Browsing Category

Garden Design

Magnolia Plantation

Gone with the Wind was a book that I devoured as a tween, blissfully oblivious to the historic context and fully caught by fantasies of emulating Ms. O’Hara.  Neither Wilkes nor Butlers in plain sight as love interests for this 12-year old, alas. I should have visited Magnolia Plantation then, my ignorance of slavery a shield against conflicting feelings.

The plantation was founded in 1676 by the Drayton family, and continually held and expanded by them, with wealth from slave-produced rice crops. I did not visit the slave cabins, which were in use from early on until 1990 (!) and only have been subject to historic protection for the last 5 years.

I focused on the gardens which are astonishing, even in winter. Again, the dialectic of suffering and beauty seems a Leitmotiv in my S.C. sojourn. The man who created the gardens at the beginning of the 19th century had unexpectedly fallen into the inheritance of the plantation at age 22; he really wanted to pursue his career as a minister, a devout man. He also saw his Philadelphia bride languish for home and tried to cheer her with the gardens. He was the first to bring azaleas to the country and cultivate camellia Japonica for southern climes. A good guy, in essence, deeply anchored in a love for God and nature – and a slave holder.

The plantation suffered from the losses in the civil war and opened up, thus able to survive, its gardens to the public in the late 18oos. In our century the Audubon Society is also represented, having created a swamp walk of breathtaking beauty, where you practically stumble over the wildlife.


The slaves and their descendants were buried in the swampy woods. 

The Draytons were by marriage related to the Grinkés, an elite Charleston family that produced two of the most remarkable women the South has ever seen. Born among 13 children into a rich, pro-slavery household, their father a Supreme Court Judge, Sarah and Angelina both escaped Charleston around 1820 to become Quakers in Philadelphia and start careers as abolitionist writers, thinkers and lecturers. The older one also became a feminist and tried to test the 15th amendment (allowing men of all races to vote) by trying to vote when she was almost 80 years old. Contrast here, too: the abolitionists welcomed women among their brethren but the moment these started to argue for women’ rights they were told to let go and were actively oppressed.

The 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was eventually ratified in 1920, giving women the right to vote after a 72-year struggle. 6 months earlier, the League of Women Voters was founded during the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. A good thing, one might think, but also riddled with complications: it has been argued that the women’ right to vote was needed to counterbalance the rights granted to Black men and that the suffrage movement discriminated strongly against their Black sisters. Link below gives a short summary of the claims:

Harriet Simon brought the LWV to Charleston, standing out among her class as a moderate liberal, and seemingly progressive. She did a lot of good, fighting on the right side in questions of desegregation, but also had a problem admitting Black women into the fold of the League. I think it is important to value what these women accomplished surrounded by overt racism that few of us experience in our own personal lives as sheltered, Northern US Whites or Europeans, accused as traitors to their own race. They showed courage and persistence, despite slow, incremental steps toward more equality.

Should you feel inclined to see her grave, these signs will greet you. The place is filled with birds, confederate flags and inscriptions longing for the past.



Chasing the Blues

Today’s antidote for the politics-related news blues offers blue flowers and an interesting musical crossover – from classics to blues (or at least jazz with a hint of blues… )

For some reason blue is not a frequent color in nature. Less than 10% of the 280.000 species of flowering plants have blue flowers. Or so I learn from the link below, that should hold some interest for avid gardeners.








Here’s something else that’s rare, if in art and not nature: truly successful musical crossover. I chose Bach’s concerto in D minor as arranged and played by Jaques Loussier and his Jazz trio.

Loussier and his trio have been at the cutting edge of fusing complicated classical pieces with jazz, exploiting and expanding the rhythmic and harmonic implications of the original(s). If this doesn’t bring cheer, I don’t know what will.





Urban Green Spaces

IMG_4370 copy

There are historic gardens, botanical gardens, productive gardens, gardens of the rich and famous, sculpture gardens, contemporary gardens – and then there is green urban development. A familiar American example would be NYC’s High Line, a 1.45 mile long park built on a disused, elevated Westside railroad spur. Here are some views from the High Line:         IMG_4371 copy

IMG_4362 copy


Less familiar might be a number of parks developed in several regions of Germany which utilize industrial heritage sites.


Gasometer Gichtbuehnen The most famous of these is probably the Landscape Park Duisburg Nord, a 450 acres site around old steelworks, blast furnaces and factory remnants, developed since 1991 by Latz and Partners. The landscape architect intended to create something that helped to heal and understand the industrial past, rather than reject it. (Note, that of course the Thyssen/Krupp company who was a major player in these parts, contributed mightily to the war effort and also used forced labor, 75.000 prisoners, if I remember correctly.) I have not yet visited these gardens, but they are, from everything I’ve heard, a mind boggling experience, in their various ways of making use of the terrain, their combination of planted gardens and naturally spreading vegetation, and their use of all the found iron pieces, screws, nuts, bolts, populating garden beds. By all reports they instill a sense of reinvention based on recycling, re-use, and hope that places can be opened to new life when their historical use is outmoded. (Photos from their website. The attached URL is a long and interesting article about the design philosophy of the park.)

Geographically close is the Garden of Remembrance designed by Israeli artist Dani Caravan, which utilizes structures of the old harbor in Duisburg, adjacent to the new Jewish Community Center built close to the site of the synagogue destroyed in 1938. Further in the vicinity are parks nestled in abandoned, old, open brown-coal mines. The goal of all of these developments is really to make use of historical remnants but create something new that allows some harmonious union between  memory and looking to the future.

One last mention of the positive use of green spaces: the international or regional garden shows that happen ever so often in Germany are these days often arranged to take place in socio-economically deprived neighborhoods. Whatever gets built for these extensive shows, their shaping of the landscape, their demonstration of green public buildings like pools or climbing halls etc. is then there for the use of the neighborhood long after the garden folks have traveled home.  The photos below are from one of those three years back in Hamburg Harburg, a neighborhood that is intensely diverse and poor.DSC_0435 copy

DSC_0443 copy

Will I ever understand Abstract Art?

· We will find out. Or not. ·

DSC_0020 copy

I know very little – really next to nothing – about abstract art. Sometimes I think that interferes with my appreciation of abstract paintings, sometimes the opposite seems to be true. Same for creating abstract photographic montages. So I figured I take this week to learn something about it and share what I found. Be prepared for a lot of direct quotes – and a lot of digression when other things popped up in my reading.

Here is a quote from Charles Jencks, critic, landscape designer, polemicist and one of the most interesting writers explaining modernism: …”For the founders of the Museum of Modern Art, the canonic story of Modern art led from Neo-Impressionism through Fauvism to Cubism, the Bauhaus and Modern Architecture (capitalized, as the gospel ought to be). This canonic trajectory led directly to Abstract Art, and it determined the arrangement of works in the galleries of MoMA right into the 1980s. This canon also justified a view of history as aiming toward abstraction as its goal, and, at the same time, validated the major bloodline of Modern artists from Picasso through Jackson Pollock…” (MoMa has now changed its exhibition patterns away from historical periods towards subject driven collections – underlining in the quote by me.)

The attached article is really about architecture and cycles of creativity – I came across it accidentally because it quoted a book I am interested in  – Creating Minds – An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham and Ghandi – by Howard Gardner. (Hey, in English! Paperback!) But it got me wondering about what someone who clearly thinks aiming towards abstraction can NOT be the goal, would strive for instead. Turns out Jencks believes the desire to know and relate to the universe, to understand the cosmos, is one of the strongest drives of sentient beings. His landscape art, abstract and yet content driven, is attempting to do just that. Look at his website! under projects and you understand what he’s after.  Do I now know more about abstract art? Hm. Not really. Stay tuned.