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Living Walls for Sustainability at Harvard University

Living Walls Harvard University

Living walls frame the Arcade at the new Richard A. & Susan F. Smith Campus Center features. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

During our most recent trip to Harvard Square we admired the living walls at the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center. There we were introduced to Harvard’s Sustainability Plan which includes buildings and open areas for a healthier and more sustainable campus community. We saw this plan in stunning action. This building was formerly known as the Holyoke Center, but the first three stories of the domineering ten story building has been redesigned to open up the space to the city outside, to bring light inside, and to make those spaces welcoming for groups, for socializing, and for study. Apparently it is now necessary for Harvard itself to provide socializing and organizing space for students because venues around Harvard Square have become so expensive.

The open angles and stairways, and the outdoor balcony with greenery are beautiful and welcoming, but we marveled at the living walls. When you walk into the building you find yourself surrounded on both sides by two-story high walls of greenery. It’s all very well to think fondly of the halls of ivy of our great learning institutions, but one expects those ivy covered walls to be outside the building. A team from Plant Wall Design created a felt and soil medium to hold over 12,000 plants. The 19 plant species were carefully chosen because of their hardiness in these circumstances and include several philodendron species, creeping fig, rabbit foot fern, maidenhair fern, peperomia and others. They are fed hydroponically with nutrients, and water coming from the Campus Center’s roof.  Lighting is provided by special LED lights. The array of shades of green and varied textures is really wonderful.

The plants serve the function of cleaning the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen. They also provide some humidity. Beyond the benefits of clean air for the students, the designers at Plant Wall Design must have considered the benefits of biophilia. Some scientists have concluded that gazing at an image of a natural scene will relax the brain. Some have said that being in nature lightens your mood and makes you more productive. Some say we have an inborn need to maintain connections with nature. To this end Michael Van Valkenburg Associates (Van Valkenburg also designed the wonderful wooded Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum) created an ‘open air vitrine’ forest in the middle of the building. A vitrine is a glass display case; the Campus Center’s vitrine puts a green forest on display.

Forest in a glass vitrine

A vitrine filled with trees frames the Arcade at the new Richard A. & Susan F. Smith Campus Center features. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

I commend Harvard for their Sustainability Plan which is about more than the living walls. They have made greater use of their open spaces. We were delighted to walk through Harvard Yard in the gloaming, to see all kinds of groups on cheerfully painted chairs visiting under the shade trees, and picnicking on the lawn. We bought supper from the food trucks on a plaza complete with a large fountain that resembled a rocky splash pad – where children were frolicking. Our connections to each other are surely as important as our connections to nature.

living wall plants

My son Chris and I on elevated walkway to see living wall plants closeup

Harvard’s living walls are not unique. We learned that the Boston Science Museum also has interior green walls designed by Ambius. When we visited Quebec City a number of years ago we saw one exterior wall of a large building covered with greenery, much like Harvard’s interior walls. The goal again was to provide clean air and to lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Many people with small gardens can also include more greenery by using one wall hung system or another. I’ve seen home made drainpipe plantings for home gardens, but a few clicks through Amazon will reveal a world of felt systems for indoors or outdoor gardens, as well and wood and plastic systems. You may also find some systems at your local garden center.

The growing interest in providing plants to purify the air and lower carbon dioxide shows me that people are reacting to climate change and thinking about the benefits of plants to us individually, and to our planet. The importance of street trees in our towns and cities is appreciated and valued more every day. Early this month Greenfield and Montague announced that they had received a gift of 1,000 trees to be planted over the next three years. The grant from the U.S. Forest Service will allow the Franklin Land Trust to work with the Greenfield’s Tree Committee and Montague’s Tree Advisory Committee, and with their departments of public works to plant trees where they are needed, on public land, along streets, and where residents want trees, including replacing dead or dying trees. Planting will begin in the spring of 2019.

Planting a tree will mean cleaner air, cooling shade in the summer, and control over storm water runoff. If you would like to have a tree, call the Greenfield DPW at 413-772-1528, if you live in Montague call the Montague DPW at 413-863 2054. ###

Between the Rows  November 17, 2018

Cider Days and Biodynamic agriculture

Mike Biltonen Cider Days

During Cider DaysMike Biltonen explained to an eager audience the basics of biodynamic agriculture

The 24th Annual Franklin County Cider Days came with splashes and torrents of rain, but those who love hard cider, and sweet cider and apples too, drew visitors from far and wide. I spoke to a young man who explained he and his friends who own an apple orchard in Pennyslvania came to see what is happening in the cider world. He said Cider Days is the epicenter of all the latest news about cider and apple orchards.

I started with a stop at the Peckville Orchard store to buy apples. The first Cider Days program I attended was up on Peckville Road at the West County Cidery. Mike Biltonen, who has bachelor and master’s degrees from Virginia Tech and Cornell, spoke about The Promise of Biodynamics: The Reality and Spirit of Nature. I knew nothing about biodynamics in agriculture except for stories about the giant vegetables grown at Findhorn in Scotland decades ago, although those stories are now more accepted as myth.

Biltonen did not tell us Findhorn stories, he began with Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) an Austrian philosopher and social reformer, who sought to find a synthesis between spirituality and science. Among his projects was the founding of the Waldorf Schools and biodynamic agriculture. Biltonen admitted that biodynamic practices can sound a little ‘woo-woo’ but when you considered the efficacy of herbal medicine it was easier to think that herbal remedies could also be used on plants with good results.

The woo-woo comes from Steiner’s belief in the effect of the energies of the cosmos and the astral space beyond the planets, as well as energies around us. “Now we are moving into a biointensive era out of necessity. Over the decades since WWII agricultural systems have become more mechanical and non-organic. There is more use of chemical spraying and fertilizers. . .  It can take five to seven years of biodynamic practices to re-energize the land and make it fertile again,” Biltonen said.

Biodynamic agriculture uses specific cures. Cow manure is packed into cow horns and buried for about 18 months to compost. Yarrow, German chamomile, stinging nettles and other herbs are used in potions that will cure particular problems with insects or disease. I did not understand how you can have enough cow horns or enough herb harvests to make this system work, but Biltonen said that it was better to think of the use of biodynamic preparations is like effectively using the small doses of homeopathic medicines.

An hour talk about a subject like biodynamic agriculture gives one just a taste of a big subject. Biltonen said there were very few biodynamic orchards, but he is working to increase their healthy number. For more information about Biltonen and his work as a technical agriculture advisor check out www.usaappleleaf.com.

Cider Days

Cider Days Talks at Shelburne-Buckland Community Center

Of course, there were many other events. I stopped in Shelburne Buckland Community Center where Claude Jolicoeur gave a talk about Central Asia – Travels to the Birthplace of Apples.  And you thought apples were the original all American fruit! A bunch of cider makers gave tastings there. Sue Chadwick, who taught me how to make a really good apple pie, was selling apple pies, and John Bunker of Maine who wrote a great book Not Far From the Tree about antique apples in his town of Palermo was giving a talk at the Bear Swamp Orchard and Cidery.

Clarkdale Cider Days

Taste testing pears and apples on Cider Days at Clarkdale

Tasting events, of ciders alone, and of ciders with other delectable items sold out fast. There were workshops on making cider, cider vinegar, caring for backyard apple trees and much more. I went down to Clarkdale to taste their apples and pears. I had already bought a big bag of Clarkdale’s Pie Mix, and after tasting a few new apples, I bought a bag of crispy Gold Rush apples and was thrilled to find that it was now pear cider season. Last year I learned that I can freeze pear – or apple – cider as long as I pour out some so the container won’t burst.

Amy Traverso, senior food editor at Yankee magazine and author of The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, which I have found very useful in all seasons, was on hand to share some apple cooking hacks at Clarkdale, too.

Oesco demonstration at Cider Days

Andy Dulude and Sukie Kindwall demonstrating OESCO fruit masher

While at Clarkdale I got to see the demonstration of OESCO’s commercial cider press. There are two parts to making cider. First you have to smash up the apples, or whatever fruit you are using, and then you have to press the juice out of the mash. OESCO manufactures the fruit masher, but the fruit press, of different sizes, is imported from France. Sukie Kindwall and Andy Dulude were on duty making cider right before our eyes, giving credit to Ben Clark for making up boxes of carefully chosen cider apple varieties.

Cider Days

Sukie and Andy enjoyed Cider Days – the rain meant nothing

Of course, coming and going to Shelburne Falls I had to go past all the excitements at Hager’s Farm Store and the annual pumpkin smash. Actually there is almost always something exciting going on at Hager’s. The Farm Store is a great example of a big farm family moving on with the times – and enjoying great success!

I am already marking my calendar for Cider Days 2019 – November 2-3!

Between the Rows  November 10, 2018

UMass and Landscape Design

schreiber, Thurber and Davidsohn

Steve Schreiber, Jane Thurber and Mike Davidsohn (L-R)

Professor Steve Schreiber, Jane Thurber, Lecturer, and Michael Davidsohn, Senior Lecturer, from the University of Massachusetts Architecture and Landscape Design Programs gave me a lesson in design. All three continue their practice as well as teaching. To teach me they invited me to a house in Amherst where Schreiber had designed and overseen completion of an addition to an 1890s house, and Thurber and Davidsohn built a new sustainable landscape.

Schreiber’s handsome design connected spaces in the original house with the addition, resulting in interior spaces that look larger, and that allow a wider view. “The goal is to live compactly, and yet expansively,” Schreiber said.

The exterior of Schreiber’s addition took into account of the slope of the property, and the need to manage rainfall from the roof.

UMass design before

Umass design – Amherst driveway before work gegan

The Town of Amherst has rules about how much impervious paving a house lot can have. Permeable surfaces are vital as we think about the environment, the need to refresh the aquifer, and to moderate heat. This house had a long wide paved driveway that ran from the street to the garage in back of the house and set in the middle of the lawn. Thurber and Davidsohn knew their first task was to remove about half of the driveway, including the paving that continued along one side of the garage.

Thurber and Davidsohn also used this site to hold a design studio for a dozen Umass students who came to view,  to measure and come up with their own designs and models of the space, keeping in mind the attributes of the space, and requirements of the design. Such on-site projects are an important part of a student’s learning.

UMass design

UMass design for shortened driveway with stone path and plantings

I understood the need to remove paving and admired the new entry to the backyard, a laid stone path, bordered by wide planting beds. More plants will be added to the bearberry ground cover. The young amelanchier trees (serviceberry) on the left side lead to a simple wood and wire fence designed and built by Davidsohn and Kevin Hartzel. Raised beds for blueberries and vegetables now run alongside the garage replacing the paving. A stone path was built to the garage door. Careful grading in front of the garage now keeps out rainwater.

A raised bed contained by a stone wall and planted with grasses hides the concrete foundation of the addition. A long stone path runs the width of the 60 foot yard with an expanded space for a patio.

UMass design

UMass design – swales to capture and manage water – soon to be planted with water loving plants

A drainpipe from the roof of the addition has been designed to capture most of the rainfall from the roof. The drainpipe goes under the stonewall and stone path; water is released into a swale along this side of the garage. At the other end of the garage is a drainpipe that releases water into a continuation of the swale that goes across the yard where it meets a swale that handles water from a basement sump pump. Standing on the patio, looking over the lawn, there is little sense of a swale, just of interesting water loving plants that mark three edges of the grass lawn.

Thurber and I stood on the larger rectangle of the two strategically planted lawns and she explained, “We don’t talk about filling up space. We want to have edges.”

UMass design

UMass design – green lawns seen from entry into backyard

Davidsohn followed up saying, “There is always mass and void. We have to figure out where the spaces are. That’s important. We wanted to give the residents a sense of space.”

From the lawn we looked up towards the house. I could see that the intensity of the design was around the house. The aim was to make the garage in the lawn as invisible as possible.

I was trying to keep up with words like mass and void used in a new ways. I asked Davidsohn what he meant when he talked about the things he built. “What do you mean built,” I asked. “Do you mean you chose the stones and laid them out?”

UMass design

UMass design – stone patio in process

He replied that was exactly what he meant. “Kevin Hartzel and I built the landscape. Kevin is a landscape contractor, with a two year certificate from Stockbridge. That’s how I started my career. As a landscape contractor. For this job I chose the stones, flat and round, and the two of us laid the stones, planted the plants, and dug the swales.”

UMass design

UMass design – patio completed

I was fascinated to learn that Stockbridge began with two year programs 200 years ago, and continues to have a few certificate programs today.

Finally we went to the front of the house to see what was created there this past summer. Originally there was a narrow cement walkway to the street. You had to walk across the lawn when you parked in the driveway. Now there is a graceful three part stone path from the driveway to a large anchor stone in front of the porch steps and on to the other side of the house. The cement path was replaced by a continuation of the stone path.  Jane Thurber and I looked at the path from the street. “It claims the house from the street, but it is also welcoming,” she said.

Umass design

UMass design – Tripart stone path

I was grateful for the chance to spend a morning with Schreiber, Thurber and Davidsohn, gaining insight into what it takes to create a design that is sustainable, practical and lovely.###

Between the Rows  November 3, 2018

Who Chose the Names for Flowers in My Garden?

Passionate Nymphs Thigh

Passionate Nymphs’s Thigh named by the Empress Josephine

Who chose the names of flowers in my garden? I have found they often have an old and interesting history.  The names of the roses I have grown remind us of the person who did the naming – or at least of memorable people. In my Heath rose garden I grew Madame Hardy, a rose bred in 1832 by Alexandre Hardy who named it for his wife.

The first rose I planted in Heath was named Passionate Nymphs Thigh. I could not resist that name. This rose was named by the Empress Josephine whose country house, Chateau de la Malmaison, had the perfect acreage for the large gardens she was to plant. Roses were her favorite of all the usual and exotic plants in her garden. Apparently she enjoyed giving imaginative names to her plants. She chose Cuisse de Nymph Emue, which translated literally means Thigh of an Aroused Nymph and proved scandalous enough in some quarters that it also came to be called Maiden’s Blush. During Napoleon’s wars there was always an order to allow packages from the English nurseryman, Kennedy, to come through the blockades. Napoleon himself often sent Josephine roses from his campaigns. Her garden ultimately included 200 different roses.

Fantin Latour painting

One of Fantin-Latour’s paintings of roses

It is the great British rose breeder David Austin who named a rose for the celebrated Constance Spry (1886-1960) the British florist and educator who changed the way we all arrange our bouquets. Austin honored many other ladies – and gentlemen – of the horticultural world, including Gertrude Jekyll, and Graham Thomas, and characters from literature like Sweet Juliet and Brother Cadfael. Clearly it pays to be a plant breeder, and have the right to commemorate friends or famous people of history.

Lawrence Johnston (1871-1958) was American born but after attending the University of Cambridge in England he became a naturalized British citizen. He joined the British military and fought in the Second Boer War and later World War 1. His mother bought a 300 acre estate named Hidcote Manor. Johnston joined his widowed mother after the war and spent the next forty years collecting plants, hunting for plants in such places as the alps and the Andes, and designing gardens with wonderful plant combinations. After 1930 the gardens became more and more well known for their individualistic beauty and plants. He named a number of the flowers in his garden for Hidcote including Hidcote lavender, Hidcote Gold rose, Hidcote Beauty fuchsia and others.

Griffith Buck Folksinger rose

Griffith Buck Folksinger rose

We in the U.S. had our own wonderful rose breeder Dr. Griffith Buck (1915-1991) who fought in WWII and then enrolled at the University of Iowa. He stayed on there as a professor for the rest of his professional life. He hybridized 80 roses and his goal was to make them cold hardy to -20 degrees and strong enough that they would not need pesticides or fungicides.

Applejack rose

Griffith Buck Applejack rose

Several Buck roses are among the Earth-Kind collection of trouble free hardy roses. Living in Heath I needed hardy roses and the large pink Applejack rose greeted our guests as they made the turn to the front of our house. It was one of the first roses planted, and was still going strong with little attention 35 years later when we moved to Greenfield where I am now growing the beautiful fragrant pale peach Folksinger Buck rose. Buck chose many names that reflected  the Midwest, from Prairie Star, Winter Sunset, Hawkeye Belle and Earth Song.

Thomas Affleck rose

Thomas Affleck Rose

Breeders at the Antique Rose Emporium in Texas bred an amazing cerise red rose that blooms into November! They chose to name it after Thomas Affleck, a 19th century nurseryman who had a nursery just down the road from their operation. I grew this rose in Heath where its vigor amazed us, and I am growing another Thomas Affleck here in Greenfield because it is so beautiful, so carefree and still blooming in late October.

Here in Franklin County we are not far from the Olallie Daylily Gardens in South Newfane. Many of the daylilies there were hybridized by Dr. George Darrow (1889-1983) whose long career for the USDA was as a geneticist. He concentrated on small fruits and berries. At least one of the plants he worked with was the blueberry. He was not only honored by having a blueberry named after him, Darrow (which can be purchased at Nourse Farm), he also helped start the Pick Your Own berry movement.

Olallie Lass daylily

Olallie Lass – Darrow hybrid

In his retirement Darrow began hybridizing daylilies. The names he chose for his successes all began with “Olallie” which was the name of a west coast native American tribe. Loosely translated it was Place Where Berries Are Found. He thought Olallie would be the perfect name for his farm. Maryland Olallie Farm came into being first with berries, but the daylilies he created bore names like Olallie Lass, Ollalie Harvest and Ollalie Light Hearted. Some of the Olallie daylilies are named after family and friends. Now it is grandson Christopher Darrow who owns the amazing Olallie Daylily Farm, and has hybridized 125 new Olallie daylilies.

Christopher Darrow always has new hybrids coming along, and he has suggested that some of us might like to name a day lily ourselves.  Check out the website. Wouldn’t your sweetheart like a unique daylily with her/his name?

Between the Rows  October 27, 2018