Temple University Ambler's 2009 Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit transports visitors to a "Green Renaissance"
For many, the thought of Italian gardens may evoke a certain structured image of sculpted trees and shrubbery, fountains, sculpture, and pergolas.
The concept of a “sustainable” garden may evoke a decidedly different vision of naturally growing meadows or wetlands that burst with their own wild array of plant and animal life.
On the surface, it may seem a matter of “never the twain shall meet.”
At the 2009 Philadelphia Flower Show however, students and faculty in Temple University Ambler’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture sought to change the way people look at Italian Gardens and sustainable garden concepts.
Temple’s exhibit — “Green Renaissance — The Revival of Sustainable Living” — meshed perfectly with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s 2009 Flower Show theme, “Bella Italia.”
“We took traditional 16th Century Italian Renaissance gardens as our inspiration and looked at ways of incorporating ideas of sustainability into that design right from the beginning. We wanted the exhibit to fully represent the values, goals, and mission, of our campus, our department, and the University as a whole,” said Baldev Lamba, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture. “Usually when you talk about sustainable gardens, you don’t readily think of formal design. Our exhibit takes the formal shape of the Italian gardens and uses it to share sustainable elements and concepts.”
More than 35 students in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture’s Junior Design Studio and Horticulture Directed Studies program have been diligently working on Green Renaissance for several months in preparation for the March Flower Show. Professor Lamba is coordinating the effort along with Horticulture Staff Supervisor and Adjunct Assistant Professor Grace Chapman and Adjunct Assistant Professor Michael LoFurno. Rob Kuper, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture also provided design assistance while Temple University Ambler Landscape Arboretum Director Jenny Rose Carey has lent her expertise to design reviews and plant selection.
“Often people don’t realize that many gardens have hidden messages. They are more than statues, fountains, and arrangements of flowers; more than the sum of their parts,” said Carey. “In many cases, they are trying to tell a story, perhaps something from mythology or a certain point of view. Italians throughout history have approached their gardens just like any other art form — with passion.”
The story that Ambler students and faculty would like to impart through their exhibit is one of sustainability. A walk through Green Renaissance is a walk through well crafted examples of a variety of sustainable approaches to garden design.
“We view the organization of the exhibit as a kind of journey through a three parterre Italian garden — the Kitchen Garden, the Orchard, and the Dry, or xeriscape, Garden, each with their own water feature. We’re seeking to educate visitors at so many levels; that ‘reduce, reuse, recycle,’ can be presented aesthetically and artistically,” Lamba said. “The Kitchen Garden and the Orchard promote growing locally and in small, urban spaces, which can help reduce our carbon footprint.”
With the continued threat of global warming and climate change, water shortages become a very real danger, added Professor Lamba.
“The Dry Garden consists of plants that require very little water. We are using porous paving; items that others might see as trash — a stack of wooden pallets, for example — are being used to create our walls,” he said. “Our students have been working hard to maximize recycling and reusability, selecting materials and using building techniques — such as screws instead of nails and eco-friendly stains — that will allow for greater reuse of the exhibit’s components after the end of Flower Show. We’re building upon what our nation is moving toward; that we can’t squander what we have, that we need to be smart with how we use our precious, limited resources.”
While promoting sustainability, the classic nature of the Italian gardens also shines through.
“We’ve worked to bring the architecture of the Italian gardens — terraces, grand staircases, balustrades — into the exhibit at an abstract level. The stairs became our water chute, the balustrade became our exhibit sign, and the entirety of the exhibit is framed by copper aqueducts to harvest rainwater,” Lamba said. “We also wanted to incorporate the idea of gardens as social places. One of our central features is a ‘water table’ — a concept that dates back to the Villa Lante; they had a huge table called the Pope’s Table where the community would gather and hold feasts.”
A “green” wall — a wall of vibrantly growing plants — will provide the backdrop for the central water feature.
Students in the Horticulture Directed Studies program — a mix of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors — have been working for two semesters to ready 4,000 individual plants from 120 different species for the Flower Show.
“The students did a lot of research into Italian gardens, getting a real feel for the types, textures, and shapes of plants before brainstorming plant lists. Much of what we will be using for the exhibit will be reused in our campus gardens,” said Grace Chapman. “We are trying to capture the formal charm of the Italian gardens, but with plants that are appropriate and sustainable for the area — growing your own food can be beautiful and kitchen gardens can be presented in a very attractive way.”
According to Chapman, the Orchard Garden will be populated by a wide variety of plants, from highbush blueberries and daffodils to amelanchier, or serviceberry, trees and ornamental grasses. The Kitchen Garden will highlight several cool season vegetables, such as lettuces, leafy herbs, and sweet peas while the Dry Garden will feature emerald sentinel red cedar, yarrow, roses, sage, and plants with silver foliage, she said.
Throughout the exhibit’s development process, the students have approached the project in a similar fashion to how a landscape architecture firm or nursery might approach such a daunting task, dividing the work between several groups and subgroups of people focusing on aspects such as design and construction, education and publicity, water elements, paving, and horticulture and planting design with a project coordinator for each group.
“One of our main goals is to help the homeowner implement the ideas that they see in the exhibit — how to start a home garden; how to eat locally; how to use native trees; how to use water conservatively,” said Denise Wood, a junior Landscape Architecture major. “Down to the signage itself, we are using sustainable techniques. We’re reusing existing frames and using low solvent ink. The signs will also be used in the campus arboretum after the Flower Show.”
For many projects, said junior Landscape Architecture major Nick Petro, “they are mostly just designs on paper.”
“Working on the Flower Show exhibit, we’re able to take our design to the building phase,” he said. “It’s a very collaborative process that teaches us a great deal about teamwork and the building process in general.”
Junior Jennifer Gilbert said reusability was something “that we’ve put a lot of thought into from the start.”
“With this project, you’re able to see an end result — the exhibit at the Flower Show — but we didn’t want it to end with that,” she said. “The heart of what we’re trying to convey is sustainability. We want the materials that we use for the exhibit to be used again. That was important to all of us.”
The Philadelphia Flower Show, presented each year by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) is the largest indoor event of its kind in North America, welcoming more than 300,000 visitors a year. Temple University Ambler has a long and illustrious history with the PHS, taking home “Best of Show” awards in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1997, 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2007, and prestigious honors from the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania in 2004 and the Horticultural Society in 2006.
Temple University Ambler wins major awards at the Philadelphia Flower Show for "Green Renaissance" exhibit
Green Renaissance resulted in gold for the Temple University Ambler Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture at the 2009 Philadelphia Flower Show.
Temple’s exhibit — “Green Renaissance —
The Revival of Sustainable Living” — garnered an unprecedented five awards at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society event, which welcomes more than 300,000 visitors each year. The Flower Show continues through Sunday, March 8, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
"It was a thrill to see all these shining trophies, plates, and cups displayed along our Kitchen Garden water channel - a tribute to the appeal of our concepts and vision at many levels and to many groups," said said Baldev Lamba, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture. "This overwhelming response from many prestigious organizations reinforces our mission to create places of great beauty inspired by design traditions and rooted in the ideas of conservation, environmental responsibility, and sustainability."
Green Renaissance was awarded the American Horticultural Society Award "for an exhibit of horticultural excellence which best demonstrates the bond between horticulture and the environment, and inspires the viewer to beautify home and community through skillful design and appropriate plant material."
The exhibit also received a Special Achievement Award from the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania for "unusual excellence in the area of conservation," the Men's Garden Club of Delaware Valley Award "to a garden containing plants suited to the Delaware Valley in a setting that can primarily be maintained by one person," the "Green Ribbon Award" from the Herb Society of America, and a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Award of Distinction in the Academic Education category.
"The recognition that our exhibit has received is a big boost to the spirit of our students, making this a rewarding experience at Temple," said Professor Lamba. "This project embodies three unique aspects of our department – a long tradition of hands-on education, our goal of integrating design and horticulture, and our mission of advocating sustainablility."