Great Walls

Not of China, although that is sure a great wall.

(I have adapted an older post into what follows in a bit more detail. Please note that one can click on the pictures themselves to enlarge them.)

No, these walls are of a smaller niche, involving landscaping and the pressing need at times to fit structures into our dwindling resources of available land. More and more impossible building sites are becoming completely practical as we erect structures which can hold back and cut into slopes, rendering them usable. They result in a raised area, flat and of planes with which we can live.

Some most unusual solutions have arrived which now not only perform the task of extending a building’s footprint but which also extend or reduce an area to be landscaped. They can also end up looking fascinating. This stacked concrete block wall at the University of Oregon’s Athletic Complex is rather ultra-modern in that it replicates the roughness of natural rock in purposefully random ways and yet is engineered on the back side completely perfectly. This look is a bit bizarre, I admit fully, but I enjoy the effort, if nothing else.

The changing levels of a landscape provide an interesting counterpart to the more mundane roads and walks of our lives, offering visual interest as well as often featuring the walls themselves as art. Traditional dry-stacked native rock walls are a technology as old as society itself. From prehistory until now, gorgeous examples of this technological social skill exist on every continent. Modern landscapers have resurrected this low-tech formula into some really beautiful wall series. Here’s one I took part in. It’s purpose, too, was to extend the landscape out from the home level and then drop the 3-4 feet to another flat plane of lawn and green, lush color in a warm contrast of natural textures. Other walls made of rock have similar purposes in function but often offer almost breathtaking purely artistic license………hilariously and rewarding tweaks on the theme. Michael Eckerman of Santa Cruz, California provides scintillating river and coastal rock edifices of breathtaking form and function. A true stone mason unlike myself, Michael has pioneered his own art form in stone in ways which we can only admire. Michael approaches his walls with a deepest love for the Ocean in mind, being a Santa Cruz surfer boy at heart. His sense of crashing waves and moving surf is evinced in all his work from a certain period and thence morphed into the concept of motion in general, later on. But I can hear the ocean in his retaining walls built in the hills surrounding Santz Cruz! A closer look………… From the sublime to the more normal, we visit a modern development in wall-building which has made life yet easier by substantial degrees. The preformed cement wall block has been engineered to perform incredible feats of retention and grade changing. It is somewhat “plastic” in its ability to meander along the lines of whimsy as well, providing landscapers wonderful opportunities to soften lines and to create more pleasing environments. Below are a couple of angles on a Reno project we did, from the start to a more finished look.

Other cement wall edifices performed other duties, although grade changes were always a primary goal. On the one below, we look down a wall put in more for security purposes than the art. A look at the precipice leading away from the landscape shows its functional safety feature.

I often semi-gag when I realize how incredibly raw things began on these projects………


Here is the eventual disposition of that dirt above………….

This one features 2 Falling Water fountains embedded in the forward wall. This is a Winter Time look back at the fountain as we completed the project. The owner was delighted and he has re-landscaped nearly everything from these basic beginnings. The water is running here in exactly the “sheet” we expected and designed. This was a fascinating gig.

Meanwhile, some “walls” can show an investment in the motion and kinetic energy of water, while still retaining the earth behind……..


For the longest while, in the early 80s in Vancouver, we were building walls almost exclusively of Railroad Ties – huge, 150 pound creosote-soaked uglies 8 feet long which made the most incredibly sturdy walls of the era. One had to drill holes to pound in the 1/2″ rebar to connect these edifices, complete with “dead men” sent perpendicularly back into the soil in a Tee, for anchoring. But one could also be creative, even here. Note the sets of stairs in the distance in this picture, a system of walls a quarter mile long on two-and three-levels. The use of angled off-shoots to the walls provided an architectural joy for the builders and made them as interesting as they became later as the plantings overtook them.

Wall work has always been challenging and somewhat fun, actually. As permanent structures, their solidity and form provided ample rewards for those who made them the right way.


From the front, the items below began quite a bit less tidy………..note the trees on the berm are all blooming cherries. It makes quite a show in Spring….all bloomed out.




This became this………………


The above were right next to a walled hole in the ground – to the left – which we attempted to make solemn, quiet and reflective for our very devout Catholic client……. Bo wanted his very own personal “Grotto” – a challenge I could not resist. ;-)



Sometimes, we make walls which aren’t totally walls, lol:


This is a “Hybrid”, owing to the available material left behind………….these boulders perform the trick as a “rockery” – semi-retaining a fairly serious slope and providing anchors where the roots of the eventual plantings knit a more serious retaining capacity.


This was always one of those gigs where you felt like it was so much fun, we were stealing money. ;-) I mean, the toys I got to use!!




“Planted up”, we can see the sensibility involved:


Not too shabby considering the origins………….. lol, the infamous “After-Before Series”.


Complete with a killer Hot Tub………. ;-)


Boneheads make the purtiestest landscapes.


Landscaping As Radical Art

The term “radical” stems from the original Latin radicalis - “of roots” and from Latin radix “root”. Whereas, this term ironically resembles “Conservative”, owing to Conservatism’s high valuation of something’s earned past (especially when confronted with “radical change”), I really like the application of “radical” to art as something very nearly opposite of the spirit of its definition. “Radically opposite”, in fact. The term is loosely applied here, but in the overall “sense of things”, it fully meets the spirit of my claims regarding the stunning evolution of a trade which has seen periods of high fashion – from Ancient Times and Babylon’s Hanging Gardens to Frederick Olmstead’s White City and his incredible collection of urban designing accomplishments. Currently, we see regular people create masterpieces of riveting detail and variety in their own fabulous yards, inspiring more public artists and landscaping specialists in a wider realm. I have always said that the best work I ever ran across were productions made by homeowners in the experimental privacy of their own homes.

My current usage of the term “Radical Art” indicates a departure from “the regular” cosmetics of a trade so long defined as just an adjunct to buildings and their grounds – the General Field of Landscaping. It is my conviction that landscaping has evolved into its very own species of art and architecture, outgrowing “Dad” –  into it’s own sort of identity as it evolves further into real art.

Of course, architectural renderings oversee the more vast properties of our urban environments. We’re talking huge.




What we now see all around us in growing profusion are swaths of land, of urban and suburban wonders, we can simply no longer take for granted and which rivet our minds and souls in ways by which we find ourselves utterly challenged. Some are larger than others:

This work of art in Australia, known as ‘Mundi Man’ or ‘Eldee Man’ was constructed by noted painter Ando (website here) and is located on Mundi Mundi Plains, NSW. It is the world’s largest art work, covering some 4 million square meters, or 5 million square yards. That’s a lot of “cosmetics”!

Antonio Gaudi may have set the Lunatic Fringe of Radical Art in landscaping with not only his remarkable building designs, but in the incredible complexity and bizarre designs so rife at Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain. His admixture of “primitive” and ultra-modern are well-illustrated in this photo I gathered from this website, dealing with Cruises.


From the same park………….


HDR tonemapped


Underneath this….


The stunning work of Isamu Noguchi, as offered in the first photograph above, has also offered a primary glimpse of landscaping radicalism for long years prior. Now fully enacted by a fabulously and numerically-rich coterie of building designers, the arresting visual and sensual 360 degrees of 3 dimensionality of landscaping reaches an exemplary peak in his work. Below is his spare, yet incredibly evocative construction of a park erected on the site of a former garbage landfill.

Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Japan:



My view of these installation includes the packages relative to the advancement of technological breakthroughs in the machinery itself of construction. If Da Vinci could conceive of “lift”, “displacement” and the eventual forms which encourage Mankind to fly, then the wildly impractical new wonders of Drip Irrigation, water pumps and advancements in adhesives have opened an entire realm of gravity-defying work of its own.

Vertical Gardening will produce many Babylons, right before our every eyes:


Even residences will gain from inexpensive-yet colorful profusions of verticality, a technology now just getting underway.


The advent of the Mini-Excavator, in my world of installations, has produced amazing wonders, quickly-accomplished, only requiring an imaginative combination of materials, designers and installers to implement the next wave of the booming field of water features. Note here the incredible handsomeness of the stud at the business end of such a handy little monster of torque:


The above became this……….





Fountains, water, radicalism, sound and senses…………………..

(Noguchi again):

Lighting has caused a Mini Sensation and a completely outrageous burst of creativity in the field as well, from simple, well-placed uplights and filters of a smaller but ineffably gorgeous dimension:

To the radical fringe of massive urban production such as this Mall Fountain in Singapore – the world’s largest fountain:

More Radical yet, we have the entire realm of fountains and the myriad new applications of water, beginning, once again, with Noguchi’s completely impractical 9 Floating Fountains at the 1970 Osaka World’s Fair:

My belief is that we are just entering a field which promises a burst of fabulous artwork of increasing meaning and relevance. I honestly believe we are being pushed outdoors, kicking and screaming, as our back yards become “destinations” and extended living rooms, kitchens and dens. Our cities become more vibrant when we supply other “destinations” to please the eyes and senses. The factor of radical art in landscaping may even supply microcosmic pleasure in the tools and those items which we have so long merely taken for granted………..

such as garden furniture, as Helen Nock (website included)  so brilliantly illustrates:

Walls and fences take on some structural interest when in the hands of Micahel   Eckerman of Santa Cruz, his website here. A surfer and gatherer of native materials, his formations show movement and form which closely resemble the behavior of ocean waves:


The creations we see today raise our vision and stop our wandering eyes so that we can better focus on their message. The “message”, as in all art, is that of celebration of our shared humanity. These spiritual accomplishments encourage us all to be better people, in every way.

I am glad Landscaping enters the realm of art itself. The scope of the trade has no conceivable limit, from the very tiniest of realms to those of massive scale. It is Man tickling Man and the sooner we understand that, the more we can create and enjoy more of the same.


Blending Light With Water


The mixtures of physical elements reaches a real sort of crescendo when we combine the simple concepts of Nighttime and artificial lighting humans install around their various architectural concoctions of water-based landscaping. From tiny doorway ponds, set just beside our front doors to provide the gurgling sounds of Peace and the small lights we install to enhance its nighttime appearance to the massive structures of light and water magic itself in cities like Barcelona, Dubai, Las Vegas and Singapore, our craving for beauty never stops. The fact that these altogether wholesome and wonderful urges get met by designers and inventors with our highest hopes implicit yields the fabulous work we see below.

The illusions Noguchi sought in his “9 Floating Fountains” constructed for the 1970 Osaka Worls’s Fair still glimmer in the Osaka nights, seemingly dumping tons of water from tight square clouds.

What seems most remarkable, in the end, is the role lighting played in this marvelous bit of architectural whimsy. We do also understand that lights combined with water both bend and refract the light rays in incredibly pronounced ways. We see this from far smaller scale water features in lakes, ponds and the more strictly residential and homey edifices we make ourselves.


The tendency for water to literally conduct light waves gives us possibilities which can provide wonder from the smallest, tiny pond sizes, such as this:


The larger, a bit more expensive gobs of visual pleasure which take on a visceral magic….


..and reaching a sort of Ultimate in Grand Designs of the most far-thinking architects and artists on a gigantic scale -:


We are so fortunate, in the end, to have modern specialists who now seemingly routinely embrace the lighting and water phenomenon and who have designed a great series of total wonders as our own eye candy and inner thrills. Light Shows have made not only the lexicon of modern life but also have come to represent many of the highest achievements in architecture.

Barcelona’s Magic Fountain was among the first to accomplish lighting wonders on such a massive scale when they opened in 1929 for the opening of The Barcelona International Exhibition. 

The magnificent urban setting set the standard in the world for what would come next. Other cities proceeded to become equally fountain-famous – Kansas City, New York for the World’s Fair in 1936, Osaka in 1970, leading to the extravagant masterpieces of the casinos in Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore.







Singapore, for instance, new machinery creates a foggy, wet background upon which to display video and laser elements in a near 3D fashion. Their light shows are becoming totally legendary. Here’s a video from a show taken by an individual’s phone:

Making the Unusually Wonderful is getting easier and hopefully more common. We can all be glad of this.

Avante Garde Things – Real, Not Trends

Yes, this is another recycled post from about 3 years ago which I feel good enough to re-post with a couple of additions. Inasmuch as I am officially a “retired landscaper”, we will not be seeing more pictures of myself and friends on the job.  My last one was about 2 years ago, here in Louisville.

For a landscaper, any intensity of interest towards something Avante Garde might seem unusual. But these are the bizarre personal complications our Maker has decided to afflict some of us with. The inspiring nature of art needs to be a part of any grade school and especially junior high school curriculum. Artists hang out way out there in their own whimsy, dedicated beyond the norm to present a weird brand new world of wonder for we admirers to sensually and mentally take in. They perform these works selflessly and most often wordlessly.


My good fellow blogger Frances the other day lamented the curse of “trends” in gardening, speaking to an irritation I can cop to as well. Here is her rant – fairegarden -and I sincerely implore people to check it out – for the colorful explanations of her angst as well as her usual stunning pictorial abuse of her very own garden. It made me consider the qualities of art and, really, everything – and it also made me consider those things which move me most.

I have a very real fascination with what I consider to be current  ‘Avant Garde’ artists. I also like the connoisseurs of those artists who blog, review and attempt to describe their heartfelt relationships with wild ideas. A restless pursuit of new things can be an addiction – at its worst we become unseated from our table, off chasing the current butterfly. At best – and these are the moments we cherish – we discover something new, uplifting and which cracks open a window into another world entirely. The sheer differentness of utilizing normality to express meaningful connections in new and unique ways shows us our own potentials in their amazing variety. It reveals, too, a depth which is so fortunately unfathomable at its highest expression.

Here is Ernst Reijsiger and Mole Sylla last Summer at a workshop in Amsterdam using classical elements of beat, instruments and the rest but putting it into a stew of cross cultural and uniquely human celebration:

Nor does the stark ability of an artist in his or her moments of great achievement mean any less simply because of the era. Our discovery makes it contemporary in all the important ways, be it the Avant Garde qualities of Antonio Gaudi or the painted styling of Hieronymus Bosch. The unattributed photo below illustrates an incredibly stark imprint of time and place on the part of the artist. In its enlarged state, perhaps you too can find why and how I found myself utterly riveted by it.

A partially-excavated Sphinx looms in its unfinished excavated form and quite broken splendor over the relatively tiny bodies of workmen or perhaps passing Bedouins who had used it as a shady rest stop for Centuries. The contrast of modernity – which is the picture itself – mix with the grandness of scale and the breath of living subjects amid the ruinous nature of Time.

Clicking to enlarge this picture reveals far more than the compressed visual here. Indeed, all of these are prone to enlargement, although I have scaled back the monster shots which take up so much bandwidth, to Annette’s relief.

Less than a pursuit of genius – which is another level of inquiry and surprise – I glory in little discoveries of felt presentation which move me in mysterious ways. Needless to say, among the Avant Garde of modernity, architects and builders tend to rule over a region of art and accomplishment like few others – and I include landscape design artists such as Isamu Noguchi who make indescribably evocative and massive sculptures out of land and the products of Earth itself.:

Below is what was a landfill in Sapporo, Japan before Noguchi changed things:

More Personal – My Private Enthusiasms:

An absolute favorite artist of mine is a lady named Helen Nock – website here – who plies at garden furniture construction, sculpture, iron work, roofing tile salvage and who puts together gloriously beautiful and impractical pieces over in merry Olde England and with whom I share yuks on Facebook. Her overall body of work is absolutely and utterly unique:

Michael Eckerman of Santa Cruz, California is an artist in stone – among other mediums – website here - who constructs structural landscape elements using a bizarre variety of forms and materials. His work has to be seen to be believed:

In closing, I can hardly think of a more interesting sampler of sound and depth than Joe Zawinul and his usual collections of the best musicians on the planet: