February 12, 2007
The sounds of Ireland, that restless whispering
you never get away from,
seeping out of low bushes and grass,
heatherbells and fern,
wrinkling bog pools,
scraping tree branches,
light hunting cloud, sound hounding sight,
a hand ceaselessly combing and stroking the landscape,
till the valley gleams like the pile
upon a mountain pony’s coat.
“Windharp” by John Montague
There is a simple reason that Ireland is often referred to as the Emerald Isle. In film, in music, in theater, in books, and particularly in poetry, there are few landscapes that have been heralded more and few cultures more connected with their surroundings.
At the 2007 Philadelphia Flower Show, Temple University Ambler will explore those strong connections — so deep that they are reflected directly in Ogham, the ancient Irish alphabet — with an exhibit that presents the diversity of the Irish landscape in microcosm.
“It is a landscape that has been written about throughout time in poems and folklore. It is part of the oral tradition of the Irish from ancient myths to the present day as seen in the work of Seamus Heaney. ” said Pauline Hurley-Kurtz, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture, who is coordinating Temple’s 2007 exhibit with Karen Watts, Horticulture Technician Supervisor, and students in the Landscape Architecture and Horticulture programs at the Ambler campus. “Ireland offers a wealth of landscape variety — upland moors, fields and hedgerows, bogs and drumlins, alive with heather, sundew, and orchid. Most Irish are not so far removed from their farming heritage, perhaps a generation or two — that essential connection to the land remains strong.”
Temple’s exhibit — Tírdhreach Fileata na hÉireann — The Poetic Landscape of Ireland meshes perfectly with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s 2007 Flower Show theme — “The Legends of Ireland.” The Flower Show runs from Sunday, March 4 to Sunday, March 11, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
“The ‘file,’ or poet, had an honored place in Irish society, next to the chieftain,” Hurley-Kurtz said. “The file was a means for telling and sharing stories, but he was also a political force keeping the Irish language and history alive during colonial times.”
A walk through the exhibit will be a walk through the diversity of the Irish Landscape and its connections to Ireland’s oral tradition.
“The Landscape Architecture and Horticulture students are developing the exhibit from a design concept that I proposed. The exhibit will represent a cross section of the Irish landscape, from the limestone Burren of County Clare to the fields and bogs of the central lowlands — bogs take up a significant portion of the landmass of Ireland — and the sandstone and granite heaths in the uplands of County Down,” said Hurley-Kurtz. “The tour begins from west to east of the island with the Burren, which has an interesting and unusual plant palette including Mediterranean and alpine plants. Throughout, visitors will be walking between stone walls and meadows that feature standing stones characteristic of many Celtic landscapes. They mark Stone Age ceremonial sites or burial grounds and are often linked to the movement of the sun. ”
Many standing stones include “Ogham” inscriptions, which date back to the 4th Century. This was the earliest Irish alphabet and owes it’s origin to the connection to the land and the importance of trees in ancient Irish culture. Etchings of plant material are often included on standing stones,” Hurley-Kurtz said. In the Temple exhibit, many stones will be inscribed with poetry that references the landscape, and look for “Ogham” lettering on a standing stone.
“The culture has been so tied into the landscape for so long; its importance can’t be over emphasized. The Ogham lettering is derived from the actual names of plants, from the characteristics of trees,” added Sandy Batunkyi, a Landscape Architecture junior who is also involved in the Horticulture directed studies program. “What I like about this project is that it’s an opportunity for us to work with real materials, to see what’s out there and see what we can do.”
Continuing the tour of the exhibit, visitors will also experience a drumlin, a reference to the landscape of the northern third of Ireland where glacial deposits shaped these small hills.
“We will also include a lone tree, a ‘sceach’ or ‘craobh,’ a sacred tree that has continued to be an important landscape feature from early Celtic mythology,” said Hurley-Kurtz. “We want to fully explore the ecology of these landscapes and the deep connection to Irish folklore. Evocative images of the Irish sense of ‘place — stone, hedge, wall — are also revealed through the great tradition of Irish landscape poetry.”
“The hedges are all drowned in green grass seas,
And bobbing poppies flare like Elmo’s light,
While siren-like the pollen-stained bees
Drone in the clover depths. And up the heights
The cuckoo’s voice is hoarse and broke with joy.
And on the lowland crops the crow make raid,
Nor fear the clappers of the farmer’s boy…”
— excerpt from June by Francis Ledwidge
The entire exhibit will be backed by a 10-foot by 35-foot mural wall, an extension of the landscape within the exhibit, which will also include information stations providing insight into how the Irish landscape has influenced poets through the ages. In addition to hedgerows, hawthorns, holly, alders, roses, heathers, junipers, and foxglove, the exhibit will also prominently feature a pool and bog alive with a wide variety of bog plants, many of which the Horticulture students are working with for the first time due to the rich diversity of the plant palette.
“Right now, the effort is to ensure the plants grow and boom on time for the Flower Show and we are following all of the plant forcing protocols. The trees such as hawthorns and crabapples for the hedgerows are performing well,” said Watts. “Given all the deadlines, with the necessity that the plants perform on schedule, there is a lot of pressure. It is not an easy project, but the students get a lot out of it.”
According to Horticulture Junior Rebecca Bakker, there is “an art and a science” to developing exhibits for the Philadelphia Flower Show.
“This is the science part. We’re making the plants grow and bloom before they would naturally in the landscape, providing them more light and more heat,” she said. “This type of hands-on project is a huge benefit to us as students — pictures in a book are fine but you don’t get the feel and interaction among the different plants that you do with this. You also learn all of the things that can go wrong, which is a learning experience in itself.”
The Flower Show exhibit, Bakker said, “gives us the opportunity to show people the possibilities.”
“An average homeowner who goes to a nursery will often be presented with the same easy to grow annuals and perennials. We can show them something more, something interesting and different,” she said. “We are also able to educate visitors about how plants grow together as a community. They don’t grow in isolation — it’s a balance between animals, insects, trees, humans, and plants just for survival. In the modern landscapes, I think that dimension gets lost sometimes.”
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 of two to six people focusing on aspects such as the mural wall, design and construction, graphics, and literature and poetry with a project manager for each group.
“The project is certainly a change of pace — it’s not just a design on a piece of paper,” said Landscape Architecture Junior Jeff Harris, who is chairing Temple’s Flower Show project group. “It’s an opportunity to take something all the way from start to finish. There’s a real sense of accomplishment in that.”
George Purcell, a member of the project construction team, agreed.
“The design and build aspect of the studio here at Ambler is an experience I’ve never had before,” said Purcell, a Landscape Architecture Junior originally from Antigua. “It gives you a real sense of what working in the industry might be like.”
The Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture will hold a special Preview Day of Temple’s Flower Show exhibit at the Temple University Ambler campus, 580 Meetinghouse Road, on Monday, February 19. For more information or to visit campus during the exhibit construction, call 215-267-468-8108.
The Philadelphia Flower Show 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 Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which produces the Philadelphia Flower Show, taking home “Best of Show” awards in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1997, 2002, 2003, and 2005 and prestigious honors from the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania in 2004 and the Horticultural Society in 2006.
Building upon a rich history of environmental teaching that dates back to the early 1900s, Temple University Ambler is home to the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture. The degree programs are a unique blend of disciplines, providing students with the design and plant background necessary to succeed in any aspect of the Green Industry.
The Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture at Temple University Ambler is committed to excellence in ecologically based education. The department’s goal is to train leaders in the art and science of horticulture (A.S., B.S., and certificate programs) and landscape architecture (B.S. program). The programs provide students with knowledge and understanding of the environment so that they can improve the quality of our urban, suburban, and rural communities.
For more information on the Horticulture and Landscape Architecture programs at Temple University Ambler, visit www.ambler.temple.edu/la-hort.
CONTACT: James Duffy, 267-468-8108, firstname.lastname@example.org, release available by e-mail