Vintage landscape: two trees

Vintage landscape: Bartram's old tree, c. 1908, Philadelphia, Pa./enclos*ure“Old tree in Bartram’s Park [sic], Philadelphia, Pa.,”  by Detroit Publishing Co. via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

I can’t find out why this apparently dead tree was fenced off so nicely in Bartram’s Garden in about 1908.  Does anyone know?

Bartram’s is the oldest surviving botanic garden in North America.  It was founded in 1728 and became a city park in 1891.

This photo made me think of the Tree of Ténéré, an acacia that was famous for being the only tree for 250 miles on the cavavan routes through the Sahara Desert in northeast Niger.  In 1973, a drunk truck driver managed to knock it down.

The tree in 1961. Photo by Michel Majeau, via Wikimedia Commons.

The dead tree was moved to the National Museum of Niger in Niamey later that year — where it was given its own pavilion.  I saw it there several years ago.

The trunks of the fallen tree in its pavilion in the museum in 1985. Photo by Holger Reineccius, via Wikimedia Commons.
The tree at the museum in 1985. Photo by Holger Reineccius, via Wikimedia Commons.

A metal sculpture of the tree was erected at its old location.   (There are more photos  here.)

One must see the Tree [of Ténéré] to believe its existence. What is its secret? How can it still be living in spite of the multitudes of camels which trample at its sides. How at each azalai does not a lost camel eat its leaves and thorns? Why don’t the numerous Touareg leading the salt caravans cut its branches to make fires to brew their tea? The only answer is that the tree is taboo and considered as such by the caravaniers. . . .  The Acacia has become a living lighthouse; it is the first or the last landmark for the azalai leaving Agadez for Bilma, or returning.

— Michel Lesourd, Commander of the Allied Military Mission of the Central Service of Saharan Affairs after he saw the tree in 1939


I love spheres in a garden.   When I see them, even if they’re staked down in one place, I always imagine that they’re rolling about the garden at will.

While living in Niger a few years ago, I had the idea of making myself some spheres by taking several of the local clay water pots, which are round on the bottom, and planting them upside down. When I went to buy them at a roadside pot stand, I found a few with already broken tops and, naturally, offered a little lower price to the seller to take the damaged goods off her hands. This made her very suspicious, however, and I’m not sure that I didn’t end up paying a premium instead.

Water pots buried upside down as spheres in the garden.
Blue spheres from

The blue spheres in this photo to the right are from the online shop Potted, and I wish I had them for my current little patch of lawn.  I spotted them yesterday in an ad in the new online magazine Entra, which I found from a link in the blog Studio G, which I found from a link in Stone Art Blog, which I found googling ideas for gravel.  I roll around too.

Potted’s spheres come in blue, orange, and rusted metal.  Their website also has a good blog (the link goes to some wonderful posts from their “That’s so potted” contest).

The figures in the photo below are from the sculpture “Last Conversation Piece” by Juan Muñoz.  They seem to me to be the ultimate in garden spheres, although they appear to be moving more on bean bags than balls.

They’re at the Hirshhorn Museum of the Smithsonian Institution here in Washington, D.C.

Starting out: my oasis in the Sahel

BEFORE: the front garden

We arrived in Niamey, Niger, in August 2006.  My husband worked at the U.S. Embassy there, and this house had been assigned to Embassy families for many years. It had always been much appreciated for its nice patio, flat rooftop (reached by spiral staircase), and large lawn for outside entertaining. However, by the time we took possession, there wasn’t much to the garden except grass.

BEFORE: the side lawn

Very short, ragged hedges bordered the sidewalks that went around the house. You had to step over them to get on to the lawn.  Most of the few other plants were lined up at the base of the front wall. The areas around the backdoor and the pool were bare dirt — except during the rainy season, when they turned to mud. On the plus side, however, there were mature palms, a baobab, mangoes, frangipanis, and some roses.

On the ground, I wanted curves to echo the circular outlines of the tops of the palms, the fanned out clusters of the frangipani leaves, and the spiral of a staircase leading up to the roof. I needed to link a small front garden (planned as an ornamental display of plants to be viewed while sitting on the patio), a large side lawn (an entertainment area for large groups), and a back fenced rectangular pool area. I played with various wavy planting bed shapes, but the various parts of the whole space weren’t merging smoothly.

Partial garden plan

Then I had a strange inspiration: I noticed the way the razor wire topping the 8 ft. walls looped round and round.  This gave me a concept for form and organization.  All the planting beds became loops — some circles, others a little more oval like a smushed roll of the wire.  The loops overlapped, two or three in a set; the walls, walkways, and the house sliced through them. The loops were smaller in the front garden and got bigger as they led into the big side lawn. They passed through the open metal fence of the pool area, joining it to the lawn.

We rimmed all the edges of the smaller front beds with short hedges. Half the bushes had lime green leaves, half were darker, which set off the overlapping effect. We filled in the beds with a variety of tropical and temperate-climate flowers, as well as banana and papaya plants.  The plantings in the larger circles on the side lawn were more freeform without hedges. Using the concept of loops of wire/flower beds, each area of the garden was defined, yet flowed into the other areas.

AFTER: early growth on the lawn

What my concept did not include, however, was a good plan for water, or  rather the lack of it. It took a lot of watering to keep those beds looking lush (although much the same was true for the grass they replaced). We did let the grass and some of the bedding plants go brown at the height of the dry season and experimented with timed irrigation. Toward the end of our time there, I began to find more drought-resistant plants like agaves. (The local plant sellers farmed down at the river’s edge and generally catered to the expats’ desires for tropicals and for the flowers they knew from home, not to a need for dry-climate plants.)

AFTER: irrigating the front garden

If we had stayed longer, I would have consolidated the more water-greedy plants in the beds in the front garden and put more drought-resistant plants and maybe some gravel in the side lawn beds.

Click on the first photo below to scroll through a series of pictures of the garden. The time difference between BEFORE and AFTER was about 20 months. We lived in this country for 2 years.