Let me take this opportunity to thank you for reading and commenting over the last several years and I truly hope you will continue to follow my blog at its new location.  I've so enjoyed creating the posts and reading all the comments of my followers.

This blog has moved to my website.  Same content! same voice!




The grid, one of the oldest architectural design tools, is a useful device for controlling the position of elements. It is perhaps the most common visual tool available to the landscape designer, architect, city planner, graphic designer, and all visual artists.
The attempt to organize space in a geometrical construction can be seen in this rendering of a funeral procession in a Thebes garden.  The painting is from 13th Century BC.

Grids have been and continue to be used in all manner of layout tasks from urban design to building construction. A grid can help a designer control the positions of built and spatial elements, making the layout task more systematic.  A grid is generally a series of straight vertical and horizontal lines, sets of intersecting lines that help the designer decide where to put things. The benefits of using a grid are multifarious, ranging from the psychological to the functional, and, of course, the aesthetic.
You can describe it, as a designer’s very own "enigma code" which can elevate design discourse to that of a science, and eradicate the creative block by "virtually" filling the blank page. The development of the grid in landscape design is a means by which to simplify, or “rationalize” the landscape through the process of spatially reorganizing the world to fit the logic of geometrical regularity. The intersections of a grid pattern can dictate gathering spaces.
Villa Lante

Villa Lante in Bagnaia, Italy, is perhaps the consummate example of grid geometry used in the Renaissance period of landscape design. The design is a single longitudinal axis (which at times is delineated as the centrally aligned promenade) that steps down along a sequence of horizontal plateaus dominating Vignola’s design for the garden. Gravity provides the force behind the garden’s waters cascading from a series of fountains, pools, and channels.  At the base is a sixteen square terrace arranged as a parterre surrounding the central fountain. 

 On an urban planning scale, "imposing this mathematical order on the landscape had a profound impact on the environmental history of New York City.  Much of the environmental variation on Manhattan Island was “obliterated” to make way for the homogenizing dictates of the grid.1"  Thousands of years before the North American or European civilizations developed, cities such as Sirkap (now Islamabad), Tetihiuacan and ancient Chinese states were founded on rough grid plans (B.C.) that evolved over time.  The use of the grid in town planning became more commonplace with the Roman Empire's military expansion. 

When Rome destroyed Carthage, they rebuilt the city to the grid.

Norman Booth emphasizes visual linkage in Foundations of Landscape Architecture: "The grid can be applied to visually link a building to an adjoining landscape, unifying a broad range of plant materials within a garden.  The absolute consistent size and shape of a grid’s modules diminish the disparities that exist in size, shape, color and texture of the materials within the modular boundaries. A clearly articulated grid provides a dominant order that diminished potential differences of shape, size, and orientation along individual objects in its field.  The more idiosyncratic a grid is on the ground plane, the more effective it furnishes a unifying field."  The grid can have multiple structures based on how it is coordinated with its axis: bilateral, cross-axial, aggregate and subdivided.  These subdivisions form the basis of a modular and systematic approach to any layout.
Norman Booth, Foundations of Landscape Architecture

Modernist landscape designers such as Dan Kiley and Fernando Caruncho have reveled in the use of the grid.

Miller Garden, Dan Kiley

Art Institute of Chicago, Dan Kiley

 Fernando Caruncho landscape

And it would be remiss not to include a Piet Mondian painting, or two….




In 2008, a show garden at the Chelsea Garden Show envisioned a courtyard garden set fifty years in the future, designed for global warming. The garden assumes a somewhat hotter and sometimes wetter London than today, incorporating lush planting and cooling water canals under dappled shade.

The garden designed by Robert Meyers is assumed to be largely enclosed to the sides and rear by buildings, and visible from the street through implied railings at the front. The 'buildings' are represented by planted green walls divided into panels by strips of pre-cast stone. This references the emerging possibilities of the green architecture of the future. There is a double-layered tree canopy, created with tall palms, smaller sculptural trees, and a high proportion of evergreens.

all photographs ©ToddHaiman2013

According to Cornell University’s agricultural extension office, “a gradual increase in Earth’s atmospheric greenhouse gases is expected to make global weather more volatile over the next century. This might include higher temperatures, less rain but heavier downpours, changing wind patterns, and rising sea levels. Higher temperatures and more turbulent weather will affect everything — from which trees to which wildlife cover the region to what crops farmers raise to how cities allocate water. Weather unpredictability would make dry years more common and wet years less effective. The result could be more reliance on rain-intensive crops or more garden watering."

Extension Horticulturists have urged caution in accepting these new zones, because hardiness is influenced by rainfall, plant vigor, and drought as well as minimum winter temperatures. With global warming comes habitat conversion, pollution, an increase in invasive species. It is the combination of all these stresses that will likely prove to be the greatest challenge to wildlife conservation in the forthcoming years.

comparison of USDA Hardiness maps from their website

Countering landscape and garden risk with evolving climate may be achieved by purchasing smaller herbaceous plants and shrubs that are recommended for a warmer zone. The use of native and adapted vegetation in the built environment, taking full advantage of the most appropriate plants that increase air quality, conserve water resources, and sequester carbon dioxide.

Traditional turf lawns contribute to global warming in multiple ways through: 1. The decomposition of lawn waste, which turns to methane gas as opposed to composting, 2. Using fossil-powered machinery to maintain it (mowers and leaf blowers), 3. Fossil energy used to pump water to irrigate and fossil energy used to produce fertilizers and pesticides. Native plants are significantly more effective than traditional mowed grass as a carbon sink due to their extensive root systems and increased ability to retain and store water.

I’m curious… how do you envision residential landscapes in the future? Did Robert Meyers accurately portray this? Please leave your thoughts…



According to The Guardian, UK's ancient forests could be reproduced again after the country's supply has been severely depleted over several centuries of favoring farmland at the expense of forests. Contributing to this was Naval exploration, the industrial revolution and finally the two world wars when imports were difficult to obtain. 

One of the largest oaks still stands in what is believed to be Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood fame.  Another one of these super trees stands on the grounds of Blenheim Palace, designed by Lancelelot"Capability" Brown.  

Quercus alba (White oak) photographed on a late Spring day.

©todd haiman 2013



Thirty years ago a family friend passed from the AIDS virus and trees were given out to those who attended the funeral. That Ash tree still stands on my parent’s property, a remembrance of that person, a testament to his spirit, in a tradition that has been repeated by many cultures throughout time.

As a teenager, I visited the majestic redwood forest and witnessed first hand the grandeur of Muir woods.  Yet somehow I needed that Ash tree imbued with Tay’s spirit, that connection, a projected association to provide me with a sense of a tree as a living entity…. it offered me a spiritual reverence for trees that I had not possessed before. 

Consider all that trees do for us as humans, they are a species that sustains, rather “cradles” our survival … they provide oxygen, control soil erosion, offer shade, filter air pollution, recycle water, sequester carbon and significantly more.

Spoken more eloquently by Jim Robbins, author “The Man Who Planted Trees”….  “We take them for granted, but they are a near miracle. In a bit of natural alchemy called photosynthesis, trees turn one of the seemingly most insubstantial things of all -- sunlight -- into food for insects, wildlife and people, and use it to create shade, beauty and wood for fuel, furniture and homes.  Trees are nature's water filters, capable of cleaning up the most toxic wastes, including explosives, solvents and organic wastes, largely through a dense community of microbes around the tree's roots that clean water in exchange for nutrients, a process known as phytoremediation. Tree leaves also filter air pollution. A 2008 study by researchers at Columbia University found that more trees in urban neighborhoods correlate with a lower incidence of asthma.”

As global warming encroaches upon us, thank goodness there is more than the Lorax that speaks for the trees.  I am presently reading “The Man Who Planted Trees” by Jim Robbins.  The book is based around David Milarch, a hard living, yet honest man, who from a near death experience heard voices that told him it was his mission to save the planet. With literally no money, against all odds, this “Johnny Appleseed-ish” mystic, in a most organic fashion (excuse the pun) has begun to repopulate and hopefully initiate a trend to reverse global warming by cloning the world’s sturdiest trees. Milarch is founder of the Archangel Angel Tree Archive where they collect, propagate and archive the genetics of ancient champion trees from around the globe and…plant trees to reforest the Earth.
 “We’ve sawn down ninety-seven percent of all old growth redwoods.There’s three percent left.  Of that three percent left, only ten percent is protected.  Ninety percent of what’s left could fall to the axe or chainsaw.  So three-tenths of one percent is left of a forest that was here for ten thousand years.  Now if you were down to three-tenths of one percent of gasoline for your car, or three-tenths of one-percent of your life savings, wouldn’t it be time to do something?”  

Please read this book. Then plant a tree. 



Making lemonade out of lemons.

Losing my office to the ravages of Hurricane Sandy (as evidenced by the minimal output of blogposts since late October), I invite opportunities to take advantage of the change.
My new office is on the 26th floor of a building overlooking New York Harbor.  I’ve gotten into the habit of using my iphone to photograph Lady Liberty and Ellis Island from this perspective on a regular basis.  Some of these photos are from the grey days of New York winter, where there is much beauty to observe in its monochromatic light.


Recording the landscape change per the elements, time of day and year is an effective study in “light and landscape”.  Last fall an installation at Storm King Art Center addressed this topic. It is also the notion that A.E. Bye, famed landscape architect conceives in his book “Moods in the Landscape.”

Photographing landscape sites at different times of day, weather and season is an action I regularly perform when analyzing a site and then designing a landscape.  With the beta data included (time and date stamp) among the information a digital camera captures, the photograph is a record, a study aid, a reference to review when making design and planting decisions. “Seeing light” and witnessing the seasonal changes is another tip I pass on to graduate students in landscape design I work with.  Whether it’s becoming intimate with a plant that you’re not familiar with on your route to work each morning thru the year, or making a photographic record of a familiar landscape, you are viewing through a more critical lens.

Landscape is not three-dimensional, rather there’s the fourth element that is time –understanding the complexity of landscape in all its dimensions.  Many clients will request a new residential design for their just bought landscape within three months?  Arguably, the less a designer is familiar with a site, the more challenging it becomes to design.  How thorough can you design a landscape instantly without understanding it’s sense of place and how it changes over the course of time.

A landscape evolves.  



The Library of Landscape History film on one of my heroes, Darrel Morrison.  Mr. Morrison, FASLA, is one of the first advocates of the use of native vegetation, processes in landscape design and ecological restoration work.



a google search for "lot" yielded this..

a google search for "yard" yielded this..

a google search for "garden" returned this..

As an American overseas, if I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard this ten times in the U.K… why do Americans refer to their outdoor planted spaces as yards?  Aren’t yards where cars are put up on blocks? Where railcars are stored?

Paul Groth writes in “The Meaning of Gardens”, “What does it mean that Americans chose to call their arrangements of cars parked outdoors as lots?  Why not carparks as in Canada and the U.K.  Why have we overtly fashioned no parking gardens, or at least parking yards?  Three of these terms – lot, yard and garden –denote a simple but important hierarchy in the way Americans organize their space.”

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, here are the first seven definitions for the word "YARD":
1: a small, usually walled and often paved area open to the sky and adjacent to a building : a court
2: the grounds of a building or group of buildings
3: the grounds immediately surrounding a house that are usually covered with grass
4 : an enclosure for livestock (as poultry)
5: an area with its buildings and facilities set aside for a particular business or activity
6: an assembly or storage area (as for dry-docked boats)
7: a system of tracks for storage and maintenance of cars and making up trains
8: a locality in a forest where deer herd in winter

On Wiktionary… a yard is a small, usually uncultivated area adjoining or (now especially) within the precincts of a house or other building, An enclosed area designated for a specific purpose, e.g. on farms, railways etc.  In Jamaica, it is vernacular for “one’s house or home.

Lot stands as one of the oldest words for a division of land. Yard denotes more enclosure, or an area for special work, business or storage. Or, lack of attention as in “open lot” and “vacant lot”.  Groth associates the notion of “yard” with barns, prisons, ships, etc.  In fact, the word harkens back to the 12th century middle English as a word for enclosure.

In terms of organizing open space design, there is a hierarchy of meaning within “lot,” “yard,” and “garden.”  Lot is commonly used in real estate terms, historically it equates to a division of land. This is an enclosure.“We define lots or yards by their edges and their neighboring spaces; lots and yards hold something else. The garden is defined by what is in it. Its immediate meaning derives largely from itself and its contents.”

There is also a hierarchy of care, cultivation and pleasure among these three words. “The word ‘yard’ implies more value than something called a ‘lot’; in turn, the word ‘garden’ suggests something treasured.”

Gardens provide delight and amusement. Its contents are aesthetically pleasing and it is not defined by it’s edges, but rather by it’s contents. The term “pleasure garden” never referred to a yard or lot. Henceforth, lets turn yards into gardens.

The Meaning of Gardens: Francis and Hester
MIT Press, 1990

Photos: lot/NYTimes, yard/, garden/



It is traditional to think of focal points in a landscape as statues, sculpture, topiary, buildings, follies, water features or plant specimens.  But what about topographic foci?

"Joys of the Fisherman", Wang Fu  1410

For centuries in Chinese landscape art, mountains (and water) were the emphasis in the landscape.  Rocks and boulders were and still are representative of these features. They provide the same or similar vertical emphasis that a statue, building or folly would, but with a more naturalistic “unbuilt” form.  They are not only foci, but also destination points along a journey. A strong contrast to the level or lower-lying ground plane.  Similarly a “bowl” which is an inversion or depression in the groundplane is at direct contrast with a mounded vertical feature.  In a depression, people are naturally and psychologically attracted to discover the mystery within and then ultimately ascend back up to higher ground.

"Palace of Nine Perfections", Yuan Jiang circa 1200 (scroll painting)

The Chinese word for landscape is “shanshui”, which literally means mountains and water.” In gardens, fantastic rocks represent the the rugged grandeur of the Chinese landscape and the great unyielding, solid, hard mountain ranges, the “yin” that contrast with the “yang’ –rivers and streams (soft, wet and cool, restorative qualities).

A wonderful exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of New York highlights these natural forms.  Mountains and their symbolic equivalents which are boulders and rocks,.. serve as a primary source of inspiration in these antiquated Chinese gardens.

"Summer Mountains" Qu Ding  mid 11th century

"Elegant Gathering in the Apricot Garden", Xie Huan circa 1400

Ji Cheng's great work on garden design, the Yuan Ye or The Craft of Gardens, was originally published around 1631 and is the oldest surviving and perhaps earliest manual of landscape gardening in the Chinese tradition.  Ji Cheng’s text immediately wins the modern Western gardener’s admiration for its insistence on the need to adapt a garden’s designs and contents to its natural location. His western counterpart of thought, Alexander Pope, employed designers to consult the genius of the place. That is,.. landscape designs should always be adapted to the context in which they are located. It pays close attention to the selection of rocks and boulders as philosophical roots within the garden, therefore an inseparable part of the landscape.

“Rocks are not like plants or trees, once altered, they gain a new lease on life.”

“Pile up the rocks to emphasize the height, excavate the earth to increase the depth.”

Sydney Chinese Garden of Friendship

Ji Cheng was a practicing garden designer in the first half of the 17th century. He designed gardens for several well-known individuals in the late Ming dynasty. It is believed that Ji Cheng’s clients supported the original publication of this book.

The Yuan ye offers no precise prescription for garden design, mostly practical advice and poetic visualization.  Ji Cheng states that “There is no definite way of making scenery, you know it is right when it stirs your emotions.” It is “qi” –-the pulsating breath of life that must be the result of the designer’s efforts.1  (Most Chinese philosophical schools followed the same fundamental principle that everything in existence is composed of the same fundamental “qi” or breath.)   Ji Cheng speaks of taking advantage of "borrowed scenery", similarly screening out what is offensive.  He continues with suggestion of segregating space (garden rooms or compartmentalization), wall outlines, stone selection and much more.

In her preface to the translation of the Yuan Ye, Alison Hardie reiterates that Ji “emphasized the importance of basing the design on the existing landscape, and uses poetic descriptions to build up an atmosphere which will inspire the would be designer to create a garden which can express the emotions he/she is experiencing.”

1. Landscape Design, A Cultural and Architectural History: Elizabeth Barlow Rogers.



A superb blog in the NYTimes Opinionator column by Steven Strogatz on the Golden Ratio, phi and its reverence in the world of design.

If unfamiliar with the golden ratio, "google it" and one of the 6 million results should present an elementary understanding.

*Image of Parthenon from

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