Modern Hortus Conclusus: the Serpentine pavillion 2011

The rigour, geometry, spiritual and, to a degree, romance filled imagery of the pre-Renaissance and Renaissance italian painting tradition, seen below in Fra' Angelico's  Annunciation in the Convent of San Marco, Florence, are key elements in the  establishment of the cultural and physical identity of the 'hortus conclusus' or enclosed garden.

The pavillion at the Serpentine, built in the summer of 2011 and widely circulated, is such a form, an enclosure that links back to the original philosophical and spiritual meaning.

Showing a mute, sombre exterior, it becomes, physically and metaphorically, the container, the body, opening to reveal a centre filled with tranquil warmth, glow and serenity.

The structure, designed by Peter Zumthor, is complemented by an interior garden by Piet Oudolf, featured also on this blog for his gardens at the last Venice Architecture Biennale.

Here are some images to enjoy and reflect on, as an opportunity to develop a more continuous relationship, physical, emotional and intellectual with the interior green spaces that we could begin to integrate in our working and domestic lives.

Images copyright: Oscar Ferrari.

The planting experiences and individual approach of Oudolf is beautifully imaged and explained in Thames and Hudson's 'Oudolf Landscapes in Landscapes', 2011.

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Coastal planting: natural drifts and salt tolerant plants

If you are lucky enough to have a sea view or garden where there is a lot of salt spray, there are still many opportunities for creating windbreaks, hedges, havens....If you click on the coastal planting category you will see  examples of more dramatic rocky outcrops in Southern Tuscany, where I am from...On a recent trip to the UK south coast, facing the Isle of Wight, we saw fabulous examples of naturalization of salt tolerant plants and succulents, - incredibly -flourishing on a windswept and generally very exposed site. I think this rugosa rose amongst Phragmites australis reeds is really poetic, and shows how this tough plant withstands high levels of salt in air and the swampy ground...

esterni design garden blog

Succulents need very free draining slopes such as these to cope with cold wet winters: below a lovely example of texture, where the large green angled leaves form a carpet, mixing with grey saltbush and wild grasses.

esterni design garden blog- atriplex species

"armeria maritima" " grasses and atriplex species"

Armria maritima, or sea thrift, is a remarkably adaptable plant, which in some european cities such as Paris and Berlin has recently been used to help with green mats and high tolerance planting schemes in urban greening projects. It survives in poor soils and being rolled over by trams!

Residential landscapes and eco-design

The question of the positive impact of  building and landscaping practices with relation to renewables is generally discussed when talking about buildings, architecture and energy technology. It has been less of a concern when planning and designing gardens. This post looks at the ideas explored by Howard Liddell, of Gaia Architects, Edinburgh in his book Eco-Minimalism, RIBA Publishing, in particular Shelter Planting and biodiversity.

Liddell writes that " many projects experience , during late cost cutting, the removal of landscape elements once they get towards the end of the site operations. Suddenly, trees and bushes do not get planted because they are seen as "amenity planting", that is, non essential decoration.

However, vegetation (or the lack of it) can have a very significant impact ..... on the energy performance of a building.

Trees and shrubs can shelter buildings from prevailing and chilling winds, with a resultant reduction in heat loss as a benefit.

...of course these items can have amenity value - but with a practical (and calculable) economic benefit, they are less likely to be omitted during belt-tightening  cost exercises."

On biodiversity,  a simple rule and challenge: " The city of Berlin has a 50 per cent rule for new developments, whereby half the built-up footprint of any site has to be biodiverse - it can be "greenscape' (gardens, etc) or 'bluescape" (ponds, etc)."

These proposals can be applied to all of our planning, design and execution of exterior spaces: they remind me of one of the most successful, livable, recent UK developments, Accordia in Cambridge.