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Entries in gardens (20)

Thursday
Oct102013

Picnic grounds

It isn't enough just to build public parks, orchards and other kinds of urban forests and urban farms, there must be a culture to support such things.  Farzaneh Bahrami in On Site review 25: identity, wrote about the public tradition of use in what we might see as the very inhospitable landscapes of modern transportation infrastructure:

Picnic on highways of Tehran, 13th day of spring (response to a Persian tradition to spend 13th day of the year in nature) photograph: Farzaneh BahramiThere is memory, history, tradition, culture and family here, not dependent on the quality of the space.  The point isn't to design a better highway median, but rather recognise that there is more to all of this than aesthetics.

Part of an ongoing research titled "Tehran, In the Search of Lost Public Space" by Farzaneh Bahrami. The paradoxical nature of Tehran's public spaces. photographs: Manuel Llinás

One may read Farzaneh Bahrami's essay 'Tehran, Occasionally Public' here:

http://www.e-publicspace.net/content/tehran-occasionally-public-or-reclamation-space

Wednesday
Oct092013

Vancouver: intensive gardening

In Vancouver, Sole Food Farms has leased, for $1/year, a former PetroCan gas station one-acre lot adjacent to the Downtown Eastside, and made an urban orchard on it.  Five hundred fruit-bearing dwarf species, planted over 800 containers, will be fully cropping in 3-5 years.  In the meantime, the containers also produce ground crops, sold to restaurants and grocery stores.  Downtown Eastside residents are hired, the produce is organic, it is intensive farming with an enormous embedded social energy.  

Sole Food has four sites throughout the downtown core; on this one the ground is contaminated, being a former gas station, thus the above-ground containers, which can also be moved if the land is reclaimed by the owner.  There are always development pressures on land in a downtown area, an acre is a large plot and the cost of de-contamination is linked to technological advance, so the land could be developed: condos and such.  However, there is something so fundamentally optimistic about an orchard on the move if it ever comes to pass.  

Vancouver is so forward-thinking I don't think it is actually part of Canada.   

Tuesday
Oct082013

street farms

Noisivelvet with AltgeldSawyer Corner Farm, Logan Square, Chicago, 2011

This was a four-hour, 3,000 square foot urban park, done with a Block Party permit from the City of Chicago.  What is the point if it is only for an afternoon?  To give people an alternative view of the city where there are not cars and roadways become lawn? 

I bit more useful are Havana's agriponicos, below, where raised beds are built on rubble sites, old parking lots and in city parks:

Havana, CubaIn response to the US blockade, in place since 1961 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, between 1989 and 1994 these were mixed subsistence farms with animals and crops with all products consumed by the producer. After 1994 restrictions were eased and crops could be sold by the growers at markets. 

It makes one question the luxury of the whole concept of the public park – a space for the eye and the mind – we have in our cities, that produce little in the way of material well-being.  The Chicago pop-up above is its apotheosis: wasteful of resources and energy to make a rhetorical point.  Meanwhile we have to drive long distances spewing fumes and exhaust to get to a local-ish farmers market, or else get our vegetables sent from the US because for some reason this is cheaper for supermarket chains to do than to buy locally. 

Our open-space values need some revision here, not just fun projects, but serious and permanent connections between urban open space and food provision. 

Thursday
Jul122012

the Bathurst hedge

12 July 1962. Britain's tallest hedge. TopFoto.co.uk

sorry about the proprietal watermark, but the hedge ladder is so interesting.  This is from TopFoto's 50 Years Ago Today: 12 July 1962.  Britain's tallest hedge undergoes its annual trim which takes three gardeners ten days to complete by hand.  Planted in 1720, it is part of the estate owned by the Earl and Countess of Bathurst in Cirencester.

2008: Britain's tallest yew hedge given a trim. The Daily Telegraph, 11 Aug 2008
The quantity-obsessed Daily Mail reported in 2008 that it is now 'the 300 year-old hedge on Lord Allen Apsley's Bathurst Estate', and that it cost £5000 to trim it.  The Telegraph, picking up the same feed, adds that 'Two workers spent two days on a 70ft high cherry-picker cutting back six inches of new growth, which produced nearly a tonne of clippings.  These are then sold to pharmaceutical companies who use yew extract as a key ingredient of Docetaxel, a chemotherapy drug used mainly for breast, ovarian and lung cancer.'

Who'd have known.

Interesting too that they used to be gardeners, part of the cost of running the estate; now they are contract workers and an invoice must be paid.

Monday
May142012

Aberdeen + oil

Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Aberdeen City Garden, Aberdeen 2012

So, Aberdeen, population 200,000, oil capital of Scotland, is preparing for the end of North Sea oil extraction within the next 20 years.  

A recent and controversial project, Diller Scofidio+Renfro's transformation of Union Terrace Gardens (sponsored locally and privately, not publicly) will build the 'green heart of the silver city', a reference to the silvery granite of which Aberdeen is built. Ultimately it is the privatisation of a public amenity and has been protested muchly, but has recently narrowly been approved in a referendum.  Renamed Aberdeen City Garden, all is explained on its website.  It is undoubtedly very beautiful, a topographic landscape/building, all angles and shifting ground planes.  The images show hordes of people engaged in vigourous public mingling.  

Daniel Jauslin has written a review of the project in Topos, pulling out all its many architectural and historical references.  

Because I've been looking at Calgary recently, I'm struck more by the desire of oil cities to raise their ante with very expensive internationally-designed projects, whoever they are funded by, for their public spaces.  Having just gone through five decades of drawings of Calgary plazas full of the same people as are shown wandering through this new Aberdeen landscape, I do wonder if the driven lives lived in oil cities envision evenings of strolling about in lovely parks instead of coming home from work and then working on all evening till they crash into bed.

This is nothing to do with the actual designs, other than the experience of a city that when oil is booming, has little time for leisure, and when it isn't, is very depressed.  Very sobering these days are the images of all the near-abandoned buildings for the 2004 Olympics in Greece: nothing to do with the quality of their architecture, which was pretty stunning as I recall, and everything to do with economic  collapse, whether civic or personal, unexpected or planned for.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Aberdeen City Garden,Aberdeen 2012

Wednesday
Feb292012

Leslie Hossack, les Tuileries

Leslie Hossack. Waldeck-Rousseau Monument, Tuileries, Paris 2009

Leslie Hossack's photograph of the Waldeck-Rousseau Monument in the Tuileries.  As she notes, the gardens were designed by Le Nôtre in 1664, formal, rigourous, allées and monuments, swept gravel rather than humid lawns.  

Clearly she took the photo from the back, from the wall behind this monument.  Always looking at things to capture information about the thing itself rarely records how one gets to the thing, which in this case, is more interesting to us today than is the over-wrought statuary. 

Monday
Jan162012

shelterbelts

Alberta Agriculture shelterbelt specifications.

Friday
Jan132012

how to lay a hedge

Thursday
Jan122012

Beth Dow, Powis Castle

Beth Dow. Terrace, Powis Castle, Wales. Platinum palladium print 18.5"x 16" image on 24" x 20" Weston Diploma paper. Edition of 25 + 3 Artist Proofs

Thursday
Oct132011

1024, Les Grandes Tables de L’île

Île Seguin, Paris, temporary garden and cafe on the site of a pending Jean Nouvel project.  Plywood box lodged in a scaffold covered in greenhouse panels.  Inside looks like a lunchroom on a construction site.  This being France, they have a brilliant chef, and this being 1024, the building extends itself at night with an array of video and lighting projections. 

1024 have this to say about perennial buildings, which this cafe is not – sitting so lightly on the land, dismountable and untraceable: 'As architects expected to build for eternity we found that the rules and limits of perennial projects are so far-fetched that they often limit possibilities and creativity. The fleeting dimension of our projects allows us to be liberated and open to larger and more stimulating grounds for expression and freedom'.

Instead, 'we use many simple, raw and standardised materials, most often from the world of construction or linked to industrialisation, transport, or packing processes. Scaffolding, containers, timber framework, pallets, nets from sites and thermo retractable plastic (used for mass packaging or in asbestos removal projects)... are found in our 'catalogue' of favoured materials. As for our favoured technology, obviously video projection and more specifically mapping, which consists of projecting directly onto a three-dimensional volume rather than a flat screen, but we are sensitive to all products which generate light, from LEDs and lasers to simple construction site neon tubes'.

Wednesday
Oct052011

hothouse sections

Joseph Paxton, original glass house at Chatsworth. In the foreground is the stove, also by Paxton, used for the growing of soft fruits, often pineapples. early 18th century.

Just when you think that there is nothing left to mine in the Mitford archives, they find another 6,000 letters and another Mitford book comes along.  They were awful people, fascists to stalinists, privileged and offensive, they all wrote effusively and were very funny.  Deborah, the youngest of the Mitfords married the Earl of Devonshire in 1941.  I visited Chatsworth in 1986 or so, shortly after it had been made a charitable trust (I find) endowed by the sale of a zillion old masters.

Memorable was a hothouse – a long, double brick wall with fireplaces in it, fed from the back (above, in the foreground).  The front was, in profile, a glasshouse by Paxton with espaliered apricot trees pinned to the south facing brick wall.  It was elegant, quite minimal and full of beautiful fruiting plants.  

The visiting of these 17th and 18th century country houses is in a way a rite of passage for a certain kind of architect.  Chatsworth the house was not as memorable as Blenheim which had a most wonderful library – a tall long room, one side wire-fronted book cabinets, the other side windows, in between a universe of big chairs, a piano covered with silver framed photos, apricot and blue persian carpets, slightly unkempt parterres outside the windows.  It was a most perfect room for so many reasons.  I have no photo of it, for in those days as a student we carried notebooks not cameras.  And I think because of this, it remains so potent in my memory.  

Google images being what it is, there are plenty of photos of Blenheim and Chatsworth on the web, none I can recognise. It is interesting though that both the library and the stove (a curious term that refers to this long, one-sided, heated hothouse) are similar in section: a thick back wall and a glass front.   It is a profile familiar to any sort of energy-conserving house, but never as romantic as when it was done in the 18th century.

James Justice’s plan of the pineapple stove, 1721, published in The Scots Gardeners’ Directory, 1754.

Tuesday
Sep272011

Richard II 2

Richard II, thinking of the Wilton Diptych, is also one of the roses in my backyard, which started out maybe 40 years ago in my parents' garden, got too big, was moved to a lot in the woods on the Cowichan River where, one winter, it accidently had a woodpile built over it.  Several summers later I found a thin branch struggling out of the woodpile with a beautiful pink rose on it.  Unearthed, it then struggled for lack of sun and water, and I eventually dug it up again and moved it to Calgary, where Richard II thriveth.  

Why he became known to us as Richard II is because the original tag had RICHARDII on it, which I now realise is rosa richardii, also known as rosa sancta, the holy rose because its five petals corresponds to the five wounds of Christ.  It is ancient, thought to be a cross between rosa gallica and rosa phoenicia and still grows around graves in Ethiopia, where it is known as the Holy Rose of Abyssinia.
In an Egyptian second century tomb excavation in the 1880s a dried wreath of roses was found, which when soaked in water for some strange discontinued archaeological practice, became fresh again: the rosa sancta.

Richard II has fearsome thorns that point back along the stem, each thorn with a tiny lethal hook at the end which will rip open a long gash in the skin if one brushes against it.  Perhaps this has something to do with its historic longevity, this powerful anti-social mechanism.  It explodes into flower in the week between June 21 and Canada Day, very lovely, the rest of the time it is a great green bush on the attack.

In this intangible world of electronics and consumerism I quite like that ground level is full of ancient things that have travelled the world for centuries and arrived in our back yards.  That they survive each winter here is always a surprise, and the source of my great affection for them.

Friday
Feb262010

rooftop gardens

Montreal's blue roofs

Owen Rose of Montreal wrote about extensively gardened roofs in On Site 17: Water.  These Montreal rooftops are more than container gardens, and not as heavy as green roofs with their .5-2m of earth (generally known as green roofs or intensive gardens) which required quite massive structural support.  New, highly efficient substrate of 3-15cm allows garden plots on almost all kinds of construction.  Rose calls them blue roofs, perhaps because of their water retention: they collect rainwater up to a point and release the rest into city storm drains, lessening the load on infrastructure during intense storms.

We had an article by Helmuth Sonntag in On Site 2: Houses on a rolling rooftop garden in Weisbaden, planted with rows of lavender and rosemary. It is a bylaw requirement there and in much of Germany that the roof collect water and that the water be stored.  

The sense that the rooftop is the displaced ground plane is part of Le Corbusier's 1923 Vers une Architecture: that development should not take away access to land.  He saw land as a source of leisure, but land is land, and if you want to grow kale on it, so should you be able to.  

When I got my small Inglewood house in Calgary the neighbourhood was mostly old Saskatchewan farmers who had come off the land in the 1930s and 40s and gone to work for the CPR.  Inglewood is next to CPR's Alyth Yards in southeast Calgary. Flat land, Bow River, sandy soil substrate with good drainage, a warm micro-climate, and, in the 1980s hardly a tree to block the sun on all the huge gardens in the back yards.  Leafy neighbourhoods were a sign of wealth, poorer neighbourhoods were quite bleak.  Well, with gentrification, trees now flourish and my yard is completely shaded and I can't grow a thing.  The roof gets more sun than the ground.  I would like a flat platform over it that I could put a garden on.  I think I'd rather this than photovoltaic cells even - lower technology, a parasol for the roof, lots of food.

Thursday
Feb252010

Dachas

a namelss photographer from Belarus. Dachas in Minsk - small cottages in the countryside where city dwellers come to party and grow their food

Back to Cuba.  Before 1989 57% of Cuba's daily caloric intake was imported and using gardens to grow food was seen to be a sign of poverty and underdevelopment.  The response of the government was to launch the urban agriculture movement as a contribution to food security.  Out of necessity, gardening was no longer just for the poor, but has been integrated into daily urban life.
 
Other kinds of informal food production include the dacha on the outskirts of Russian cities.  Originally summer houses for the wealthy, they were nationalised after the revolution and after WWII gardens were started on unused land by squatters.  Squatters' rights led to the formalisation of gardeners' partnerships – permanent use of the land for agriculture, access to power and water and the right to build a small house on the now-leased land.  There were also plots allocated to mixed gardening at the edges of the fields of collective farms.  
Since 1989 most dachas have been privatised, the house, cabin, cottage more important than the garden function.  However, Russian agri-business, like all industrial farming, uses pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilisers, etc., and the chance to grow one's own fruit and vegetables is both part of the dacha tradition and an opportunity to grow clean food. However, much of the land around European cities has toxic and historic levels of metals in the topsoil, so the cleanliness of the dacha crops, depending where they are located, is only relative. 
For the wealthy the dacha is their country estate, for the modest it is their allotment garden, for the poor it is affordable food, if they have access to a bit of land.

I wonder if one could calibrate the eagerness to engage in permaculture, transitional food production or urban agriculture depends first of all on the level of threat to food security, and secondly on the particular social attitudes to farming in each society.  New wealth is notorious for trying to put a great distance between it and anything to do with labour.  Stable wealth realises that it is dependent on labour, somewhere, and perhaps does not feel that holding a shovel or a rake indicates a loss of status.  The transition town movement in Britain is huge, for example. 

No matter where one lives there is always a segment of the population which carves out an alternative life of growing food, keeping chickens, knitting and sewing and making their own houses, and heaven knows, Vancouver Island, the Kootenays and the Gulf Islands are epicentral alternative societies.  Where it starts to matter is when local food production is shot through all levels of society from top to bottom, from the homeless to the CEOs; from itinerant peasant to oligarch; from old to young; from urbanite to rural farmer; from hippie to hummer driver.

Then, and only then, will Kyoto and Copenhagen strategies start to work.

Wednesday
Feb242010

Permaculture

Kootenay Permaculture Institute, Winlaw, BC.Permaculture is an observation-based land use system that echoes the principles of centuries-old systems of sustained agriculture.  In the 1970s it hit Australia with Mollison and Holmgren's Permaculture One (1978) and Mollison's subsequent Permaculture Design Course.  
We had an article in On Site 7 by Sam Smith, from Australia, who had taken the course and then took permaculture concepts to the rebuilding of rural community buildings in Bosnia after the war.  
Permaculture is more than just the ecological use of land, it aims for stable agricultural use that is able to sustain itself for generations involving human agency and products, animals both domestic and wild, and the specifics of geology, climate, weather and culture.  
Underneath the principles of permaculture is the idea that an environment will reach maturity and all will be in harmony at that point.  Anyone who has lived in a forest might realise that maturity is perhaps a euphemism for old and that is not an end point, as forests are in a constant state of renewal.  However, permaculture's value is in healing monocultural agricultural land, abused for several generations with chemicals and such.
 
Transition towns - big in Britain.  Urban agriculture - big in Cuba.  Permaculture - huge in Australia.  Islands all, and islands missing at least one key ingredient we in the large continents take for granted: space, water, money.
I wonder if a city such as Calgary in a country such as Canada will ever feel any sort of a pinch that leads to cultural change.  The recent recession glanced off it.  The agricultural land it keeps expanding into are either grain crops or cattle, neither of which are particularly intensively farmed and so are considered, in the public mind, as pretty much empty.  There is a distinct lack of urgency: we have space, water and a lot of money – why would anything need to change.  There is a kind of meanness of spirit in this, especially when one knows that in other places in the world, including in Canada, real social, cultural and agricultural revolutions are happening, out of necessity. 

Tuesday
Feb232010

Urban Agriculture, Cuba

Kristina Taboulchanas. Organoponico La Calsada

The Transition Town network started after a transport strike in Britain when the country was allegedly within 2 days of running out of food, so dependent are western countries on imports. 
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the further tightening of the US embargo, Cuba's intensive chemically-dependent agriculture sector also collapsed. We toy with visions of a world without oil, but Cuba was an island with hardly any oil: no transportation, little energy for food storage, freezing or refrigeration, no more fertiliser or pesticides and farmland largely given over to a cash crop: sugar for export.  The USSR took Cuba's sugar crop in support of the Socialist Revolution: once it was gone, so was Cuba's export sector. 

In what was known as The Special Period, the Ministry of Agriculture formed an urban agriculture unit which supports organic gardening methods for gardens on public and unused land:  27,000 such gardens in Havana alone.  Depending on the size, huertos populares employ individuals to community groups.  Old methods are used: manure, compost, worms, weeding, crop rotation and inter-cropping (crops under, on and above the same piece of ground).
With huertos populares and the state-owned organoponicos (raised beds full of compost on paved or infertile land), produce stays in its own neighbourhood, obviating transportation costs.  The Ministry of Public Health supports herbal medicine, so the production of medicinal herbs is an important sector.  Schools have gardens, hospitals grow their own food, individuals have chickens, gardens and fruit trees in their own yards.  The large collective farms still operate and supply staples particularly to Havana and Santiago de Cuba, which together have 3.2 million people and not enough urban space for total garden self-sufficiency.  However, no longer are Cubans dependent on state distribution of food.  The huertos populares and privados and the marketing of the produce are independent, once they are established and supported in their start-up by the Ministry of Agriculture. 

I think one could look to present Cuban agricultural policy to see what a world without oil might look like: traditional, co-operative, better food, a closer relationship to the land, even if it is a back yard stuffed with vegetables and fruit trees, less packaging, less transport of green tomatoes and rock-hard avocados, bananas that are ripened chemically in shipping containers. 

Of course Cuba has an unemployment problem, again because of the embargo which prevents a good many things, but also provides many hands to work these gardens. In 2003, the agricultural sector provided 22% of all new Cuban jobs.
 
There's the irony: the 'unemployed' are busy sustaining life, feeding people, cultivating the soil, making it all better, improving their communities, culture and bodies.  We have unemployed people, we even have homeless people: might we give them something valuable to do, making them valuable members of our towns and cities?

Monday
Feb222010

Transition Towns

Gardening Course, Totnes, Devon.

BBC's One Planet visited Totnes where the Transition Town concept was formed in 2006.  It is now a huge network with 150 towns in England, a dozen in Scotland and in Wales, 30 in Australia, 60 or so in the US, including Reno, 13 in Canada and a scattering throughout the rest of the world.
 
Totnes began by thinking about how they wanted the town to look and to be in 2030 and from that formed a plan which is now being implemented.  This goes beyond watching An Inconvenient Truth and worrying about peak oil, it actually raises money, installs photo-voltaic panels on roofs, has a garden plot exchange as part of a food and land reform initiative so that food starts to be produced locally again.  Transition towns aim for carbon neutrality—they are everything that one would hope for in an intelligent civilisation.  Places apply to become a Transition Town and the city councils have to be on board.

Portobello in Scotland started with a victory over a superstore coming into the community; Armidale NSW in Australia has a local food initiative with workshops, sowing guides, accessible fields for gleaners, farms for manure, a permaculture design course, a perennial food garden (nut and fruit trees) in public spaces.   

The Canadian list of Transition Towns includes obvious places – Salt Spring Island, Vancouver and Nelson, BC, but also Victoria, Ottawa, London and Barrie.  
Peterborough wants to set up two land trusts, fund the necessary access and service costs and ensure that it is used for food production.  Community Garden Land Trusts are 'a way to equalise some of the social inequity built into the 20th century economic growth model'.  

Powell River's transition group is newer and perhaps representative of what really goes on in setting up as a Transition Town. Its website shows a lot of hard slog to raise awareness, get people out to meetings, to films, to workshops and protests.  

However, it is a very large network, clearly made up of people who are not going to wait for their governments to do something about the environmental crisis.  They access whatever government resources are going however, and then just get on with it, bringing in local industry where they can.  Looking at the well established transition towns in England and the ambitious projects underway one realises that the movement there has control and power.  It is not a fringe activity, it appears to be in the centre of the collective community.  

I think it is the brilliant front edge of a paradigm shift starting from below, not from the top.

Wednesday
Feb032010

small moments

Derek Jarman. The garden at Prospect Cottage, 1989.I see that I bought this book for $7 at a second-hand bookstore, sometime in the late 1990s.  How could I have missed it the first time round?  My copy is Derek Jarman. Modern Nature. The Overlook Press: Woodstock NY, 1994.

March

Monday 6

Weeded the back garden, wired over the fennel the rabbits keep cutting back, planted two new irises and montbretsia.  At 5:30 I sat on the old wicker chair facing the setting sun and read the newspaper.  A slight chill descended; a choir of gnats floated by, golden sparks catching the last rays of the sun.  The wind got up, bringing the smell of the sea; a russet kestrel flew by.
  Extraordinary peacefulness.

Sunday 12
Warm overcast day with a sea mist that triggered the foghorn at the lighthouse.  Worked on the front garden, weeding; planted carnations and more sea kale seedlings.  Spent the evening assembling objects from the flotsam and jetsam gathered on the beach.

Tuesday 21
The heavy rain has left sheets of water reflecting the grey sky lying on the sharp green of the spring fields.  All along the rail embankment to Ashford the buds are breaking on the hawthorn bushes.  There are drifts of primroses everywhere. ... Deep in the middle of the woods, in the most secret glade, primroses are blooming, the only ones I have found; but there are carpets of violets almost hidden by their bright green leaves.
   The unobservant could walk by them without noticing, as the leaves and flowers create an almost perfect camouflage, the elusive purple vanishing in the green.

Tuesday
Feb022010

Derek Jarman


Prospect Cottage, Kent.Thinking still of the importance of small things, the best guide is Derek Jarman's Modern Nature, Diaries 1989-1990 (Vintage 1992) which covered the making of a small garden around his cottage at Dungeness on the south coast of Kent, in the shadow of an enormous  nuclear power station.  I went there once as a student; the beach is shingle, small round pebbles, excruciating to walk on in bare feet.  There was, in 1973, a row of tiny cabins, sheds and old railway cars sitting on the beach. One had a path from the laneway to the back door made up of the enamelled parts and panels of a gas stove taken apart and laid on the pebbles.  It was all a fierce, pathetic landscape of small scrapings and savings perched tenously on the edge of the English Channel.

Derek Jarman acquired a small cottage, painted black with creosote, and built a garden of local flowers and plants that could survive the salt spray and general inhospitability of the beach.  Jarman had AIDS in the pre-retro-viral era when it was a death sentence.  His diaries for 1989 and 1990 are staggeringly beautiful, elegiac but never sentimental.  His entry for February 2, 1989:
The gorse is a blaze of golden flowers forced by the wind into an agony of weird shapes, twisted branches wrung out like washing.  It's the only winter flower on the Ness; some of the bushes are six feet high, crowned with tight bunches of spines which creak in the wind.  Other bushes cling to the ground, shaped in neat cones and pyramids which are clipped by the rabbits with the precision of topiary.  'Kissing is out of season when gorse is out of bloom'.  No-one need worry – here it is always in flower.

All the time he was making his garden he was continuing to make films; he had a London life and a Dungeness life – one large, complicated and worldly, the other full of nature and intimate with it: he writes on August 31, 'In front of me a jade sea is running wild.'  and then goes on the next day with the complications of dying, of getting financing for his film, of people and their demands. 

I read this book every few years for the lesson that nature is both solace and indifferent.  It is there if we want it and if we don't it continues nonetheless. 

Monday
Nov232009

Christina Maile

Christina Maile. Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) at a hydrant on Kings Plaza Station.

In 'Sewing the Landscape' (On Site 8: Sewing and Architecture), Christina Maile looked at the colonisation of hard urban surfaces by plants – resiliant, sturdy survivalists.  Since that article I have not ever passed by a stop sign, or a concrete median, or the gutter where the curb meets the pavement without looking for and finding a frilly green edge, or a sunny yellow flower, or now in November, lovely arrangements of seed heads and dried leaves.  Was there ever a text that changed my perception of the everyday city at the smallest scale so dramatically?  I don't think so.

Thinking of the city as a landscape that had been invaded by concrete is what actually happened, yet we perceive the opposite, that plants have re-occupied a landscape that never contained them.  Like the plants, we become guests in the city, rather than the city being an instrument that merely mediates the weather and facilitates travel in a much greater landscape.  If that larger landscape is under threat, as it is from enormous urban off-gassing, perhaps we need to reconceptualise our relationship to urban spaces, the landscape and to our own agency.  The mugwort, above, might be humble, but it is not self-effacing: concrete holds no terrors here. 

We have a call for articles right now for On Site 23: small things.  Looking at weeds on the sidewalk is a small thing.  Small things are seeds for larger ideas, for radical re-thinking.