts all over again!

And now you can see why we're nothing if not ground breakers! We are the first class in the history of the PG Program to have gardens on display to the public. As with any new venture, there are some wrinkles to iron out but one thing we've learned since coming to Longwood is that - somehow - things always work themselves out (I think it has to do with the staff here being horticultural magicians. Seriously! I like to think of this place as a sort of Hogwarts for Horticulturists!). Come back in the spring to see how the installations went and see pictures of the finished gardens! In the meantime, enjoy the progress photos:

Early January 2010: the space under construction and a blanket of snow!

A border of new trees and shrubs along the north edge of the space. As they mature the trees will help mask the employee parking lot on the level above.

Late January 2010: the central circular patio is laid out and marked for excavation, grading, and installation of the gravel base layer. This is Plot A, the only plot fully completed with soil amended and tilled so far (I'd like to know who Team A bribed for that!?)

Plot C with the existing patio terrace and new retaining wall. The gravel path will extend around the perimeter of all the plots and through the circular patio in the center.

Plots C and D still under construction. In the left background is Plot B (Shannon's and mine) which turned out to be the narrowest of all the plots so we will undoubtedly need to tweak our design as we lay out the plants. We just love a good challenge!

*Special thanks to Danilo Maffei of W.D. Wells and Associates, Inc. (and our fabulous instructor) for the classroom photos.

23 January 2010

Making Scents

A new year - heck, a whole new decade! - has dawned and we PGs here at Longwood are already up to our eyeballs in class work and upcoming projects. By now we've pretty much gotten used to diving in head first but there's something about the temperature of the water that I always find both startling and invigorating! So many lessons, so little time! The biggest lesson I learned last year was Don't Blink! If you do, you'll miss something! That, and always have your camera ready. And fresh batteries!

I was reminded of this important precept when I wandered into the potting shed a few days ago and saw this:

Four work tables overflowing with orchids of all species, shapes, and sizes! The Christmas displays are already gone and Orchid Extravaganza is going in! Lest I found myself in danger of missing more, I took a walk through the conservatory to see what was going on. Come with me, I'll show you...

Orchids in the Potting Shed, waiting to be dispatched.

The California Patio in the Mediterranean House is gone and the garden has been returned to its Mediterranean splendor.

In the north passage, the boxes of Sweet Peas that I helped seed back in September are already blooming! I can't pass them by without sticking my nose in for a whiff. Given this is the year of Fragrance at Longwood, I don't think you can do much better than a nose-full of Sweet Peas!

Out in the Orangery, containers of fragrant plants invite visitors to lean in and sniff.

Just in case you weren't sure...

I wish I could blog the scent to you!

Remember the Fabulous Floral Carpet?

It's been rolled up to make way for the outstanding orchid spheres that will line the Exhibition Floor.

From the Floral Carpet to the Orchid Curtain, Longwood seems to have a thing about recreating textiles with botanics!

Back out in the Orangery, a giant perfume bottle frame is installed on the main walk way. Visitors will find themselves surrounded by fragrance when they walk through, as if they were a genie in a bottle of floral essence.

Many people stopped to inhale the spicy sweetness of these lilies. Not that they have to get so close; you can smell them from several feet away!
On the Patio of Oranges, the containers are being decorated with orchids and ivy.

Wandering through the Garden Walk, I just had to flop down on the pavement and get a whiff of these Narcissus!

The Acacia Passage is filled with a warm, spicy aroma all year long but when the trees are in bloom, you really get a sense (or should I say 'scents'?) of what it means to be intoxicated by fragrance!

In one of the original 1920's greenhouses, carnations are grown in raised beds. One elderly couple were arguing between themselves whether carnations had a scent. They most certainly do, and it always reminds of when I worked in a florist shop during college.

Don't you wish you could smell it!?

Several people have asked about the Floral Carpet Scarf, and the comments and inquires both inspire and frighten me (you mean people are actually interested in this thing!?)! It's a slow process, since I have to write the pattern as I go. Now that we're loaded up with school work, that elusive thing called 'spare time' is a much-hoarded luxury and I've been using it to study, write papers, help plan our plant sale in February and our trip to Spain in June, not to mention thinking about our student gardens - both public and private. We PGs rarely have an idle moment! I did carve out some time to knit this much needed cabled hat with some locally grown, hand-dyed pure virgin wool that I bought on a whim one particularly cryogenic day. Note the outside temperature on the thermometer!

With so many exciting things going on, I know time will whiz by so the lesson I'm sticking in my pocket this year is Stay Sharp! With only one more year to go, the clock is ticking and I don't want to miss anything!