Category Archives: nature

The Sunday porch: Venice patio

Venice hotel patio, Library of CongressProfessional photographers Gertrude Käsebier and Frances Benjamin Johnston eating together on a hotel patio in Venice, Italy, 1905, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

(Click on the photo for a larger view.)

Johnston — from Washington, D.C. — and Käsebier — from New York City — had traveled across the Atlantic at the invitation of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain.  On the same trip, they also visited France, Switzerland, and Italy.

The older and more successful Gertrude Käsebier had been born in a log cabin in Iowa in 1852.   After marrying* a successful businessman of aristocratic German origins and having three children,  she began to study photography at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.  Within ten years, by the late 1890s, she had opened a studio on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

At the time of this photo, she was  “one of the best known photographers in the United States,” according to her Library of Congress biography. Her portraits of women and children were shown in major exhibitions and won her critical acclaim and financial independence.

Käsebier’s ability to discern the complexities of situations helped her achieve conflicting goals. She aimed to be associated with fine art and the upper classes but she enjoyed the relatively déclassé technical art of photography. She also wanted to earn a living, a desire that brought criticism from [Alfred] Stieglitz for sacrificing art to commerce, while society frowned on women participating in any kind of business. At a time when a salesman challenged women’s right to purchase high quality photographic equipment, Käsebier encouraged women to enter the professional world. For example, she befriended and supported Frances Benjamin Johnston, whose ambition and need to earn an income may have surpassed her own.

Kasebier worked until the mid-1920s, when she turned her studio over to her daughter, Hermine.

Johnston had a long career as well, ultimately specializing in architectural and garden photography.  She retired at age 81 in 1945.

*It was an unhappy marriage and inspired her to make this photo.


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

Life in gardens: Ruyl family

Ruyl family, via Library of CongressBeatrice Baxter Ruyl on the chaise lounge with Barbara, and Mr. Ruyl seated with Ruth, 1913, by F. Holland Day, via The Louise Imogen Guiney Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The photo was probably taken at Five Islands, Maine, where both F. Holland Day and the Ruyl family had homes.

Day was part of the pictorialist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Its photographers posed or otherwise manipulated their images to create ‘fine art.’

Baxter Ruyl illustrated children’s books and also drew for the Boston Herald. She frequently served as a model for Day and Gertrude Käsebier.

Happy Labor Day weekend in the U.S.!

Leave a comment

Filed under American gardens, art, design, garden design, landscape, life in gardens, nature, vintage landscape

Vintage landscape: meadowland

Meadowland, via LoCA photochrom taken c. 1902, by Detroit Photographic Co.,  via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Why is any cow, red, black or white, always in just the right place for a picture in any landscape?  Like a cypress tree in Italy, she is never wrongly placed.  Her outlines quiet down so well into whatever contours surround her.  A group of her in the landscape is enchantment.

– Frank Lloyd Wright, from his autobiography

The guides at Taliesin will tell you that Wright strongly preferred buff-colored and brown cows to black and white ones.


Filed under design, landscape, nature, vintage landscape

Life in gardens: village green

Children on grass, Greendale, WIGreendale, Wisconsin, September 1939, by John Vachon, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (all photos here).

Greendale was one of three New Deal “greenbelt” towns built by the federal government in the late 1930s. The other two were Greenhills, Ohio, and Greenbelt, Maryland.

Children on grass 2, Greendale, WI

The planned communities offered affordable housing and commercial, educational, and social facilities — all within walking distances and in the midst of park-like landscaping.

Their construction also created jobs, supporting each area’s recovery from the Depression.

Child on tricycle, Greendale, WI

Greendale was built on 3,400 acres about 3 miles southwest of Milwaukee. Work began in 1936. The first families moved in in April 1938.

There were 366 residential buildings (for 572 families), and each had an average of 5,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space.  The town center included the Village Hall, a movie theater, a newspaper, a volunteer fire station, schools, a co-op market, a tavern, and other businesses.

Children with wagon, Greendale, WI

A large old barn on the town site — which can just be seen on the left above — was preserved as a community theater and social center.

flag and street, Greendale, WI

Greendale’s chief planner was Wisconsin landscape architect Elbert Peets, a designer somewhat at odds with his own time.

“He disliked the curvilinear suburban streets and sweeping lawns then in fashion,” according to William H. Tishler in his book, Midwestern Landscape Architecture.

In 1917, he had visited a number of European cities. “He was especially impressed with the urban squares, piazzas, and parks that he saw on foot,” according to Tishler.

“To Peets. . . , the ‘calamity of the first magnitude’ was the reverence given by American landscape architects to ‘the English landscaped style of gardening.’ A proper antidote for the ‘native-imitative’ design schemes. . . could be found in ‘such rudimentary principles of design as straightness, uniformity, economy and equal balance.'”

He blamed Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., for making nature “the holy word of his time.” He believed Central Park was a failure because its planners had “thought of the city as the enemy of the country.”

Accordingly — and also influenced by American colonial towns and midwestern villages — he built his experimental town “around a line instead of a point,” writes Tishler.

There was a long main boulevard. Side streets were mostly straight and set into grids.

Street of houses, Greendale, WI

Most houses were placed within several feet of the curb.

There are two drawings of Peet’s plan here, on pages 205 and 208 (you will need to scroll up and down).

street and roses, Greendale, WI

And, unlike as in some other planned communities, “Peets also assumed that midwesterners would prefer housing lots that were ‘definitely bounded and privately controlled.'”

Girl on fence, Greendale, WI

He called Greendale “a workingmen’s town” — “in actuality and in appearance it must be direct, simple, and practical, free of snobbishness, not afraid of standardization.” 

Playing ball, Greendale, WI

He did not neglect the new community’s link to the countryside, desiring that “our people may have close contact with the land and its plants and also with farm life and its work.”

“The initial plan was for two-thousand acres of permanent open space* encircling the residential districts. Greendale was unique among the three federal towns. . . since its greenbelt included exceptionally productive agricultural land — seventeen dairy farms and twenty-three small truck and poultry farms. Besides providing for some continuation of farming, Peets planned for hiking and cross-country ski trails through much of the greenbelt. Moreover, . . . he assured, ‘we shall do whatever we can to preserve and create communities of native plants.'”

"Mr. Kroenig, community manager, talking with farmer who operates [Greendale] cooperative pasteurizing plant, June1941.

“Mr. Kroenig, community manager, talking with farmer who operates [the Greendale] cooperative pasteurizing plant,” June 1941.

Peets ultimately used non-natives for about a quarter of all the landscaping plants, which incurred the ire of Jens Jensen; he called it “a tragedy.” Peets answered that the number of Jensen-approved plants were too few and that certain non-native plants “were appropriate to the setting,” according to Tishler.** (That debate continues.)

Jenson was also unhappy that the recently reconstructed Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia provided the models for Greendale’s Village Hall and other public buildings: “The buildings are lost. Frank Lloyd Wright, a true son of Wisconsin, should have been the guiding hand, but a profit [sic] is always stoned in his own country.”

(A have to say that I once saw Wright’s plan for Broadacre City at Taliesin, and it was dismal  — all about the car.)

Man on crutches, Greendale, WI

Greendale’s particularly house-y houses were designed by architect Harry Bentley.

house front, Greendale, WI

“[M]ost of the residential buildings exhibit a stripped-down, functional, modernistic variant of the Colonial Revival style in which architectural features, such as hipped roofs, brick pilasters and quoins, wide brick chimneys, and enclosed vestibules are predominant,” according to Greendale’s National Historic Landmark Registration Form.

“Others reflect a simplification of the English Cottage Style through the use of gabled roofs, the placement of chimneys on the street-side elevations, and window configuration.”

Apple St. House, Greendale, WI

I like the garage/shed side buildings, below.

Children with tents, Greendale, WI

They look like a re-use of shipping containers (although they probably aren’t); the effect is rather current.

woman w/ flowers, Greendale, WI

Greendale’s residents could plant flowers and small vegetables in their yards. Larger plants like corn had to be grown in the town’s allotment gardens.

A limited budget helped determine both the fairly simple houses and, some thought, Old World look of the town, according to Tishler.

“Greendale’s planning staff paid a great deal of attention to keeping down costs. Cinderblock, stucco, whitewash, and drab-colored paints could be purchased locally and inexpensively; once in place the materials were regarded as providing a ‘gracious functionalism’ to a workingmen’s village. Peets and Bentley disavowed any intention to imitate European villages, and were somewhat bewildered when early visitors commented on the similarity.”

Originally, all the families rented their dwellings from the government. But after 1950, they were given the right to purchase their units. Nearly all were in private ownership two years later.

In 2012, Greendale was named a National Historic Landmark.

Greendale in 2012, by Freekee, via Wikimedia Commons.

Greendale in 2012, by Freekee, via Wikimedia Commons. Siding has been added to some houses.

Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,
Where health and plenty cheared the laboring swain . . .

How often have I loitered o’er thy green,
Where humble happiness endeared each scene!

– Oliver Goldsmith, from “The Deserted Village

I’m sorry that there was no “The Sunday porch” post yesterday — the internet was out most of the day.

* “Unfortunately, the large greenbelt that Peets so strongly sought to maintain and protect was reduced in size; today, only a small version exists as part of the Root River Parkway,” according to Tishler.

**According to Greendale’s National Historic Landmark Registration Form, Peets said that his proposed plants “needed little skilled care and . . . were familiar to the residents. Familiarity, in Peets’s terms meant plants, shrubs, and trees that appealed to the average person and were likely to evoke the image of small town America, drawing from a long history of use and collective memory in the Midwest. Regardless of whether such species were technically endemic to the Great Lakes region, their use was justified on the basis that such old favorites were culturally appropriate, had popular appeal, and responded favorably to the growing conditions of the upper Midwest. “

There are some good old drawings and plans and pictures of a more recent Greendale if you scroll to the last pages of the Registration Form.

Continue reading


Filed under a garden in history, American gardens, architecture, culture and history, design, garden design, landscape, life in gardens, nature, plants, vintage landscape

In our garden: Ross’s Turaco

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

. . . an occasional large and dramatic avian visitor to our garden — about 30′ up, climbing around in one of our several Grevillea robusta trees.

Also known as Lady Ross Turacos, the birds are about 18″ long with mostly dark blue feathers. I got a very quick look at the ends of this one’s wings — bright red and only visible in flight.

I have seen them in different tall trees around the garden before — the last time in a pair. The males and females look exactly alike.

Today, this one was making only a noisy, repetitive croak, which drew me to look for it.  But, previously, I have also heard them make a more melodious call, which I remember as sort of a loud cooing sound (a contradictory description, I know).

My soul into the boughs does glide;
There like a bird it sits and sings,
Then whets, and combs its silver wings;
And, till prepar’d for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.

– Andrew Marvell, from “The Garden


Filed under African gardens, nature, our garden, plants, Rwanda life, Rwandan gardens