Say "Buffalo, New York" and the first thing that comes to mind is usually not Frank Lloyd Wright. Buffalo's reputation for record-breaking snowstorms has overshadowed its record of a different sort: the city boasts more Wright houses than any other place in the country, outside of Chicago.
Wright's architectural legacy in Buffalo virtually all stems from his 30-year friendship with Darwin D. Martin, a local businessman. It was Martin who got Wright his first large-scale commercial commission, the Larkin Building, and then gave him free rein in the design of his own house shown here. Though we toured all the buildings on site last spring, no photos of the interiors are allowed.
Martin was born at the end of the Civil War, just before Wright. Both men spent time on the prairies of the Midwest as youngsters and both had troubled childhoods that left them trying to create the ideal home they never had. For Wright, family and home was embodied in Taliesin; a place well-known to those of us who live in Wisconsin. The design and creation of the Martin home in Buffalo offered Wright everything the architect ever wanted: a large lot, an unlimited budget and complete freedom of design.
Wright responded by giving Martin a stunning composition, what he called his "opus." Wright designed a complex of six buildings totaling almost 30,000 square feet and including a pergola, conservatory, carriage house and a house for Martin's sister. Wright called the Martin property's arrangement of buildings to each other and the landscape "well nigh a perfect composition." After visiting last summer I'd have to agree.
Construction on the entire complex of buildings took from 1903 to 1907. Wright estimated the cost of the Martin house — built in 1904-05 — at $35,000, but in true Wrightian fashion it eventually totaled $175,000. The tab for the restoration of the Martin house and the reconstruction of the demolished pergola, conservatory and carriage house that is currently under way in Buffalo is $35 million. Total restoration of the property plus construction of the visitor center is estimated at $50 million with all but $10 million raised at this point. Having grown up in Buffalo during the years the Martin House and complex fell into serious disrepair, it was a thrill to see it being restored to its full glory.
The pictures above and below show the plaza between the Martin house and the almost all-glass visitor center.
One of the most stunning aspects of the Martin house is this long covered pergola leading to Mrs. Martin's conservatory with its huge reproduction sculpture of Winged Victory amidst the greenery.
What is so wonderful about Wright's work is that no detail is too small to be ignored whether it's the house number or a spot for chores.
The large building on the left (below) is the carriage house with the chauffeur's apartment above. Double click on the picture below and you will see that the poles that held the wash lines in this beautiful laundry yard match the detailing elsewhere on the house. It reminded me of some of the things that Arne Maynard does in his garden designs which he talks about in his new book.
Wright designed 394 original pieces of art glass, including 15 window motifs for the Darwin Martin House. The Chazen Museum of Art in Madison owns one of the "Tree of Life" windows from the Martin House. The Martin House itself only has one original "Tree of Life" window, though they know the whereabouts of most of them. The glass panels perpendicular to the stained glass windows let light into the lower level.
You can find more information on the Martin house and tours here.
It was so sunny the evening of the last WHPS tour of members' gardens that I only managed to snap a few images of the many wonderful things we saw. This garden had a pretty pond and a huge prairie that I could not manage to capture at all. This sloping rock garden was home to many familiar plants . . .
all of them looking happy and healthy.
This container of mixed succulents attracted lots of attention.
As did this stunning green on green Hosta. After the tour I emailed this gardener to find out the name of this variety, intending to rush right out and buy one for my garden. She calls it "Sum and Something" because, she said, "it is a Sum and Substance that morphed into that interesting bicolor, probably due to a virus." She pointed out that she really likes the color variation, and the virus hasn't affected anything else (including several nearby clumps of Sum and Substance), so she's letting it stay in the garden.
Someone knowledgeable about these things, pointed out that it is likely Hosta Virus X. That person also said that the virus won't spread as long as this gardener is careful to disinfect her tools when cutting it back or dividing. So now we all know what to do should such a serendipitous discovery pop up in our own gardens!
As someone much enamored of Japanese gardens, I couldn't resist this little gravel garden.
The bamboo folding screen makes the perfect finishing touch.
The last garden we visited was one of the more memorable I've seen and I could not manage to get any photos but this shot of a Bells of Ireland plant. I've never seen this plant except at the florist's shop and thus enjoyed seeing its quirky shape up close.
What was so amazing about this garden — and gardener — was the fact that it was composed almost entirely of annuals. The amount of seed-saving-and-starting mades me tired just thinking about it — until I was standing in the midst of the results. Her annuals were carefully chosen and combined for color, texture and form with a stream of blue salvia tying the composition together. A major gardening accomplishment in my book.
This is the prairie that is the provenance of the annual gardener's spouse. We saw three prairies on this tour and they were all different. It's not often that one gets to see variations on prairies in one fell swoop like this.
It was also interesting to me that many of the couples whose gardens were on these two WHPS tours, divide their gardens into his and hers sections. He's the prairie guy or the Hosta guy, for example. At our house, Mark tends to be the hardscaping and design guy while I concentrate on plants. But the placement and choice of trees and shrubs is usually something we decided together. I always find it fascinating to see how two people manage to garden together and stay together!
Green's Prairie Cemetery is a one acre remnant of the prairie that once covered the area of southern Wisconsin where it is located. It is a "pioneer prairie cemetery — a place where family history, local history and natural history intersect," according to the information Mark picked up on his recent visit. It includes six pages of names and information about the people buried here as well as a map noting their location. The site is fenced and you have to climb these stairs to enter.
The earliest known burial here was that of Polly Crowell, who died on October 23, 1845 — three years before Wisconsin became a state.
The oldest person buried here was 97-year-old Lucinda Hilton. She was born in Maine in 1789 and her ancestry can be traced back to the Mayflower. Members of her family fought in the Revolutionary War.
There have only been three known burials here since 1900, the last being 1917.
The cemetery is filled with prairie plants like the Penstemmon seen growing by a marker in one of these photos. A peony — clearly planted as a memorial — still blooms in June all these years later.
The cemetety is home to three veterans of the War of 1812. Buffalo, where I grew up, was burned by the British in that war. It is part of our local history back there, but unusual to come across references to it in the Midwest.
Not surprisingly those veterans were all from the east coast. One of them, Elisha Gorham, was a merchant marine in the war's naval battles. Erie, PA, where my sister lives, is home to one of the most famous American ships from that war: Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's US Brig Niagara. That city and the entire Great Lakes region just celebrated the Bicentennial of those events. When we were in Erie the summer of 2013, the history of the War of 1812 was much in evidence.
Robert Peebles, who is also buried here, was in two campaigns with the New York State militia in Canada in the War of 1812, including breaking the siege of Fort Erie. We visited this old stone fort a number of times on summer weekends when I was young.
The cemetery has six Civil War veterans buried in its confines; not surprising given Wisconsin's role in that war.
Two of the men are actually buried where they died — Fredericksburg, VA and Nashville, TN — but are noted on the markers of their parents.
The cemetery's handout points out that among the many plants growing here the prairie contains dramatic things like compass plant and big bluestem grass. What that means is that the looks of this place change a lot as the summer continues.
But no matter the season, this place must look much like it did when the people who are buried here walked these fields. Unlike these folks, few of us today find ourselves in a final resting place so close to home.
Note: All the information in this post is from the Cemetery's printed information.
A few years ago I wrote a blog post about a new book by Linden Hawthorne: "Gardening with Shape, Line and Texture: A Plant Design Sourcebook." Hawthorne considers gardens an art form where you "paint with plants." As a result of my comments about the book and designing gardens in general, a local garden group — the Madison Chapter of the Wild Ones — asked me to speak to them about how to make prairies and native plants work as gardens — especially in front yards or urban environments.
I suggested that one of the things that instantly distinguishes a garden from a woods or a weedpatch is intent. A garden is an environment that was intentionally created by the gardener even when it looks natural. One of the easiest ways to indicate that a natural or wild-looking space is a garden is to provide somewhere for the gardener and friends to sit.
A fence and a gate are other signs that this is a garden, a planned landscape.
This view from a second floor bedroom window shows that this prairie is a deliberate design, not something that just happened.
Though this prairie is in Door County and not in front of an urban house, the concept of defining it and enjoying it as a man-made garden is the same.
We have a number of country friends who are each restoring prairies on their land. In the spring, they often send out a call for assistance to help with the burning of the prairie to control weeds and invasives. Here are a few photos of a burn that Mark assisted with at the end of last week out near Mineral Point.
Hunting and photography have many things in common, not least of which is the proverbial story about the one that got away.
In regard to our recent storm, that really was the case for me. I work for a police department, albeit the non-sworn (no gun) side of things. Nevertheless, storm or no storm, I'm expected to show up for work. So, on Wednesday I sat out the best of the storm (from a photographer's point of view) in a room without a window. By the time I got home it was too late to shoot.
On Thursday I got up early to take Linda to work and forgot to grab the camera. As a result another one got away. As we drove east we suddenly saw the most magnificent rainbow encircling the sun. The intense colors of the bands curved in toward each other as they reached the horizon completing a full 220 degrees. It faded and disappeared in minutes
After I dropped Linda off I went back to the house to get the camera. I stuck an extra battery in an inside pocket to keep it warm (it was 10 degrees below!) and headed out to shoot the garden first. Those pictures ended up in Friday's post.
After running an errand I drove back to the auto dealership that I had seen earlier. I was almost too late. Many of the cars in the lot had been cleared of snow already. Luckily, the row nearest the road was still nestled under its snowy cover. In photographic terms, the staff all out brushing snow made for a more interesting sequence. Those are the shots I posted yesterday.
Today's post includes an assortment of other shots I took during a full day of Christmas shopping, errand running, and providing cab service for Linda so she wouldn't have to worry about finding a plowed place to park.
After leaving the car lot I made a detour into the Universtiy of Wisconsin's Arboretum. The Jackson Oak, deceased for some time now, still made an excellent subject with its snow covered limbs against the forest background.
The oak stands right at the edge of the prairie which looked threateningly cold despite the bright sun.
Even though everything appears to be covered with snow, I kept being nagged by the thought that the day before, before the wind had done its worst, it had been a much whiter place.
One charming exception was this group of crab apple trees that look as if they have burst into bloom quite prematurely. In this case the wind probably helped to produce the illusion.
The dense pattern of berries, snow, and limbs in this shot are really nice. It's the abstract painter in me. I think it's important to be aware of the biases we all have, both in order to make the most of them, but also to move beyond them when the subject calls for it. Taking a good picture is so often a matter of breaking out of our habits.
From the Arboretum I went hunting for snowmen. I drove the neighborhoods I thought would have kids. But instead of snowmen I found the ugly side of the storm - broken branches everywhere. In this case the residents had to shovel a detour around the fallen tree to get to the street. When I showed Linda this shot she went and got the local paper and showed me what the professional photographer had done with the same subject. It was a shot of a letter carrier ducking under the trunk of this fallen tree as he made his rounds. I wonder if the photographere had to wait very long for that opportunity.
I know I waited for quite a while to get a shot of this crew in action, but they just sat there in their truck. I finally got out and took a couple of pictures. As I was driving away an empty city truck arrived, and I realized that that was what they were waiting for. I decided not to go back, to press on.
As I turned onto Monroe street to pick Linda up from work I saw my first snowmen in two yards, side by side. They weren't great, but I was running out of time. I took this shot of the better of the two.
And then, a block away I saw more snow personages in an apartment building courtyard. I thought this one was especially charming for its dance-like posture. (Or maybe it was just trying to fall down.)
Finally, on the other side of the complex was this big guy - maybe the biggest snowman I've ever seen. I felt my mission had been a success.
Linda and I decided to walk to a local bistro for a late lunch/early dinner. We sat near the kitchen with its warmth and wonderful smells. While I was sitting there I snapped this shot with my pocket camera. It wasn't until later when I downloaded the pictures that I saw this detail...
The bartender entertaining his customer with a hand rabbit! Sometimes we get the shot and don't even know it.
On On the way home I swung by Elver park to to get some pictures of the kids on the sledding hill. The family approaching in the foreground told me that it was so cold the sleds were just sticking to the snow. I took a closer shot of the kids with big smiles and the reddest cheeks - but it was badly out of focus. Another one that got away.
With one last image of the sun setting over the empty skating rink I decided it was time to go home to a drink and a warm fire.
A few years ago a book was published by Timber Press — "Design in the Plant Collector's Garden: From Chaos to Beauty" — that was geared to helping folks turn mere collections of plants into gardens. The danger of being a connoisseur of, say, garden conifers, is that it's very easy to have lots of land, lots of wonderful plants and still wind up without a garden.
A WHPS "tourist" takes notes in Gary Whittenbaugh's garden.
To be honest, that was my fear about our recent trip to Iowa with the Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society. I envisioned seeing amazing plants — which I did — but less than inspirational gardens, which was far from the case. Regardless of the size, shape or location of each garden, the owners had created personal spaces that expressed their passion in individual ways.
A fastigiate maple tree in Randy Dykstra's front yard soars above the house.
If there was one thing that was consistent from garden to garden, it was the use of contrast. The contrast of turf grass against planted areas, of deciduous trees and shrubs against evergreens. Even the conifers themselves offered contrasts of color, texture, form and size.
Randy Dykstra's garden included personal artwork like this buried Mustang.
Though conifers were the specialty of these gardens, none of the gardeners limited themselves only to that genre, so there were alpines, herbs, perennials, and ornamental grasses as well. And everywhere there were trough gardens whose size, shape and plantings can only be termed inspirational. These gardens included lots of personal details: the Iowa mascot, buried cars, miniature buildings, full size sheds, gates, gazebos, shared and secret spaces.
We look for the "Big Idea" in the Rathje garden.
When visiting gardens, Mark and I tend to look for the "Big Idea": the concept that defines a garden. Here's our picks for the big ideas we found in the six private gardens we visited.
Gary Whittenbaugh's paths (above, with detail below) meander around the house but show you specifically where to walk.
SHE SAID: Gary Whittenbaugh's Fran Mara Garden (Oelwein, Iowa) proved that lack of space needn't mean lack of diversity or lack of plants. Every inch was crammed full and not just with miniatures. But a system of paths and edging kept everything looking crisp as well as giving order and direction to the garden.
Gary Whittenbaugh has extended his garden into his neighbor's so both enjoy borrowed scenery.
HE SAID: What I found especially interesting about Gary's garden were the ways he projected his garden into the neighboring spaces, both literally and by suggestion. By breaking up the actual property line he was able to avoid much of the claustrophobia that one experiences in many small heavily cultivated urban gardens.
We saw lots of great garden rocks on the trip, including this one at Diane Dave's.
Diane Dave (Independence, Iowa) offered the fascinating array of conifers found in all the gardens we visited on this trip. And she had a great gazebo (from a kit). But what I noticed in particular were the hard materials used to create paths and steps in this multi-level garden. Diane also had the best rock of the trip, this patinated piece plunked in the front garden.
Wide open spaces lead back to Diane Dave's densely planted garden.
HE SAID: I loved the contrast between the open, minimal design of the approach to the house and the way the "garden" wrapped around the house itself. Aside from a small bed at the road, which suggests what lies in wait at the end of the walk, Diane resisted the temptation to add "interest" to the large space between the road and the house. Linda and I even questioned the wisdom of that small bed, figuring let it all be a surprise.
Dennis Hermsen's garden on the Iowa prairie — where the wind comes right behind the rain.
Perhaps it's not surprising that Dennis Hermsen's garden (Farley, Iowa) contained some of the standout conifer combinations and contrasts of the trip. After all, he is a propagator with a big nursery on site (yes, I succumbed and bought a Picea orientalis 'Barnes'). The Hermsen garden also offered us the ability to see mature specimens as well as how these plants stand up to the forces of nature — especially wind — on the open prairie.
Purple barberries function as sentinels in a bed of yellow "Mother Lode" juniper backed by a weeping white pine.
HE SAID: Demonstration gardens at a nursery are didactic by definition, but Dennis clearly made an effort to make each of his island beds a unique composition. That being said, I still preferred the more complex plantings near the house. I am far from being a connoisseur of garden conifers, but from the reactions of others on the trip I gathered that his is a very important private collection.
The size and shape of the grass lawn is as well-defined and well-designed as any other area in the Rathje's garden.
Jeff and Lora Rathje's garden (Long Grove, Iowa) was all about layers, from the tree canopy to people-sized structures to ground covers. All of it tied together with turf grass. But not just grass; this was a lawn nicely designed into the garden to make it fit in with its suburban neighbors. This was clearly a plantsman's garden (Jeff is also a nurseryman) but it was about restraint and editing as well.
Dianthus "jumps" one of the many walkways in the Rathje garden.
HE SAID: I probably felt most "at home" in this garden because of the wonderful way they used paths to define the garden space. I can imagine Jeff and Lora, much like Linda and I, taking their daily stroll through all the open and hidden regions of the garden — a beautiful private universe.
The Dykstra garden has a strong personality that came from the artwork as well as plants.
Randy Dykstra's garden — along with his on-site Heartland Nursery (Fulton, Iowa) — featured a personal palette of plants as well as garden sculptures created by Dykstra. Like Whittenbaugh's garden, the property was packed but there were open areas of breathing space as well.
Every aspect of Randy Dykstra's garden was well-thought out and well-executed.
HE SAID: Randy has some spectacular plants, but it was his use of found and made objects that pleased my aesthetic sense the most. From the Mustang hood to the Japanese lantern on a stone pillar, he was able to add objects that were quirky without being overly intrusive. I thought this subtle water source was a particularly nice example of his use of natural materials.
The view from Dave Horst's front yard.
Dave Horst's garden was all about scale, how to incorporate everything from a miniature rock garden plant to mature conifers in a space with some very disconcerting elements. How do you compete with the Mississippi River and ominous black railroad tank cars?
Looking back toward Dave Horst's house.
HE SAID: I thought that Dave's site was clearly the most challenging of those we visited on our tour: a steeply sloped property of open turf backed by a straight line of dense trees, all facing a jarring mixture of big nature and big industry. His is probably the youngest garden we saw, but it already shows great promise. I was especially struck by the way Dave has been able to tie new elements to the existing ones. It would be easy, I think, to have elements appear to "float" in this fascinating space.
Dave Horst figured out how to have a rock garden full of miniature plants in a very large landscape (above and below).
Eventually, I think Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the world.
— Frank Lloyd Wright —
If you're arriving in Chicago a bit early for Spring Fling, you'll have time to squeeze in a visit to the Prairie Avenue Bookshop, the largest architectural bookshop in the world. This is a great resource for anyone looking for new, used and out-of-print titles in architecture, design and landscape to mention only a few areas. The store currently features more than 20,000 volumes!
The last time I was there I picked up a copy of "David Hicks: Designer" by Ashley Hicks which I'd been unable to find locally. I also saw more different titles devoted to one of our favorite artist/gardeners, Ian Hamilton Finlay, than I realized even existed. Mark was not with me, however, and I couldn't decide which was the perfect choice for our garden library. But this time that won't be a problem.
And PA is in the middle of wonderful Chicago visual and architectural treasures, including the "L." I know we're all converging on the city to look down at the ground at gardens; but this is a great town for gazing skyward. While looking for PA last fall, I saw all kinds of great 19th century decorative details on nearby buildngs.
The store itself is unlike any American bookstore you've ever visited. The design and layout — from lighting to sales area — were conceived "in response to owner Marilyn Hasbrouck's thoughts regardeing the ideal architectural bookshop generated over 35 years of bookselling," according to PA's Web site. I have to say she's created a great space for browsing and buying. It is pure Prairie in design and color and includes an amazing array of furniture by everyone from Frank Lloyd Wright to Stanley TIgerman. The store often has a small number of decorative objects and architectural artifacts for sale.
Prairie Avenue Bookshop is a rare treasure and well worth a visit. And don't be confused by the address — 418 South Wabash Avenue; the original shop was located in Chicago's Prairie Avenue Historic District.
Prairie Avenue Bookshop interior and exterior images from the store's Web site.