Category Archives: philosophy

What is a Pinetum, and Why Are They So (literally) Cool?

Of all the ways in which our ancestors manipulated the landscape for their benefit, surely the Pinetum (plural, Pineta) is one of the most sublime and attractive.

Think of a Pineta in the same way as you would an orchard, except planted on the geometric grid are pine trees instead of fruit or nut trees. The trick to growing and maintaining a successful Pineta is the correct selection of an appropriate Pine variety and also the correct spacing.

The Pine selected (to my way of taste) should be fairly thin-trunked in relationship to its overall height. In our area, Limber Pine, Lodgepole Pine, and especially Loblolly Pine make great Pinetum. Pick one species only, and plant them far enough apart so that at maturity, the canopies healthily touch and cross without overly rubbing and crowding (which would promote disease). Pines which naturally shed their lower limbs are perfect, although some pruning needs to occur as the trees become established. Limbing up pines helps to develop a more umbrella shape to their individual form, which is exactly what we want.

Pinetum are best sited on the southern side of a property in order to maximize its benefits and catch prevailing summer breezes. A well designed Pineta creates a cool microclimate with high, filtered sunlight and a lovely carpet of pine needles below. The sound and smell in a Pineta are soothing, especially when the winds pass strongly through the branches, and the sweet fragrance of resin is prevalent.




Villa Doria Pamphili, Rome– area of the original Pinetum (G.B. Falda, Giardini de Roma, 17th Century)

Below is a ‘Pinetum-wannabe’, it’s a grove or bosco of Eastern White Pines I actually helped to plant when I was a lad. I don’t think Pinus strobus (Eastern White Pine) make the best variety for Pineta because they are strongly whorled trees (branches grow in rings) and their enormous girth over time, these trees are easily 2-3 feet in diameter. Nevertheless, if the property management would commit to clearing out all of the dead or fading lower branches I think it would help immeasurably. By limbing up you lighten and open up what could otherwise be felt as dark and brooding, and the trunks themselves begin to resemble the columns of a high building, say a cathedral.

Eastern White Pine, Pinus strobus

Great Advice

Use “denial and reward” to enrich passage through the built environment.

“As we move through buildings, towns, and cities, we mentally connect visual cues from our surroundings to our needs and expectations. The satisfaction and richness of our experiences are largely the result of the ways in which these connections are made.

Denial and reward can encourage the formulation of a rich experience. In designing paths of travel, try presenting users a view of their target—a staircase, building entrance, monument, or other element—then momentarily screen it from view as they continue their approach. Reveal the target a second time from a different angle or with an interesting new detail. Divert users onto an unexpected path to create additional intrigue or even momentary ‘lostness’; then reward them with other interesting experiences or other views of their target. This additional “work” will make the journey more interesting, the arrival more rewarding.”–101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, by Matthew Frederick

@National Wildlife Foundation Headquarters

After my weekly business networking meeting I headed over for a full day of landscape restoration on the grounds of The National Wildlife Foundation‘s headquarters in Reston, VA. Arriving early, I was met with an army of organizers and support already on site and raring to go. Clearly, a great number of people did an enormous amount of preparation work before this day, some of whom I will try to mention below. Several knowledgeable horticulturalists took the time to color-code
everything in the landscape: Pink stays put, Yellow gets yanked, Purple
stays but gets pruned back. Simple but very effective:

Below, Al Short of HPI gives us marching orders, while the lovely and talented NWF
Chief Photographer Susan McElhinney beams. The lady between them is
Julianne, I’m so sorry I didn’t get her last name but she was verve
personified, I really enjoyed meeting her as well. She worked like a dog and eradicated several nasty stands of Raspberry canes– bloody, hard work.

Looking down from the bridge, over a waterfall and the large pond far below:

While certainly beautiful, the Cattails are unwelcome as they quickly dominate and set up an aquatic monoculture– indeed one cannot even see the pond at all. Note the far end, where Al set up several very large portable water tanks to temporarily hold a portion of the pumped-out water, as well as create a holding space for any desirable aquatic plants which could be saved and replanted after cleanup. Below, looking the other way up the water feauture, one can see the view is totally obscured by more overgrowth of Salix and other less desirable plants:

For the entire day scores of volunteers, contractors, and designers pulled thousands of pounds of weedy biomass, all of which was placed in an onsite, 30 yd. rolloff container to be sent to Loudoun Composting for recycling (thank you to Loudoun Composting for donating their services as well!)

Above, a lovely underutilized native, Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). Learn more about Boneset here.

One serious challenge we faced was an absolutely daunting crop of Chinese Lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata). Lespedeza is highly invasive and unfortunately was brought in when the original meadow seed was planted– illustrating the absolute importance of insisting on high quality, pure seed mixes when establishing meadow designs. This plant completely dominated the meadow. The only possible solution is eradication and replanting– I suggested soil solarization and a safe system of re-establishing the appropriate plant combinations in the spring of 2011. I’ll have more about this later, but it looks promising and I do hope to assist further in this area of the restoration.

Above, Chinese Lespedeza, close up and in context.

I’ll also have a ton of ‘after’ photos shortly– I became so filthy that holding my camera was just out of the question, so I’m relying on the excellent documentary work of Susan McElhinney, who covered everything from start to finish.

You are welcome! Thank you for letting me be a part! I look forward to more restoration work very soon.

greeneyedesign Gives Back: Helping The National Wildlife Federation

Recently I was approached by Albert Short, President of Harmony Ponds in Fairfax, VA. Harmony Ponds is one of the premier water feature design/build/maintain firms in the Midatlantic region; Al’s projects include the fountains and other water features for the largest expansion to date of the Virginia Museum in Richmond, as well as the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DC.

Al asked if I would be interested in donating some time & materials for a worthy cause: renovating the grounds of the National Wildlife Federation Headquarters in Reston, VA. Once a gorgeous and environmentally savvy landscape, it has fallen into a bit of dishabille: The towering and exciting waterfall, stream, and large pond are all almost completely obscured from view by volunteer trees and shrubs, as well as the designed native vegetation.

Heck yes! I will be there all day tomorrow, October 21st working the business end of a pair of loppers ( and tree spade, shovel, pole pruners, etc) and lending advice wherever it’s needed. It looks like we will have a small army of volunteers, both professionals like me as well as from the ranks of the NWF membership and donators. Should be fun!

Question for Designer Friends: Groundplain Design?

One challenge I’ve faced in graphically representing all aspects of a woodland design is the groundplain, which is often heavily layered with colonizing bulbs, perennials, groundcovers, and ephemerals. In the past I’ve done trace overlays, weird or awkward (to me) ‘maps’ with keys explaining what goes where, CAD drawings with all other layers turned off and various cross-hatching patterns representing the various plantings, but none of them are really satisfying to me. So, any experts care to share what works for them? I’d love to hear about it!

The Interior Designer Client

Is it simply hubris, or just plain styoopid to put forward my design skills to this next client, a talented and charming Interior Designer and rowhouse owner? What could I possibly contribute in terms of style and composition to her home’s exterior that she hasn’t already considered and/or implemented? Well, as it turns out, I’m a firehose of ideas and conceptual frameworks from which to pick and choose! First, the bad news:

It is unfortunate that many developers & builders use a tortured and Byzantine formula in order to arrive at the absolute minimum legally-required ‘greenspace’ for their homes– such is certainly the case here. Such a small space is the equivalent of a brief brushstroke on an enormous blank canvas of surrounding light reflecting and heat-absorbing impermeable surfaces.

Very quickly after chatting with the client I saw her to be a brilliant and passionate designer with a great eye for spatial organization and clean lines– her work emphasizes flow, light and air, and a certain crispness that’s quite compelling. So, I knew that whatever I did, I had to make the landscape work as a statement about her profession and talents. The good news is, the bad news means that anything we do, as long as it is not truly savage, will work (as long as I honor those ideals I see in the client’s own artistic work)– there is nothing to reference architecturally or stylistically here, so we are left with limitless possibilities for design concepts free from restraint.

Ok, so I lied– the space pictured above does in fact have to tie in visually with this poor strip of soil:

2 feet by almost 19 feet in length, this slit of fertile earth is orphaned and in need of careful thought and attention. One possibility, which will give the space structure (good bones) and also reference the somewhat imposing vertical lines of the 3 story houses behind, is the judicious use of evergreen fastigiate trees like Sky Pencil Holly, Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’:

File:Japanese Holly Ilex crenata 'Sky Pencil' Plants 2448px.jpg

Thought of as brush strokes, these are emerald green upward stroked single gestures in the landscape.

Between these vertical elements we can install containers, 24″x26″x40″, made of COR-TEN steel, which will form the framework for countless compositions and arrangements seasonally. COR-TEN is a type of steel which oxidizes quickly and then stabilizes with a wonderful orangey-burnt umber patina. The older it gets, the better it looks:

A quick sketch or two:

I would especially like to see these planters in the winter months, stuffed with evergreen boughs, or perhaps whimsically, wrapped Christmas presents and ribbons around the hollies. At other times of the year they can be lovingly stuffed with a huge variety of plants which thrive in containers. Let’s look at the postage stamp again:

A simple rectilinear shape which begs for some bold containers on the landings (and with such good fortune, the neighbor to the left is all for us utilizing her landing as well). Onto this small space, endless combinations of abstract forms can be placed as a backdrop for those containers:

Seasonally, any number of plantings would look great:

(I meant ‘New Wave Petunia’, not Pansy, above.)

You get the idea!