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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘trees

Borrowed Landscape

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Last night we watched the second episode of Monty Don’s Japanese Gardens on Knowledge TV. These programs can be streamed free for the next month if you live in BC.

I learned a new expression “borrowed landscape“. The gardens tend to be fairly small – but by artful trimming of the trees around the garden the natural landscape beyond it becomes incorporated into the view of the garden. This makes the garden seem larger and more impressive. Many formal Japanese gardens are designed carefully to be most impressive from particular viewpoints which can be found by stone markers placed along the foot path – in fact these are known as “stroll gardens“. This concept is actually quite well understood here by landscape gardeners and is something that I sometimes feel is a bit overdone. If you want to get somewhere you will try to walk in a straight line to your desired destination, and the cunningly curved paths are actually frustrating. Indeed desire lines off the paved paths are a real issue to the maintenance of perfect lawns.

I am much more likely, however, to be strolling with no particular purpose these days. I like to indulge myself by being a flaneur. So stroll gardens would actually be an improvement in some locations such as Trafalgar park which has no paths at all and just relies on the street sidewalks. It is also very much a playing field rather than a garden.

But living in Arbutus Village Park, my greatest desire is that we ought to be making more of the location, and borrowing the view of the North Shore mountains should be part of the park’s design. Of course, this would be of no value at all to people walking through the park. The beneficiaries would be the residents of the buildings – at least the taller ones, on the north side of the building. Like us.

The view from our window

Apparently in BC topping trees is regarded as a bad practice by arborists. Elsewhere in the world they have a different perspective. And our love for trees doesn’t seem to extend to the real giants in the old growth which are coming down at an increasing rate.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 13, 2020 at 1:30 pm

Plea for pleaching

with 8 comments

This is a bit of a departure for this blog. Generally speaking I tend to leave issues like landscape and gardening to the experts. In this weekend’s Vancouver Sun their gardening correspondent Steve Whysall has a longish piece about pleaching. As it happens, when we were in Paris recently we not only saw the results of pleaching, we also saw how it was done which means I have some photos – which had been on my hard drive and, until now, had not been posted to flickr. So, as with the piece about the Bombardier LRV mockup, I am going to try to do something in both channels.

Petit Trianon

Pleached trees at Versailles, Petit Trianon – my photo on flickr

Pleaching is a type of pruning on trees that produces a flat top and sides – essentially a box sort of shape. As Whysall remarks it’s “a classy way to give a street, courtyard, square, boulevard or avenue an elegant, formal look.” He wonders why it is not done more here, and I think the answer is simply that the traditions of gardening in France and England are different. The style most popular for the parks around the stately home were those fist adopted by Capability Brown. His style was to “perfect” a natural appearance and it almost completely replaced the formal patterns of gardens that preceded him. The formality of gardens in France, on the other had, tended to be preserved, although I was pleased to note that places like Versailles and Chantilly have English gardens in the Brown style.

English Garden Versailles

The English Garden at Versailles – my photo on flickr

The English Garden Chantilly

The English Garden at Chantilly – my photo on flickr

Whysall says “There is no denying it is a time-consuming exercise. It requires skilled workers and it is probably an expensive process.” This is based on his observations of some pleachers in Chartres. And he is probably right about what he saw there, as he is an expert at what he writes. The approach at the Luxembourg Gardens which I observed was rather different.

Pleached trees - Jardin du Luxembourg

Pleached trees – Jardin du Luxembourg – my photo on flickr

In the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, for example, long avenues of giant chestnut trees have been pleached to create a superb formal, almost sculptural garden architecture with sufficient space underneath for people to sit, even have a picnic.

The Cutting Edge

Pleaching machine

But that is done with a truck mounted crane, on which the arm at the top has mounted a series of circular saws. This can be used vertically or horizontally – and looks very much like the large economy version of what happens to cedar hedges here all the time. The truck moves forward slowly and the top – or the side – of the tree is just taken off. This is quite unlike the selective pruning used for most trees to promote tree health and vigour. Rather it is a simple matter of keeping the spread of the canopy in check.

A suitable case for pleaching 1

A suitable case for pleaching 2

It is an approach which we would like to see applied more in Vancouver for very selfish reasons. If you have a north facing window on the top floor of a six storey building put up around 30 years ago, you will have noticed that your view of the North Shore Mountains is steadily decreased every year, as the trees, planted at around the same time the building went up, reach maturity.

There was the notorious case of the West End resident who was so annoyed by the loss of her view that she simply poisoned the trees responsible for it – even though they were city trees planted in the boulevard. She was convicted and fined, but the social opprobrium heaped upon her was so great that she felt forced to leave town. Some people – make that many people – feel deep affection for trees, all trees. And cannot bear to see them “damaged” in any way. Which, of course, lead to the great Stanley Park disaster, when large numbers of trees were lost in a windstorm and tree management policies were subsequently revised to be more pro-active.

Regimented trees

Place des Vosges, Paris – my photo on flickr

Corner

Place des Vosges, Paris – my photo on flickr

Update: July 28, 2012

This morning, on a short walk for a different purpose I saw something that reminded me I had intended to add to this post a while back. One of the nicest features of the west side of Vancouver are the narrow residential streets where the trees meet overhead, forming a green tunnel. I think that much of what Whysall wrote in his original Sun piece is quite simply wrong. Pleaching is not exactly highly skilled if you can do it with a large and rather brutal piece of machinery, and the result does not necessarily produce a better result – certainly not if you are looking for shade. The way these trees have been allowed to grow creates a more inviting, human space. So in terms of streetscape I do not want to see more pleaching. Yes, it would be nice if the sixth floor view was clearer – but living in cities means we have to learn to get along with other people. The lessons of history are that the people who planned cities who did not actually like people (Hausmann, Robert Moses, le Corbusier) did not produce spaces that worked well for everyone.

35th at Vine

34th at Vine

Vine at 34th

Written by Stephen Rees

July 8, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Posted in placemaking

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