Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A good new border plant - but not quite?

Senecio fuchsii (S. nemorensis seems to be more or less the same).

One of those plants that should have been a British native, but isn't, and although it does a fantastic job of brightening up the dark and dreary hedge bottom at a time of year when not much else does, is not the sort of thing which leaps out at you as the perfect new border plant.

A plant which raises questions then.

First of all, why is it all over woodland edge habitats in hilly areas from Belgium down to Bulgaria (from whence comes my stock) but not Britain? And why doens' it look quite garden worthy.

Its absence from the British flora can only be put down to everything having been scraped off by the last Ice Age and it not having a chance to blow back in, when the English Channel effectively pulled up the gangplank on the full flora of northern Europe re-establishing itself.

And its looks? Too much like ragwort for some (related of course, but completely different in its details of leaf and flower shape, and not toxic). The leaves are a lovely dark green, the flowers plentiful and a good yellow, but there are petals 'missing' so there is a kind of scruffy feel. And a re-design would definitely make it a bit shorter than its current 1.2m, and therefore less likely to flop.

One for some selection and improvement?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Landscape Architects' Revenge

It’s the Swiss national day, so all the shops are shut and the multi-storey carpark at Sihlcity on the outskirts of Zürich is deserted, apart from us, and an idiot in a red Ferrari who is amusing himself screeching around the deserted building – a peculiarly Swiss form of social deviance.
I am with Rudolf Lehmann from the Swiss company, Jakob, who make the steel rope and other support mechanisms for the climbing plants that occasionally appear on contemporary buildings. Zürich is the best place to see them. Many climbers will go well beyond the modest two storey structures of wire and vine eyes timidly put up by gardeners. At Sihlcity, Fallopia baldschuanica and wisteria have already reached the top of a 25m high set of cables at the side of the car park in 4 1/2 years. At another location, a series of apartment buildins, climbers including akebia, celastrus, lonicera and clematis species have romped up 13m in 3 years.
The beneficial environmental effects are considerable, particularly for cooling buildings, all now being shown to have a strong evidence base with research being done at various Germany universities. But to many of us greening the side of a building, especially one which is inherently pretty ugly, like a multi-storey car park, is just a very nice thing to do. Green roofs are often invisible, green walls can make much more visual impact. Perhaps they are part of the landscape architects revenge against the architect, or a softening of the architects love of hard surfaces.
In what might be seen as the ultimate example of the architect turning landscape architect, Rudolf also took me to Futuro Liestal, outside Basel to visit a new office complex. Which I couldn’t see at first, because I appeared to be on gently sloping hill with walkways over it, and occasional green cube buildings. Walking onto the hill I realised I was on top of the building, which was covered in an enormous green roof, apparently contiguous with the surrounding landscape and planted up with dry meadow and dry garden flora. The green boxes housed various lift mechanisms etc, and access to the offices was through them or down stairs – the offices and laboratories etc. opened out onto large landscape courtyards, which of course you look down onto from above. Get it? It is a building turned upside down, instead of a footprint on the landscape with a desert of a roof, this is a building that you go down into from a new landscape. Needless to say it is all designed with maximum sustainability in mind. Utterly revolutionary, wonderful, quite one of the most amazing buildings I have ever seen. Oh, and there is a new green wall of climbers running for what feels like several hundred metres along the side.
The next day I took myself off to see the MFO Park, a real favourite, where a giant pergola (35m long, 17m high) has been constructed in a square, to form a new public space. Inside the steel structure, there is a mysterious green light, a bit like that you get in a woodland, and plenty of bird song too. Its an outrageously innovative place – I cannot think of anywhere even remotely like it. A wonderful hint at a new coming together of architecture and horticulture.