Food Gardens

The history of the Interlaken landscape before river channel control was one of a swamp as the Lutschine and Lombach emptied huge Alpine catchments into this flat land adjacent to the Aare River.

Up the valleys Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, Saxeten and Lombach where swampiness was not a problem, people have for centuries managed arable land to support their families. Particularly in the Grindelwald area, there are seven centuries of written records documenting how they managed the landscape.

So this region has a tradition of agriculture, crop and animal management in family scale over the lands from Alpine heights to valley floors. The following series of images show how the Interlaken neighborhoods now follow that same tradition of small land management and family food gardens today.

…001/015…

Most families dedicate a patch for seasonal vegetables close to their house.

…002/015…

Veg, flowers, and a place to sit outside.

…003/015…

This ‘front yard’ is 80% mixed garden, with little strip of grass–maybe for a pet.

…004/015…

A garden filled with healthy plants speaks of health and commitment to neighbors and passersby.

…005/015…

When the yard is large enough, there will be found a fruit tree. If even larger, a nut tree.

…006/015…

Each homeowner finds unique balance with the plantings of flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables.

…007/015…

Municipal water supply for allotment gardens for people who have no gardening space at home.

…008/015…

In the allotments, beauty comes from sweat equity. Healthy allotment gardens are the best of public realm commitments–people and plants in harmony–heart warming it is.

…009/015…

Past the edge of town is a rural landscape with small scale patches of crops.

…010/015…

Small scale farming climbs up the slopes becoming pastures which are grazed and/or cut for animals.

…011/015…

Villages are densely built in the foreground. Pastures in the middle ground with barns for storing hay.

…012/015…

I just can’t stop including more images of healthy veg gardens next to homes–such a fulfilling feeling.

…013/015…

In this image is a public path on the right–and one heck of a healthy veg garden to the left. Tell me that is not a beautiful and inspiring landscape?!

…014/015…

Pasture in the foreground, veg in middle ground, flowers and home in the background. Nuf said.

…015/015…

Fruit trees and crops right up to the edge of town, then each home with its own veg and flower garden. It is not ideology, not theory. It is fact. It is the result of people understanding plants, gardens and landscapes through their own hard work and intelligence.

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Dubai Landscape: the humans

…quarry for Gulf construction…

The Hajar mountains run along the Emirati and Omani border. Directly on the coast of the Gulf of Oman, they actually collect reasonable monsoon rain remnants about 1,000km south at Salalah, just before the Yemeni border. But here in this photo, the rainfall is rare. These mountains are quarry resources for the entire Gulf region.

…having fun yet?…

The Desert Zone bumps against the Mountain Zone. In the Desert Zone, only the presence of water supports humans. Even with water, humans struggle in the Empty Quarter.

…take the airs…

Avicenna marina, al qurm in Arabic. Salt water plants. Mangroves, lots of them in the region; except in Dubai where they are found only in the Ras al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary–in the heart of Dubai Municipality. Mangroves enabled coastal life and architecture (branches for lintels and beams), fodder (leaves), cooking (charcoal). Besides date palms, they had no other woody plants.

…safe at last…or…

Dubai urbanification–this is the Coastal Zone. In fact, it is the heart of a growing 200km long megalopolis connecting Ras al Kaimah in the north to Abu Dhabi in the south. And it was once…Empty Quarter.

Spring Sun Glory

…glories fill my soul…And I woke up to this glorious sunshine–these huge dancing displays of spring green foliage–an ebullient reality…freshly mown patches of domestic lawn in the air…freshly cut first hay of the season in the air…all those smells, fragrances, Syringa, Philadelphus, aromas…weaving in and out of each other…rubbing over each other…exuding…resonating…deeply…again and again…

Filled my lungs again and again until I became inside out dizzy with its sweetness…then I made a mistake.

I read a newspaper. In the article, I was warned that too many cow farts would doom life as I was enjoying it. Naw…ain’t gonna believe that am I? Spring is here. I’m going out for a walk before I miss it!

…too busy…I almost missed Spring…12 of 12…beginninglast

The Last Kilometer

…don't fight it…

Erik Chalmers, American born and bred professional landscape architect, used all his skills to manage these very large, complex iconic projects in the Arabian Peninsula. He knew that the multi-cultural and technical complexities required not simply a left side of the brain number crunching iron will; but they also required what he called…performance art.

What is the magic–what are the skills required to succeed on these huge complex projects being designed and built in such challenging and downright dangerous environments? Erik Chalmers’ post project notes give insight into his successes.

But Erik Chalmers, for the first time in decades on an assignment without his wife Madge, was about to learn if he had done one project too many and lost his one true emotional certainty, his one true root.

…it is…

Chalmers felt what he had missed over the past eight months–the fullness of the water, the plants, the soil, the wholeness–it was holistic, it was an existential comfort.

Following is a short narrative from Chapter 13: Pilgrimage, that imparts some of the landscape connections in The 23 Club.

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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

  • Desertification
  • It’s 2AM
  • 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

               The Last Kilometer

Chalmers was returning after eight months on his own. Nobody in the UAE called him Erik. It had been eight months of Chalmers. Eight months of taking care of his own meals, his own shopping, his own laundry. It was the little stuff that informed his daily life culture. It was the little stuff that built up…big time.

As the train took Chalmers closer to his stop, his thoughts turned to Madge. He was returning to his shared spaces, his shared life. Chalmers was becoming Erik again. He missed Madge; but he was uncertain how this return would be. Long distance communications always filtered, always blurred emotions.

Chalmers recalled the worst of his time away…he had not been able to hide his week in the hospital from Madge. He was supposed to have gone to Singapore for silk; but her worst fear came true. He had been injured in an automobile accident and hospitalized. She suffered to hear about it from distance. Sorry just did not cover it…from either side.

He arrived at Lauterbrunnen and thought, it won’t be long now.

He transferred from the train to the funicular. It was late in the afternoon and the sky was overcast. This time of year there was little difference between the valley village and the small plateau up where he and Madge lived. Fall plants were already naked of leaves. The first big snow could come any day. The temperature 5ºC or below; frost threatened.

As the funicular rose, Chalmers recalled his excitement nearly nine months ago when he was asked to help fix the first five star resort destination deep in the Empty Quarter. It had been about the challenge. It had been about his joy in providing beautiful gardens for people.

Now the job was complete. The gardens were a success. The owner was satisfied, happy. That world was finished. Now he was home.

And he was worried. Had he traded off something of emotion and trust, something he had held closely with Madge, just to build a couple gardens?

  • 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.**

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The Heat…and the relief

…give me shelter…

Who would not want to walk here? But, you can not feel the temperature, you can not sweat the heat in this photo. Can you imagine, while you are sitting comfortably in your temperate climate–can you imagine 18 hours a day outside with the ambient air temperature higher than your body temperature?

Yet, here in the United Arab Emirates, on the blazing edges of that aggressive sand dune desert, the Empty Quarter, with the addition of top soil, irrigation water and proper maintenance for carefully selected and protected plants, beautiful gardens have been built; and for short walks they are wonderfully inspirational, as Erik Chalmers discovers and shares.

Following is a short part from Chapter 9: Finding Majlis to impart some of the landscape feeling of The 23 Club.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

  • Desertification
  • It’s 2AM
  • Spike Lounge
  • The Walk
  • Rub Al Khali Coastal
  • Rub Al Khali Inland
  • Liwa Qsar
  • The Nursery
  • Finding Majlis

               The Heat and the Relief

Early in his expatriate career, Chalmers had a mentor–a mentor who had for decades already been working in Iran, Turkey and the Arab Middle East. He told Chalmers not to overestimate his professional position, that their white collar management, their consultancy positions in the pecking order here were exactly the same as the sweaty laborers on site. White collar, blue collar–no difference–hired, manipulable and replaceable. They were all ‘no counters’.

In time, experience in this part of the world had taught Chalmers that strict plans and aggressive adherence to them would guarantee the cross cultural undoing of any Western professional. But, he also knew that without a plan, these large projects could never succeed in the time frame required. He always kept an overall plan foremost in his mind. That gave him big picture guidelines such that he could always revise the details in real time, according to the unpredictable vagaries of time, circumstance, people. Including cunning and masquerade, nothing was left out of his box of tools to build inspirational and beautiful gardens and landscapes. This was performance art in action. That is how Chalmers thought of his work–performance art.

It was Thursday. Theuns van der Walt wanted his update and briefing at 9PM at The Library, a place, part of a spa in a large hotel where he sometimes met a couple key Emiratis who had interest in his Empty Quarter Project, Liwa Qsar. To prepare himself for that briefing, Chalmers planned to arrive earlier than usual to sit with his old friend, the Belgian Ethnobotanist, Jean-Claude Thibaut. Chalmers wanted to review his own findings, to cross check them against Jean-Claude’s knowledge of political and social contexts in this region.

The Library, where Chalmers was to meet Jean-Claude, and later Theuns, was a refuge, carefully hidden, deep, within a mysterious sequence of intimate, private gardens. Chalmers looked forward to walking through these gardens. He fancied a dalliance.

  • 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.**

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Desert Street Trees

…dates…food…life…

The founder of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed, understood the hardships of the sand desert landscape. His intent for trees along all major routes of travel was eminently practical–his selection of drought tolerant, evergreen and fruit bearing trees more so.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

     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

  • Desertification
  • It’s 2AM
  • Spike Lounge
  • The Walk
  • Rub Al Khali Coastal

               Desert Street Trees

The weather in combination with the landscape, overwhelmed. Winds and sand swept continuously. Urban development anomalies in this desert were embarrassingly exposed in this kind of weather. Driving along Sheik Zayed Road in the Emirate of Dubai, Chalmers observed a noteworthy absence of any trees, any street trees, anything green. Nothing impeded the winds and sand flowing across the road.

After he and Jean-Claude passed the signs marking the end of the huge empty Waterfront site, they entered the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Immediately street trees began–actually a planting thicker than street trees, more like a shelterbelt planting began–two rows of trees up the median and four rows on either verge.

The big infrastructure of irrigation water provision–hundreds upon hundreds of kilometers of pipes, valves and tubes with emitters, with controllers, with electrical supply, with pumps, pump stations, reservoirs, desalination and sewage treatment plants–always broke down at the lowest common denominator, the last meter before arriving at the plants. Chalmers looked carefully. He could see irrigation lines–the thin tubes of generic poly pipe running between the trees.

Poly pipe tubing may be UV resistant. It may be buried at the time of installation–but the incessant blowing sands always uncovered it–and the value engineering often saved money by suggesting a supplier that did not provide the best rated tubing. The flexible tubing looked like a snake rising up out of the sand and going down into it again and again. Sun exposed brittle and splitting pipe–then partially clogged outlets–both and more contributed to an irrigation of impossible efficiencies and irregular applications–wastage everywhere.

Recalling having seen these problems for more than twenty five years, Chalmers sighed with disappointment–as if he had just been kicked in the gut. At the same time, Madge’s comments about the quality of local contractors’ work and materials came searing back into his memory. Before he could sigh again, he looked hard at the trees, trees obviously straining under the wind and drought conditions.

Chalmers roughly estimated 90% of the trees were alive–that could only mean two things:  that drought tolerant tree species were used, and that laborers were regularly walking these lines to assure delivery of water to the trees. Spaghettis of pipe ran for kilometers to drip out that life giving fluid–so fragile was life for plants in this region.

On previous projects, Chalmers had seen tens upon tens of huge water tanker trucks rumbling 24/7 to supplant failed irrigation water infrastructure–causing untold stress on resources, on transportation networks and on the plants themselves. This issue would be a major point that he must control on his new project.

Offering historical background, Jean-Claude interrupted Chalmers’ thoughts, “When you mentioned Electra and New Dubai, you hinted there might be some kind of competition between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Well, that’s true. On every level there’s competition between the two emirates, even street trees.

“Listen, throughout his life, Sheik Zayed of Abu Dhabi, the very same Emirati who united the Emirates in 1970, was a major supporter of the practical benefits of shade trees and fruit-bearing trees, especially the date palms. So he chose the most useful and tough trees, Phoenix dactylifera, Ziziphus spina-christi, Prosopis cineraria…and with supporting irrigation, planted them for desert shelterbelt buffers, along all major highways. And that, that’s what we’re seeing out there right now.”

Chalmers said, “It’s pretty clear Sheik Zayed not only had common sense, but also the wealth, resources and will power to apply it.”

“Exactly, he was special. He and those around him have been quoted numerous times on the subject of trees, saying things like…farmers grow date palms in hareems…a date palm must have its feet in the water and its head in the fires of heaven…dried dates and camel milk on land–dried dates and black tea for the pearlers. C’est vrai, it’s clear Sheik Zayed had the intelligence to demonstrate the better of human qualities–humans caring for plants that in turn themselves serve humans.”

  • 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.**

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Kismet

…remember…

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

               Kismet

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.**

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