Landscape meet Garden

I’ve been writing landscape adventure stories the past couple years, and in a strange fashion, the narrators of each story have taught me new perceptions of landscape architecture and design.

For example, the narrator of Crystal Vision explained to me that landscape harbors danger for humans and that garden is safe and primarily provides for quiet introspection and also for active and regular energy exchange. The narrator explained further that both landscape and garden are deficient if not dominated by plants sustained by adequate water.

Yeah, it did make sense to me, anyone else agree?


It all happens at the town’s edge.


Cross Cultural

Lived lots of years in foreign countries–foreign cultures.

Cross-cultural are experiences in which I have been face-to-face with people and behaviours I did not understand and often did not agree.

…as opposed to multi-cultural which is theory only.

In my work as a landscape architect in those foreign countries and foreign cultures, I had to build major projects. Had to reach workable agreements in difficult cross-cultural conditions. Learned so very much from so many different people.

The links below track some of my cross-cultural journeys.

They are all HD, all less than one minute long, and they are all growing from the Empty Quarter, the Rub al Khali.


Rub al Khali Enigma: the Empty Quarter in the Arabian Peninsula, what it is.



Dreams: how to get from dreams to fiction to reality, Atlantis Dubai 2008.



Empty Quarter: transforming cross-cultural realties, harsh environments into restful shelter, Qasr al Sarab 2010.



A Golf Academy in the Empty Quarter?



…or too much time…

I’ve got too much time on my hands—it’s the only way I can explain this stretched metaphor where the skin on one’s face and plant cover on the earth are equated.

If plants are the skin, the face of the earth, then…

…lay down, close your eyes…

The sky, the earth, the clouds and water combine to give the most unique of deep and revitalizing facial treatments to the plants.


And afterwards…all are glowing…absolutely glorious…everyone is smiling!



Interlaken: design & tourism

…Interlaken Jungfrau…

The yellow dots with black outlines are previously busy successful hotels that are empty, or rarely occupied, or struggling for a four or five-star rating

At the heart of a tremendous landscape. Interlaken.

In the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps, Interlaken is a 365day/year resort destination on the Aare River connecting two lakes at the confluence of four valleys.

Interlaken alone has more than 900,000 overnight stays/year. Tourism drives the economy. Landscape drives the tourism.

This place is all about design, why? Because this landscape exudes inspiration, it enables captivation. A guest can see it, breathe it, feel it, taste it and touch it. Landscape feeds design.

But change is inevitable. New design is required.

…mountain cure comfort…

The last of the great Interlaken-Jungfrau five-star resort destinations from the Victorian era. Take the airs. Take the views. Take the walks. Take the cures.

…take your pick…

This view of the Jungfrau from Interlaken across the Hohematte today has become nearly a touristic cliche. It was the original tourist attraction. Now it is only 10% of the landscape attractions accessible from Interlaken.

What is the inspirational magic that fills the air in this landscape? For two hundred years the greatest authors, composers and all humans have been captivated by this ethereal landscape beauty which has propelled them to design, compose, write, paint.

Great American writers have built on their experience in this landscape: Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper. And a partial list overwhelms: Haller, RousseauGoethe,(as inspired by the Staubbach in Lauterbrunnental), Byron, Mendelssohn, Schiller, AC. Doyle, Tolkien, Bierstadt, Caspar Wolf, Hodler, Calame, and pop ‘artists’ like James Bond, Clint Eastwood.

In the last century the Art Nouveau movement spurred deluxe hotel and town growth here.

The most practical and interconnected transportation and communication systems were overlain for easy access. Best in class convenience from the international airports of Zurich, Geneva and Bern via network of trains, trams and busses seamlessly linked to networks of bikes and pedestrians to all winter and summer recreation options including every xxx-treme sport. These put visiting humans into direct touch with the landscape.

Interwoven in all the above is the art of living in these inspirational landscapes. People who live here have translated their inspiration to trychler, yodeler, alphorn, sagen and scherrenschnitt.

Visitors gain access via Interlaken to sites having the UNESCO ‘international seal of approval’:

UNESCO Biosphere Entlebuch: An area of 400 square kilometres to demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature unfolds as a mystical world with pre-Alpine moorland and karst landscapes.

UNESCO World Heritage Jungfrau Aletsch: An overwhelming display of the Alps’ natural beauty covering over 800 square kilometres. At its heart lies the mighty rock massif of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and the glacial landscape around the Great Aletsch Glacier. The Aletsch Glacier is 23km long, the longest glacier in the Alps.

So what’s the problem? The hotel, resort destination cycle has been bottoming as the visitor profile has changed. Nobody has grasped what is the 21st century successful tourism paradigm. Four and five star hotels are out of business. Other hotels from the Art Noveau era can not easily meet the 21st century energy savings regulations. And the visitor who 30 years ago would visit one or two weeks, now visits two or three days.

Recent tourism numbers and trends intrigue.

Berner Oberland Region = 12,000 beds; net occupancy rate 50%

Interlaken Region = 4,000 beds; net occupancy rate 64%

International Arrivals = Europe 50%, Asia 25%, Americas 15%, Africa 5%, Middle East 5%

Interlaken Region Arrivals = Swiss 45%, International 55%

In conclusion, this Interlaken landscape region has undeniable attraction to Swiss and every geographical segment of  international visitor. The annual visits are steady. The communication and transportation infrastructure is up to date and best in class; but the types of accommodations are not leading the way. The tradition of four and five star has all but disappeared–it struggles.

But there are committed private sector players whose future is based upon visitors’ feet on the landscape, regional transportation and watch consolidator. Both of them rely on successful, comfortable and convenient overnights.

Where does this landscape tourism go in the first half of the 21st century?

Airbnb, local holiday apartments, dormitory accomodations?

Are the traditional comforts of four and five star hospitality culture a memory, not suited to today’s green regulations, today’s pace of life, today’s constrained economics?

Or is there a new paradigm still undiscovered that matches and challenges this timeless inspirational landscape?

That is a question for designers, entrepreneurs and lovers of landscape.

…mountain magic…

For centuries, humans from this region have used the alphorn to express how this landscape inspires them.

…sweetest music you never heard…

Berner Oberland landscape and plants work their way into the finest corners of human inspiration, design and crafts.


Gentian blue, four species…but the color of lapis lazuli…implies the cultural wealth of millennia.

…taste the mountains…

The local brewery, with 700 yrs of history, sells its brew in two litre refillables–collectible graphic design, no?

…fresh water air

Lake steamers connect Interlaken to all towns and villages on the Thunersee and Brienzersee–fresh air carried on fresh water from the Grimsel Pass glaciers.


The arable land yields food for humans who respect that miracle in their crafts and architecture.

…music, always music…

Whether by jodeling, alphorns or tales…human connections with the landscape are easily accessible in this region.

…flying is too fast…

A visitor can access this landscape in every imaginable manner.

…take a gamble…

Human shelters for entertainment and education–the old and the new both sitting nicely in the landscape.

…up the valley…

Departing Interlaken from the Hohematte foreground in the direction of the Jungfrau begins an exceptional landscape design sequence of spaces experience working up through the valleys to Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen.


This is a view across the Hohematte toward the Jungfrau. The Hohematte is a 14 hectare meadow in the center of town, first owned by the Augustinian Monastery, then by Bern and finally in the 1860s bought by a consortium of locals who have preserved it as a meadow in perpetuity.


Interlaken blends modern with tradition in many aspects of design, arts and crafts.


Ethnobotany–only the bravest of the climbers could find edelweiss–Leontopodium alpinum.

…two km straight up…

Network interfaces–urban quality interfaces at the foot of Eiger and Jungfrau. Convenient and awe inspiring.


For walkers the wayfinding is superb. Networks to networks–superb. Clear, crisp.

…water's edge…

In Interlaken, the Aare River connects the upstream Brienzersee to the Thunersee and continues as the largest tributary to the upper Rhine.

…and still the landscape inspires…

Churches tell the political and religious history–Catholic, Reformed–Austrians, French…via arts and crafts.

…idealized plants…

Art Nouveau craftsmanship inspired by the landscape.



Whether visiting as a tourist, on business or a white collar mercenary–hard to tell the difference between them in the public realm–everyone who comes to the Gulf Region inevitably looks for fun; and, everyone is reminded there are rules for expatriates, business people and tourists. The warnings are there.

In this Gulf Region world of international development, design, construction and facility management, the white collar mercenaries, like many of the characters in The 23 Club, build up–in a loosely linked community–a broad network of international contacts. Among them, from time to time, kismet meetings occur.


The 23 Club

Immersed in the contemporary culture of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, against the backdrop of the Empty Quarter, The 23 Club tells the inside story of how an iconic project gets built in the oil rich, Gulf region of the Arabian Peninsula.

Table of Contents


Chalmers was strangely ruffled. More than his rift with Madge, more than these last couple hours, it was the last twenty four hours that were now too vivid, almost visceral in his head. His thoughts drifted back to the blood in the streets, to Jean-Claude, to Bahrain, to Ashura. His thoughts drifted back as he recalled yesterday, about mid-day.

On this trip to the UAE, he had had to make an overnight stop in Bahrain. He didn’t think much of it, an extra overnight. He had not checked the Hegira calendar. It was the Day of Ali. He had read about this special Shiite day; but, he had never seen it, and had no reason to think about it until he was at the hotel breakfast buffet that morning. He bumped into an old friend, Jean-Claude Thibaut, who, on his way from Papua New Guinea, coincidently had also stopped over in Bahrain.

Chalmers had first met him nearly twenty years ago, while they were both speakers at a national conference sponsored by the American Society of Landscape Architects. They shared an educational background in Brussels, a landscape fondness for the Alps, and a fundamental agreement on the importance of integrating ethnobotanical cultural roots into contemporary landscape design.

When Chalmers explained he was on the way to the UAE to fix a project in the Empty Quarter, Jean-Claude told him about related research he had done there in the past five years. For both, this was a welcome coincidence. Jean-Claude adjusted his schedule; and they agreed to meet up in the next week to visit the Empty Quarter together and compare notes.

Jean-Claude Thibaut, a forty nine year old Belgian, was a confirmed bachelor who found his pleasures in the ‘hair-shirt’ explorations of cultures, of marginal groups just outside the edge of mainstream society, people still in contact with the land, with the old ways–Bedu, Berbers, Calusa fisherfolk descendants, true Gypsies.

He examined human relationships with plants, through landscape, language, music, life. He was a very broad scale ethnobotanist. He did not write for publication, did not have a PhD; but, he did maintain extensive multimedia digital archives, all collected first-hand:  stories, songs, movies, images, along with plant related artifacts, such as amulets, charms, talismans.

Born into a wealthy entrepreneurial Belgian family, he took birth in the Belgian Congo where he spent the early years of his childhood. He was a polyglot graduate of international schools in Brussels and Gstaad. Following formal education at the University of London, he had travelled and visited all major botanical institutions in Africa and South America, gathering ethnobotanical information before his first post with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Ultimately, he became a director there. He had since retired to focus full-time on his personal research activities.

At five foot eleven and 165 pounds, he looked popularly slender and athletically lean. He had a self-effacing presence, and a manner of dress and hygiene uniquely making him as at home meeting and greeting in a five star Monte Carlo resort, as in a majlis tent on the edge of the Empty Quarter. He was not shy about sharing the realities of the groups he studied–‘over the edge’ would be the polite way to describe his unusual first hand experiences of old, almost forgotten ways of human interactions with plants in the landscape.

Between Chalmers and Jean-Claude, despite their substantial grounds of agreement, were interlaced threads of ambiguous tension, mostly friendly, mostly the subtleties of hidden cross-cultural joking. Those subtleties were built from Jean-Claude’s obsessive frequenting of the boundary edges between humans and plants, inspired originally by his attraction to the writings of William Blake, Aldous Huxley, Carlos Castenada.

Jean-Claude was an explorer. Chalmers was a builder. They were friends, even though their clatteringly different approaches to the landscape often belied that friendship. Nevertheless, Jean-Claude was happy to see Chalmers and greeted him saying, “Well, my old friend, here we are together in the Middle East! Do not tell me you are about to become, once again, the ‘Surveyor of Fabric’ on some new mind boggling landscape extravaganza?!”

  • Spike Lounge
  • The Walk
  • Rub Al Khali Coastal
  • Rub Al Khali Inland
  • Liwa Qsar
  • The Nursery
  • Finding Majlis
  • Library Majlis
  • Villa Majlis
  • Long and Short
  • Pilgrimage
  • Wanderweg
  • Appendix 1:  Berner Oberland Back Story
  • Author’s Notes
  • Plant List
  • Colophon


(to be continued)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

**Blatant Plug: If you find this writing about humans and landscape intriguing, please share it with your like-minded friends. Thank you.**


Garden Design, Horticulture and Fog

Monochromatic: the transition from fall into winter has brought fog to the mountainsides and lakesides.  Only the foreground can be seen.

Monochromatic: the transition from fall into winter has brought fog to the mountainsides and lakesides. Only the foreground can be seen.

Fog in the literature of garden design and horticulture–I have always sought clarity in textbooks and popular writing from the fields of garden design and horticulture.

But unfortunately in both fields the more I read the more finely subdivided became the material of those fields–finer and finer until I became lost in a fog.

You may just write me off as another searching for the holy grail but…I have found lessons to be learned from the larger landscape that can inform those who try their hand at horticulture and garden design.

Fog is a monochromatic filter and winter is a gray scale reality.  Both lessen the detail and the variety our eyes have to interpret.

So in my garden design, I need only water, healthy soil, light, minerals, deciduous plants and evergreens.

Or is that just the folly of a desktop gardener?

Gray Scale: lessens the detail that our eyes have to interpret.

Gray Scale: lessens the detail that our eyes have to interpret.