Category Archives: landscape

Vintage landscape: repurposed

Formal victory garden, ca. 1918, Library of Congress

World War I victory garden in a formal setting, location unknown,* ca. 1917 – ca. 1920, by Harris & Ewing, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The photo seems to have been taken for the National War Garden Commission, also known as the National Emergency Food Garden Commission.

The organization was created in early 1917 by Charles Lathrop Pack.  It sponsored a campaign of pamphlets, posters, and press releases aimed at “arous[ing] the patriots of America to the importance of putting all idle land to work, to teach them how to do it, and to educate them to conserve by canning and drying all food that they could not use while fresh.”

Like it or not, what you do with the land around your house tells the world what sort of citizen you are.

Abby Adams, The Gardener’s Gripe Book

*Harris & Ewing was located in Washington, D.C.

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Filed under American gardens, culture and history, design, food, garden design, landscape, nature, plants, vintage landscape, Washington, D.C., gardens

Wordless Wednesday: local color

22Hohenheim botanical garden, Nov. 1,enclos*ure

The Botanical Garden of the University of Hohenheim — once the 18th century “English Garden” of Hohenheim Palace — in Stuttgart, on November 1.

The Hohenheim Palace botanical gardens, November 1, 2015, by enclos*ure

The Hohenheim Palace botanical gardens, November 1, 2015, by enclos*ure
Click on any thumbnail in the gallery below.


Filed under design, garden design, German gardens, landscape, nature, plants, travel

A Saturday porch: The Firs

A Halloween porch. . .

5 The Firs, ca. 1900, Library of Congress

This was the front porch of “The Firs” in New Baltimore, Michigan, between 1901 and 1910.* At that time, it was a summer boarding house.



Although the ladies above look calm enough, throughout the 20th century — and up until the house was torn down in 2005 — many residents, visitors, and trespassers reported weird phenomena there.

Lights flickered, dishes flew off the table, strange voices were heard, and invisible fingers stroked girls’ hair. Ghostly figures were sometimes seen — particularly those of a young woman, an older man, and a child playing in the yard — or so ’twas said.

1 The Firs, ca. 1900, Library of Congress

The residence was first known as Hatheway House, for Gilbert Hatheway, a businessman who built it about 1860.

When he died in 1871, the house went to his son, James S. H. P. Hatheway. James had one daughter, Mabel, who died in March of 1881.

Mabel was only twenty at the time of her demise and had married a man from another town just three months earlier. Local legend has her being killed from a fall down the Hatheway House stairs.

One account of the alleged incident notes that her father, irritable from chronic pain, was also unhappy with her choice of husband; another brings up an older cousin with anger management issues. In at least one version of Mabel’s slight history, she is mentally ill.

6 The Firs, ca. 1900, Library of Congress

A slightly spooky allée in front of the porch.

In the late 1800s, the Hatheway family moved out of the house, and it became The Firs.

About the same time, or perhaps later during the WWI years, the west side of the building was turned into a small hospital, run by Dr. Virginia French.  It was never a home for the insane, although that was the creepier story often passed down.

3 The Firs, ca. 1900, Library of Congress

I haven’t been able to find out what happened to the property later in the 20th century, except that it seems to have been empty by the late 1990s, if not well before — perhaps because of its reputation as a haunted house.

Naturally, teenagers found it a fun place to explore at night and vandalize. In August 2005, much to the neighbors’ relief by one account, the house was demolished. However, there continue to be reports of strange lights and noises in the ruins of the basement.

2 The Firs, ca. 1900, Library of Congress

A fairly cheerful side garden.

You can scroll through more (and larger) images of The Firs by clicking on ‘Continue reading’ below and then on any thumbnail in the gallery.

*Photos by Detroit Publishing Co., via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

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Filed under American gardens, architecture, culture and history, design, garden design, landscape, life in gardens, The Sunday porch, vintage landscape

La Vallée Suisse, Paris

“The plants have taken over. The gardener has gone home.”
— Gregory Ross, from Hidden Parks of Paris

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The verdant, sunken Garden of the Swiss Valley is a true “hidden garden” of Paris. Unless you know to look for the little green wire gate just past the very large and silly memorial, “The Dream of the Poet,” on Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt, you will walk right by it on your way to the Seine.

But if you do know to stop and then enter the gate, you’ll descend over a dozen faux bois steps to a “stone” arch (also constructed of concrete, as are all the other stones in the garden).

Stepping through the archway, you’ll cross an artificial pond fed by the Seine (and reputedly inhabited by carp) and look down the single path of the long narrow space. Mature trees, shrubs, and perennials cover and obscure the valley walls; some dip into the water, including a 100-year-old weeping beech.

Elaine Sciolino, writing in the The New York Times, called this garden “a tiny stage-set.” With its fake rock and old-fashioned common garden plants,* it is not really “naturalistic,” yet is still a little wilderness — its arrangement seemingly having moved beyond planting design and maintenance.

When I visited it one morning in early September, a slight haze of dust and seasonal decay hung in the air. The only other person there was a homeless man sound asleep on one of the benches, and I tried not to bother him as I walked back and forth taking pictures.

At one end of the path, a faux bois pedestrian footbridge crosses overhead. At the other, green doors signal the entrance to a Climespace plant, which — 30 meters further underground — cools the surrounding buildings with circulating chilled water.

The Swiss Valley is one of the many garden spaces along the Champs-Élysées credited to Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand, an engineer who directed the construction of many Haussmann-era parks. Whether he actually designed it seems lost to history (on the internet, at least). I have read that the Valley was created for the Exposition Universelle of 1900, but perhaps it was the 1889 World’s Fair, as Alphand died in 1891. How Switzerland or a Swiss exhibit comes into it is also not really clear.

The little park is now called the Garden of New France because of nearby Place du Canada. At least half its 1.7 acres are above the valley garden, level with the street — an ordinary assortment of shrubs, grass, and gravel paths.

You can click on ‘Continue reading’ below to scroll through more (and larger) images.

*Including maple trees, bamboo, wavy leaf silktassel, Mexican orange, viburnum, nandina, lilac, jasmine, white hibiscus, ferns, ivy, roses, daylilies, smooth hydrangea, smokebush, Japanese anemones, and Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’.

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The Sunday porch: paint and vines

Ste-Catherine, Brussels, Sept. 2015, enclos*ure

These are not really porches, of course, but two café doorways and a storefront.

They caught my eye while we were walking around the Sainte-Catherine or Sint Katelijne neighborhood of Brussels, which is just northwest of the Grand’Place and La Bourse.

Rue de Flandre, Brussels, Sept. 2015, enclos*ure

The one pictured above is on Rue de Flandre.

Rue de Flandre, Brussels, Sept. 2015, enclos*ure

I believe I snapped this blue café, above, on Quai au Bois à Brûler, facing the site of the old Saint-Catherine Bassin or canal port, covered over since the 1870s.

Ste-Catherine, Brussels, Sept. 2015, enclos*ure

I like the way the ivy is used as both a decorative windowbox planting and low privacy screen.

A vine-covered storefront, also along Rue de Flandre.
Above, a mass of vines shades a closed storefront, also along Rue de Flandre.


Detail of photo above.

Rue de Flandre is a good street on which to find an interesting restaurant.  We liked Viva M’Boma (old-fashioned Belgian food, emphasis on meat/offal) and Domaine de Lintillac (dishes from the southwest of France, emphasis on duck).

Click on any photo above to enlarge it.

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