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Garden Edition, February 2003
Book review: Garden and Climate by Chip Sullivan

by Linda Coyner

Anyone who has stood in the cathedral created by a stand of tall conifers or basked in the exquisite warmth collected in a sunny nook on a winter day will be able to appreciate Chip Sullivan' message in Garden and Climate (McGraw-Hill). His study of passive methods of controlling climate is likely to interest gardeners as well as architects. Garden and Climate, which won the award of the American Society of Landscape Architects, looks back at historic gardens for ways to control climate that can be applied to today's gardens.

In this beautifully illustrated book, Sullivan leisurely takes the reader on a tour of the formal gardens of the Persians, Romans, and Renaissance Italians uncovering examples of landscape design and architecture that work with nature to control climate. Sullivan is a landscape artist as well as an architect, and he brings both talents to bear in this book. His own sketches and lovely watercolors recreate the ancient gardens and illustrate their design elements, showing how they work with the sun, wind, water and earth.

The author sets out to show how such things as water fountains and orientation to the sun can have a dramatic effect on cooling and heating while contributing to the beauty of the garden. If applied to today's landscape architecture, such garden features have the ability to reduce energy use, especially for heating and cooling homes and commercial buildings.

Sullivan examines the garden in all its dimensions: the physical, psychological, aesthetic and climatic and, in so doing, transports the reader to those lovely, faraway places. By chapter's end, the reader is inspired to think of how those methods might be applied to his or her garden. Hopefully it will be as inspiring to landscape architects as well.

The book organizes the early methods of environmental design into four sections: Earth (and its cooling effects), Fire (the warming effect of the sun), Air (and its cooling effects) and Water (again for cooling). Each section cites examples of design elements that conserve the environment while making it more comfortable and pleasurable for the users. At the end of each discussion, the author explains how to apply a particular design element in a contemporary situation.

For instance, early air-conditioning ranged from something as simple as grassy seats, grottoes, shady tunnels, and pruned walks to the more elaborate: subterranean rooms, boscoes (an outdoor room of densely planted trees), pineta (pines planted in geometric grids) and cryptoportici (an underground corridor providing air circulation and sheltered access). Solar energy was captured in courtyards, stone seats, limonaia (or lemon house) and sunny terraces.

Water has long been used for its cooling effect, both physically and psychologically. Wet walks, calm pools, cascading sheets of water and kinetic displays of aerated water are a few of the examples discussed. Especially intriguing is a device called the 'water joke' created by early Italian designers, in which sudden bursts of water as a mist or cascading arch startles or moves visitors to another part of the garden. The nozzles are cleverly hidden in the anatomical parts of sculpture, grotto ceilings, or even the seats of stone benches.

The author concludes with the hope that the four elements of the book (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) will be fused into a new approach to landscape architecture that makes gardens functional microclimates as well as artful and spiritually enlightening places. Chip Sullivan believes that the solution to the challenge of finite resources lies within the garden.

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