Saturday, June 30, 2012

Garden Notes & 'Floriade 2012'

The Almshouse courtyard. More Photos [More Photos]
A recent June visit to the Netherlands, a nation of compelled engineer/agriculturalists, as guests of my brother and sister-in-law, provided me with endless observations. The trip's ostensible goal was Floriade 2012, the World Horticultural Expo, which is organized once every ten years in the Netherlands, and is being held this year in Venlo, southwest Netherlands. With an expected number of two million visitors, Floriade is the largest event being staged in the Netherlands in 2012.
However, before we set foot on the 66-hectare (163-acre) Venlo expo site, many other indelible images had formed, beginning with the aircraft's approach from out over the North Sea to Schiphol Airport. The cloud cover parted, and not one but two vast wind farms materialized through the dawn mists as I gazed down onto the waters below. Banking to the right we came in over IJmuiden and the Noordzeekanaal, and began our descent.
All jumbled and interspersed with each other, below lay giant industrial complexes with billowing smokestacks, green fields under cultivation or dotted with dairy cattle, modern business developments, roadways, lines of enormous wind turbines, canals, housing developments, traditional windmills, railway tracks, tree-shrouded farmsteads with tiled roofs — and then the runway and touchdown.
Breezing through customs, we jumped on a commuter train and were shortly and smoothly delivered to Santpoort-Zuid, just as the Dutch day was starting. By forenoon we found ourselves on bikes pedaling into Haarlem, the city of Frans Hals, and trying to adjust to several realities: how the country — horse and cows, manure smells — goes right up to the city; and just how neatly the bikeways (fietspads), with their own traffic lights, transport thousands and thousands of cyclists going about their business in this flat land: commuting to work, grocery shopping, hauling, traveling to and from school, toddler transport — in short, everything bike-related, except recreation. No helmets.
Entering the city and traversing the medieval market square with the grand St. Bavo church and Stadhuis, we parked the bikes among a couple of hundred others, and wended our way through an open-air market well-stocked with gorgeous spring crops, such as broad beans, asparagus, lettuces, carrots, and a wide variety of mushrooms.
The streets are narrow, clean, of edge-laid brick, often herringboned; again, commercial areas, residential ones, churches, and small quiet squares, are fitted in side by side. Compact plantings and containers spilling over with lush annuals feature colorfully in every streetscape; and roses seemed to be everywhere, planted in a little square of soil, formed by removing a couple of bricks, and fastened to the downspout.
My brother and sister-in-law were particularly eager to show us the Haarlem almshouse societies, characterized by diminutive houses clustered around sheltered courtyard-gardens, built centuries back for the care of the needy. Eighteen of these societies still exist in Haarlem, their housing nowadays coveted by a wider demographic of the city's residents.
The almshouse interior courts are paragons of repose, often with several majestic shade trees around the perimeter and centered with lawn and boxwood-edged beds. The householders' own plantings — window boxes, pots, and roses — brighten the outer edges of the courtyards.
The multitude of towering bloom-covered planters we saw everywhere piqued my curiosity. The stylish low, concrete pots contained pyramids of scarlet pelargoniums (hortorum-interspecific Caliente types), trained up rebar and bamboo frameworks like so many bean towers. The plants were well tied in, and their bloom and foliage density was such that I could not discover how many plugs were used. I wondered how much lead time is necessary to produce such a pyramid.
On our return to Santpoort we cycled past an extensive layout of allotment gardens that we were to pass often in the next ten days, which belong to area residents. Wherever we went in the Netherlands we spotted these pieces of land filled with allotment gardens. Glimpsing the style of the plots over the fence and through the beautiful windbreaks (clipped hawthorne, hornbeam, and Acer campestre among others), it was apparent these gardeners mean business.
When I stated earlier that the Dutch are a nation of compelled engineer/agriculturalists, I should have explained that they have made their country, creating everything they have got through persistence and ingenuity. The Netherlands is geographically low-lying, with about 50 percent of its land lying less than one meter above sea level and 25 percent of its area and 2 percent of its population located below it.
The Lowlands and their population would not exist were it not for a dogged ability to take a crap non-land, pump it out and wrest it from the sea, learn to make it productive, save it through countless disasters and near-disasters by inspired engineering gambits, and become prosperous in the process. Talk about lemons to lemonade: globally the Netherlands is ranked 60th in population, 134th in land area, 2nd in food production/export, and 9th in per capita income.
Never have I seen so much grown, so carefully, in spaces of approximately 50 by 50 feet. Every square foot producing: dwarf fruit trees; peas and pole beans strictly tied in and supported; potato and onion patches; carefully netted berries of many kinds — currents, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries; peony beds; tiny greenhouses holding trained tomato and grapevines above, strawberries below, and small trays of seedlings balanced along the plate. These plots are like fairyland!
In North Holland, manures from varied nearby livestock sources are everywhere and abundant, and the plants and soils in the beds look as if they have received their share. I am guessing that is commonplace throughout the country. All green waste of every description and from all sources is collected and composted municipally, then made available to residents.
Throughout our stay, the growing season very closely matched our own here on the Vineyard. This represents a big change: historically the American climate lags two to three weeks behind that of northern Europe and the British Isles.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

'My Green World' at 'Floriade 2012'

Orange stained Finnish hardwoods wrap an egg shaped pavilion dubbed “My Green World” designed by2D3D. The project took only 6 months from concept to completion using roboticly precut wood members with a resulting woven exterior reminiscent of a seed. The building was commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation for the Floriade 2012 Expo in Venlo, the Netherlands.
The self supporting wooden sphere stands 15 meters tall, 35.2 meters long, and 14.4 meters wide. Units were built as ‘cartridges’ off-site and assembled into a self supporting grid. All wood is sustainably harvested.  The timber strand beams and stained plywood skin is gridded with large windows throughout. Set to the solar south the structure is evenly daylit and illuminated by LED lighting at night. A separately supported floor is entered though an elevated bridge.
Like a great orange seed parlaying its environmental message the color reflects the Dutch’s relationship with the glowing color. Originally the color of the royal family orange has become a mark of Dutch popular society evidenced in 30’s wealthy circles to the national football team. The 1200 square meter program contains Dutch environmental innovation displays and will be turned into offices after the expo concludes.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

'Floriade 2012' may deliver logistics legacy and green growth

Sustainable tourism - the jury is still out
Because Holland is branding itself as "Holland Naturally" and this year"s big event was said to have a massive environmental ethos, I decided to have a look at the World"s biggest flower show. Holland"s Floriade   only happens every 10 years so this year had to be the year. I wanted to understand the opportunities for true sustainable tourism in a place where sustainability at the heart of the matter.
I remembered Venlo from years ago as train border point between Holland and Germany and, sensibly, that"s where  Floriade 2012 is being held. North Limburg is also the second biggest horticultural region in Holland.
The city is now a massive logistic centre, warehousing and ferrying goods by train and lorry all over Europe - in particular Germany and the central European countries. There are transport opportunities everywhere - the city is set right on the River Meuse, at the heart of the European rail network, is slap bang on the motorway and within 50km of three big international airports.
A big issue in the city is the new Greenport  - a unique collaboration between the private and public sectors, science, education and the environment. Here the close collaboration between the various parties are set to provide a unique boost to the economy of North Limburg over the coming decades.
The development will comprise more than 5400 hectares of new innovative business parks harmonising with the surrounding landscape developed in the Greenport Venlo area on the basis of the Cradle2Cradle (C2C) principles. Sustainability is said to be the keyword in the development and implementation process.
Venlo and North Limburg are major partners in the Floriade itself. What the partners will get as a legacy will be an innovative, distinctive business park with a focus on sustainability in a green environment right opposite Fresh Park Venlo.
Venlo Greenpark will be the business park of the future: offices, business services, clean, advanced high-tech industry and research & development in a park-like setting.
Good transportation opportunities are good for tourism too.
My visit to Venlo was a delight in itself. The mainly pedestrianised town is well-kept and has lost none of its fabulous 17th century charm. Also, from a leisure point of view, there are café terraces everywhere offering the chance to relax and enjoy a drink or two in the quiet cobbled streets, along the river or in the delightful main square. The whole town is friendly and attractive.
At the Floriade there is a major green ethos - in particular the educational aspects which include a number of dedicated pavilions and areas. All of the buildings incorporate an environmental aspect, in particular the glass house Villa Flora and the Innovatoren.
To get a good idea of what is becoming possible and the home of the future a visit to the education and innovation section and my green world is awe-inspiring.
The main point of the Floriade is to be a massive horticultural showground to attract millions of visitors, to entertain them and send them away with the message that Holland is the home to world horticulture.
The 66 hectares are planted with 1.8 million bulbs, 18,000 shrubs, 190,000 perennials, 15,000 hedge plants, 5,000 rose bushes and 3,000 trees. There are 5 theme worlds, 100 exhibitor gardens and stacks of interesting structures. Guests can travel around the site on the 1.1km of cable car to get a birds eye view, enjoy great entertainment at the World Stage amphitheatre, and eat at a variety of fast-food outlets or at one of the 5 restaurants. A full day ticket costs €25 (€30 with a cable car ride).
Clearly a great day out for visitors and a massive showcase for Holland"s horticulture. Well worth the investment.
Is it sustainable? Obviously, with a projected 2 million visitors there will be a great sustainable educational aspect; leaving a legacy to North Limburg of green buildings and a green multipurpose park will be a tremendous local benefit and the green efforts will minimize the carbon footprint of the exhibition itself.
But major opportunities have been missed. Predominantly visitors (80% of whom are to come from Holland and Germany) arrive by car, visit the park and go home, although there is a fabulous train service to Venlo and a shuttle bus service to the park. Much more could have been made of the opportunities to travel by train or coach and stay in the area for a longer period delivering many more benefits to the local population.
And the local area is fabulous. Venlo itself is a treasure and, as more and more is done to the Meuse riverside, the opportunities for walking, boating and cycling deliver the basics for superb holiday breaks. A week"s holiday in this area would be well-rewarded.
One plus the Floriade delivers is a big shop for local producers - remember this is an area focused on the land and food is a high priority. Local specialities include Speculaas (great caramel/cinnamon biscuits), Limburgse Vlaai (delicious local fruit pie in 50 different types), Wafels, Stroep (local fruit syrup), superb honeys, all kinds of meat and agricultural products and the world-famous local asparagus.
It"s simply a pity that few visitors get to try this cornucopia of tastes and enjoy the wonderful hospitality in a local town café.
So the message is visit the Floriade, come by train and spend a few days in the local area - you certainly won"t be disappointed. For more information go to

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Floriade 2012: The Netherlands' Once-a-Decade Show

Floriade Pavilion 2

Plant lovers rejoice. The The Floriade 2012 World Horticultural Expo is here! Every decade, a different Dutch town hosts a horticultural fair called Floriade. The current Floriade is in Venlo, the Netherlands.

Growers from various nations show off their talents at Floriade pavilions. Some of the pavilions focus on aesthetics. Others demonstrate cutting edge technology or explain environmental concerns. Landscapers created the 160 acre grounds for Floriade 2012 from farmland and woods. In keeping with a green ethos, the infrastructure built for Floriade 2012 will be put to good use as an industrial park after the fair is over.

Floriade Pavillion 2Photo: EnergieAgentur NRW

slideshow of Floriade 2012 captures the stunning displays at the fair. Numerous flowers impress visitors with their vibrant colors and diverse shapes. Cable cars transport attendees across the fair as they gaze at the view below. And pavilions range from traditional and meditative to futuristic and vivid.

Floriade was spectacular enough to make the news outside of Europe. A Vancouver Sun writer described the compact gardens, national pavilions and acoustically wired woodlands at Floriade. A reporter at ABS-CBN News also covered the event.
Patio DesignPhoto: nikontino

It is easy to see why Floriade impressed so many people. The designs at the festival blend functional space and outdoor recreation harmoniously. Consider the patio design pictured above, for example. The frame around the space defines it without separating it from the surrounding environment. The painted hutch simultaneously provides storage and pulls the greenery into the arrangement. Muted colors on the rest of the furniture and on the ground stand in stark contrast to the green lawn.

Garden DesignPhoto: nikontino

Flowers are a given at Floriade, but the plantings aren't limited to ornamental species. Fruits and vegetables are also among the mix. The strawberry garden above has strawberry plants in raised planters so they are easy to tend and pick. The geometric layout of the pathways complement the angular greenhouse in the background. A whimsical sculpture adds a bit of charm to an otherwise utilitarian garden. Who wouldn't want to visit this landscape for a quick snack?

Floriade is a celebration of horticulture for all to enjoy. The Floriade website gives details for anyone who wants to attend. The event will last until October. Live music, sporting events, films and dining enliven the festivities at night. Beautiful landscape designs calm the mind and please the senses. And informative exhibits raise environmental awareness and disseminate horticultural know-how. Acres of wonder await visitors to Venlo this year, but they must hurry. By the time an early snow covers the land, Floriade will be gone for another decade.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Floriade 2012: World Horticultural Expo Returns To The Netherlands

As the largest bulb flower park in the world, Keukenhof is spread out over nearly 80 acres, with seven million flower bulbs planted by hand. But no worries if you didn't catch the colorful rite of spring, it returns again next year for two months, March 21-May 20, 2013.
Another impressive floral event, which happens only once every decade in The Netherlands, is the Floriade Horticultural Expo. This year it's being held in the region of Venlo, made up of seven communities and located southeast of Amsterdam near the German and Belgian borders. As one of the largest horticultural producing regions within Europe, this year's edition is spread out over 163 acres known as the Venlo Green Park.
The 2012 theme, "Be part of the theatre in nature, get closer to the quality of life," acknowledges the contribution of Dutch horticulture to the quality of life. Floriade 2012 is more an experience than a showcase. When I visited shortly before its April 5 opening, they were still putting the finishing touches on the exhibition, and if I had a chance to see it in all its glory, I would. The six-month exhibition runs through Oct. 20, 2012.
Taking five years to create, at a price tag of 43.5 million Euros, there are five themes throughout the exhibition. Each area is separated by a woodland, and the five "worlds" include: Relax & Heal, Green Engine, Education & Innovation, Environment and World Show Stage. Two of the buildings on the ground are permanent, including Villa Flora, the largest indoor flower exhibition in Europe. Floriade 2012 is not so much a theme park as a place to spend a day or two, exploring and relaxing, and enjoying a meal in one of the five cafes or from the various kiosks spread throughout the grounds. It's been well thought out, with much attention to detail.
The numbers alone are impressive: 100+ gardens and pavilions; 1.8 million bulbs; 18,000 shrubs; 190,000 perennials; 15,000 hedge plants; 5,000 rose bushes; and 4,000 trees. Sustainability was key in creating the exposition, from reusing the rainwater, soil and green waste to implementing sustainable construction practices and being mindful of the post-event use of the site.
Floriade 2012 is more than flowers and greenery. Each day there's a cultural program of music, dance, literature, theater and visual art from around the world. And kids are definitely in the mix. At the entrance, families receive a free Floriade Kids expedition guide, and there are play areas for children in each of the five theme worlds. They can even meet Willow Man, an eccentric character who lives in the woods where he built tree houses from branches and waste wood. And there are plenty of picnic areas for families.
During the summer, weekend evening programs include open air cinema, a light show and various performers. For travelers, there are plenty of tourist accommodations and other opportunities in the region, which may be found at

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Floriade 2012: Holland’s garden party

Once every 10 years, Holland stages Floriade, the world’s premier horticultural extravaganza. CNN lists the event as one of the 10 top world destinations for 2012.

And it’s not surprising.
Officially, the event is referred to as an exposition, but perhaps the Olympics of Horticulture would be a more apt handle for this six month event (it runs until October). This year it takes place in the southeast part of Holland — in Venlo near the German border. Holland has dressed up over 66 hectares of once fallow farmland and invited the world to its garden party.
Dozens of countries are participating to create five unique themed worlds: Relax & Heal, Green Engine, Education & Innovation, Environment and the World Show Stage. Each area offers pavilions and exhibits featuring programms and activities to reflect its theme. In each “world,” visitors are served up a cultural menu of music, dance, literature, theatre and visual art.
Yes, plants and flowers feature prominently and they are dressed in their party best. While wildflowers quietly bloom in the woods, the park has been planted with 3,000 trees, 1.8 million bulbs, 5,000 rose bushes and 190,000 perennials. As the season progresses, the grounds will be ablaze in waves of colour and texture creating an ever-changing landscape.
Displays offer gardeners ideas to take home with them, with an emphasis on getting close to nature. The “Willow Bike Riders” in the Luxembourg’s garden illustrate how natural products can be used creatively in garden design.
For the flower-mad, Villa Flora in the Green Engine world is the place to be, with the largest indoor floral exhibition in Europe. Here the designs dazzles with wild and wonderful floral art and sculptural design.
In the Relax and Heal world you can explore how horticulture contributes to better health and wellbeing. A serene looking pool with a fire-breathing dragon at the water’s edge makes you wonder if we need both calm moments and a little excitement to better cope with the challenges of life.
Many architecturally interesting buildings dotted throughout the park attract lots of attention, starting with the 70 metre-high building that greets you at the entrance. Known as The Innovatoren, designed by Architect Jo Coenen, the building is destined to become part of Venlo GreenPark — an innovative business park focused on sustainability and innovation. Spain’s colourful facade demands attention.
Then there is the fun and quirky; a full-size tree, its trunk enveloped in a knitted “tree cosy,” garden chairs shaped like tulips that fold up when not in use, and innovative products like the recyclable packaging that individually coddles each flower bulb.
For more information, go to