Saturday, March 31, 2007

What inspires...part 5

Inspirational words....

"The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man's heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew the lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to a lack of respect for humans too. So he kept his youth close to its softening influence."

Luther Standing Bear, OGLALA SIOUX

(Picture: taken during one of my many walks in the woods in Northern Ontario)

" When we live in nature it's like constantly being in school. We are in an environment that is always teaching. We are constantly being reminded that there are laws, Natural Laws, which are running the universe. Once we know these laws and we drift from them, we start to live our lives in a different way. Soon we become discontent, selfish and disrespectful. Then, we get in trouble. If our lives have become this way, it can be reversed by going back to nature to be among our teachers."

The above quoted paragraphs are inspirational words taken from the website:

Nature will always be my greatest teacher... as I walked through the forest the day that I snapped the above photo, the words came to me in my mind, that I was to walk tall, but with respect in the forests of the Elders ...

Friday, March 23, 2007

What inspires?... part 4

Upon reflecting back to my years in school studying Architecture... I think back to a design class in which a professor once said to us.... "When you guys get out of school...and can afford it... Travel! Go see Europe! Otherwise your designs will end up looking like Markham shopping malls..."

We all laughed... but later on in life, I did get that chance to travel to Europe... I did get to see what some of the true Masters of design were about. In every historic corner of Europe, you find hidden gems of architecture...

This picture was taking in Tallinn, Estonia, I once spent 3 months there during another chapter in my life...

The Great Coastal Gate!

Imagine if you will a medieval town founded in the year 1154. Sailing ships travelling from various Scandinavian and Germanic communities in the Baltic Sea area... coming to the main gate (built in the early 14th century) of an important hub for trade in those days...

The archway crowned with the town's emblem flanked by fortified walls protecting the market and citizens of the area. The stone walls served a purpose for defense, but included design detail that people could marvel at for centuries!

The defense wall blocks your view of what lays beyond it and the winding cobblestone pathway leads your eye in as it prompts you to explore this 850 year old city...(Tallinn)

Still in Estonia, just to the left and down the road a bit from the gate is the Rottermann's Salt Storage, which was renovated recently and is now fittingly converted into The Museum of Estonian Architecture.

Originally designed by a Baltic/German Engineer named Ernst Boustedt and completed in 1908.

When I first saw this building, I could not take my eyes off it. It's shape is so pleasing to the eye as there are hidden geometric ratios in it's form and layout of the facade. The extreme craftsmanship of the Masonry work that went into this structure is a work of art.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Cherry Trees in High Park....

It's getting close to that time of year again...

It's usually in the next few weeks of May or so that the Japanese Cherry Trees explode into bloom along the slopes of the Grenadier Pond area. If memory serves me right, they come into full bloom just as the Forsythia shrubs are starting their show of yellow flowers.

Be sure to keep your eye on the trees in the next few weeks... When you see the Crab Apple trees and other Cherry trees starting to bloom, make your plans to get into High Park. A word of caution, weekends can be hard to find parking and the park has a 20 km/h speed limit! You might find a radar trap set up in the park on occasion!

(Prunus serrulata - Japanese Cherry (Sakura))

If you plan to visit on a weekend, take the Bloor Subway line to High Park Station and walk south (15 to 20 mins) till you get to the restaurant...then head towards the hillside gardens...down the hill and you will see what looks like pink clouds of cotton candy.

They only stay in peak bloom for about a week... I had the fortune of working there a few years ago. It was like a dream to walk around the gardens and grounds and to look down a hill at a view of blooming trees lined up along the path that follows the pond area.

There were a number of trees dedicated back in the 1959... by Japan to the City of Toronto. A few years back when I was working there in 2001 or 2002, there was another ceremony in which new Japanese Cherry trees were planted.

It's a beautiful site when in bloom...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Tree Protection Zones

Tree Hording? Tree Protection Zones? City By-laws? Arborist reports?

(Picture: A big old healthy White Spruce in Northern Ontario. Estimated 40 feet in diameter and to be 80 to 100 years old)

In relation to my "Gone are the days" post a few weeks ago, I write this post as a brief follow up on the topic. In the Urban Landscapes, City forestry is doing their best to protect the older and mature trees that are over 30 cm in caliper size.

Tree Hording is a protective barrier that is built with plywood and 2 x 4 frames... set up to prevent construction materials, equipment, excavation activity and any other vehicles from entering a tree protection zone.

Tree protection zones are designated areas of protection for the root system of a tree. What determines how big that protection area will be? The caliper (diameter) of the tree trunk size. For instance, a 35 cm caliper tree will have a 2.4 meter radius set up around it as a protection zone.

Why protect the tree so far out? Roots are delicate! The tree acclimatizes the soil around it and adjusts the conditions in its favour for optimal growing. Imagine a 2 ton bundle of house bricks being stored on top of its roots? Or a 4 ton machine parked or driving over the root zone? Essentially the soil structure gets compacted and air spaces below the surface around the roots will be crushed.

The roots can be damaged and cause the tree to go into stress as it can no longer take up nutrients like it has always done.

(Picture: This roadway was widened and paved... causing the giant sugar maple on the right of the road to fall under stress and it eventually had to be cut down.)

So... by-laws are now in place to preserve the giants of our urban landscapes. In some places those by-laws are a slap on the wrist and in others they are a deep and hurtful pinch to the wallet.

Arborist reports are made to advise the general state or conditions of trees on a site slated for construction. The report covers how big a tree protection zone needs to be and what if any special needs or protective measures that particular tree may need to continue a long and healthy life. The report may also explain reasons for removal of a specific tree deemed hazardous or unsafe... or just simply in the way of construction progress. City forestry has the ultimate say on removal issues.

Get to know your city's by-laws regarding tree protection before you start digging or chopping!

Monday, March 05, 2007


The origin of the pergola structure can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians. During the Italian Renaissance period, the use of the pergola was very popular in many of the gardens designed for the rich and the noble classes of Europe.

It's widespread use in today's landscape has not trailed too far off from what it was originally designed to do and that was a structure to grow grapevines from. The pergola structure is defined as a set of columns or posts that support a roof of open framed joists, beams or trelliswork. The modern function of the design is to create a shaded space below for either a walkway or a seating area.

Architecturally, what a structure like this adds to the landscape is a set of vertical and horizontal lines that leads the eyes around the garden. If placed near your home, it can draw your eyes from the built form of the house structure to the Pergola's shape as it draws the lines of the home out into the garden area. It can essentially create an outdoor garden room, which becomes another extension of your home.

The structure itself is full of these lines and as the sun angles change throughout the day, the shadows below the structure take on different shapes. The dark lines of shadows or sun lighting contrast within the structure to almost seemingly transform the look and feel of that pergola's space as the sun changes positions in the sky.

A pergola can stand alone or be accompanied by plant material in the form of climbing vines that may either produce fruits or just colourful flowers. The plant material serves as a way to soften the structure, to give it a sense of belonging to the garden by tying it into the landscape. The built form of structure becomes cladded with a loose flowing design of vine stems and leaves. Accented by brightly coloured flowers, it can really serve as a great focal point for any garden.

Add to that the intricate carpentry work built into the architecture of the overall design and you can create a truly elegant feature for your garden.

What else can a structure like this be used for? The Latin term 'Pergula' means extended eave, so taking this definition into consideration...

Lawrence Winterburn of decided to clad the wall with a pergola style eave that shades the windows and doors of this home. It allowed for the client to train Wisteria vines along the structure and create a dual functioning feature that adds to the beauty of the home. The above photograph was taken 10 years after the structure was added to the home. Garden Structure's quality of workmanship and education for the client on materials is what keeps it looking great.

(All photos in this article are courtesy of