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A Historic Landscape

JB Jackson’s quote, “Landscape is history made visible,” completely sums up Andalusia. Andalusia is the beautiful historic estate of the Biddle family, located in on the Delaware River in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Andalusia includes the old family home and surrounding gardens and as you walk through the property you feel as though you are stepping  back in time. Because of one hundred years of gardening on this property, many different time periods in gardening are represented. For instance the Walled Garden, built in the mid 1800s, was clearly inspired by the French Renaissance Gardens that came before it. The Walled Garden is literally a garden surrounded by 20 foot high stone walls  on three sides. The walls of the garden were originally constructed to grow grapes. Nicolas Biddle, the owner at the time, wanted to grow grapes all year round, so he covered the walls structures (like a greenhouse) and water was pumped up from the Delaware River to stoke holes to heat the graperies. The Walled Garden has very axial pathways that form a cross in the garden space, with a single tree right in the center and a boxwood hedge on either side of the stone paths. Today the four quadrants of the garden are very different than they had been in the past. You can see history in the landscape of this garden because you can tell that the garden has evolved over the years. There are some plantings in the garden that have been there since Nicolas’s time and will never change because they are crucial to the design of this garden. Other plants change with the changes in  head gardener. Many other parts of the property represent history as well. Right outside of the walls of the Walled Garden there is a ha-ha. Ha-has were once used to keep livestock from coming up to your kitchen window. It was a trench dug into the ground that the livestock would not cross and it was designed so that you would not need to put up a fence, which would break the view. This method is not used today in landscape design but was years ago. Because many gardens are preserved so well, you can see certain elements of the garden designs that are kept as a way to show how gardening practices have evolved over the years, even after certain practices are not of use anymore. Historic landscapes like Andalusia are a unique window into a past world.

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A Natural Landscape

“Nature: The Source of All Design.” – Dan Kiley

I have thought about this idea that Dan Kiley has about nature so many times but have never been able to say it in such a concise way. In May of this year I visited Zion National Park in Utah and this is a place that I think exhibits nature as being a source of design better than any other. Zion is largely still a natural landscape. While there has been a road paved through the park and some trails created, there is still a large expanse of the park that is completely natural and untouched. The naturalness of Zion makes it the perfect place to just observe how nature works. I was lucky enough to be there while it was raining and got to see how the water flows throughout the park and to see how it creates these lush areas that collect water to be stored for later dry times. It was really incredible to see how nature has designed this system that works so well. Nature provides everything that the plants and animals need. I believe that if we take cues from nature in our design of homes, gardens, and buildings we could become more sustainable. Nature will sustain itself, but when humans intervene things become out of balance. Not only do I think that nature is a source for more efficient and sustainable building and garden design but I also think that nature is a source for creative design. At Zion they always have an artist in residence. Which I think is appropriate because so many times I have seen a pattern on a dress in a store or a painting and then related it to a plant or something from nature. If you ever closely examine a particularly unique flower, maybe one with unique colors or an interesting pattern you can see how artists and designers draw inspiration from nature. This idea supports the quote, “Nature: The Source of All Design”.  Artists can draw so much inspiration for design from nature. There is an endless amount of beauty in the natural world.

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A Quick Haiku

Here is a little haiku about Japanese gardens….

Japanese gardens
full of wonder and beauty
a place for strolling.

An Everyday Landscape

Everyday we wake up and see the same houses, sidewalks, front yards, trees, and other various things in our neighborhoods. Very rarely do we put all of those things together and think about how they create a landscape. Regardless of whether it is beautiful or unkept it is a landscape and everyone’s personal landscapes combine to become one united landscape that makes up a neighborhood. The landscape around my neighborhood of Fishtown is very unique. Everyone’s personal landscapes give you the feeling that they are trying to set themselves apart, often by incorporating decorations, plants, and other unique things into the landscape in order to try to create their own personal style. Like J.B. Jackson’s quote about the definition of landscape as being ‘a portion of the earth’s surface that can be comprehended at a glance,’ (1) I believe that you get this by looking at Fishtown. You get the expression of personal style by walking around the streets and just observing. It might not always be appealing or aesthetically pleasing but it is always unique and comes together to form a greater very unique landscape. One glance is enough to comprehend the uniqueness of the neighborhood but by taking a longer look each person’s personal landscape shines through and you start to gather some things about who lives in the neighborhood. It is a mix of young and old, mostly working class families. Many people have lived there their whole lives and probably in the same house. You can see the care that people put into the neighborhood by planting and tending to trees and garden spaces. By taking a longer look you can appreciate all the weird, quirky displays of various items that people put up. Like Jackson’s second quote explaining how he saw landscape as ‘a rich and beautiful book [that] is always open before us. We have but to learn to read it.’ (2) This is true with Fishtown, while I see it everyday and it is always ‘open’ before me, by learning to read it you can fully appreciate it with all of its uniqueness. Learning to read Fishtown, I think, is accepting it for what it is and what it has to offer. You can find special places of beauty and places to retreat so you can feel like you are somewhere else, while at the same time you can embrace the overgrown, weedy, abandoned areas. This is learning to read the landscape of Fishtown.

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1 Jackson J B, (1984), Discovering the Vernacular Landscape, p.8; Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
2 Jackson J B, (1951), Landscape 1 (Spring 1951): 5.

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