The History of Landscaping – Quite a Story

Up until about a hundred years ago, the average person didn’t have a lawn to worry about. They were too busy going to work, putting food on the table, and trying to educate their children. It was only when people started leaving the farming life for the life of the cities and suburbs that single-family houses sprang up in droves, and people had the money to spend on such luxuries as landscaping.

Which is not to say that landscaping is a brand new profession. As early as the 1800s, the wealthy of practically any country were able to employ professional artisans to build gardens and landscape their homes. Of course, they weren’t average people, but nevertheless it’s fun to learn about the forerunners of today’s landscape designer.

The most famous is the British landscape designer, “Capability” Brown. His real name was Lancelot Brown, but it was his habit to look at a piece of real estate and say, “It has capabilities,” and t hat is how he got his nickname. Brown has been called England’s “most famous gardener.” He was born in 1716 and died in 1783, and yet over a hundred years later his legacy lives on. Over 44 of his gardens are still in existence today (he designed over 170). Of course that’s because he designed these gardens for the “landed families”, or nobility, who were not about to sell their mansion every ten years and move up to a bigger one.

Prior to Capability Brown, the landed families had huge “formal gardens.” Brown changed all that, encouraging his clients to make use of a more naturalistic design, with compositions of grass, clumps of trees, and pools and lakes.

England has Capability Brown, the United States has Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted was born in 1822 and died in 1903. He went to Yale and studied agricultural science and engineering.

In 1853, the New York legislature decided that they’d have to create a park in the middle of the city, for their many inhabitants. They held a contest to decide who would design it, and Frederick Olmsted and his partner, English architect Calvert Vaux, were awarded the contract, to create a “greensward,” as Olmsted termed it. ” The park was not created on barren land, however – many poor people and free blacks were evicted from their homes under eminent domain so that the park could be placed there. (Not that that was Olmsted’s fault – that’s where the legislature wanted the park, and that’s where they were going to put it regardless.)

Olmsted went on to make a career out of creating city parks – indeed he conceived the system of parks and interconnecting parkways. Two of the best examples are the park system he designed for Buffalo, New York, and the system for Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Olmsted and his partners also designed over 355 school and college campuses.

So as you walk through your city and see all the greenspaces and landscaping, spare a thought for the landscape architects who brought all this beauty to you. Studying the history of landscape architecture is fun and informative.

Leave A Legacy – Post-Olympic Thoughts

The Olympics is over but what is the legacy of it that will be left behind? This was the big question in the initial planning and it seemed was the trite justification being trotted out when questions were being raised about vast sums of money going to fund such an event. Now, I’m not knocking the Games at all – I thought it was terrific to see such a variety of sport and for the first time ever became engrossed by the four-yearly spectacle. I do wonder though whether all the money spent will make any difference to the average British person.

Having said all that, what is legacy all about? Is it simply about the infrastructure and opportunities available to us in the future or is it related to how we have changed? One commentator suggested that maybe the legacy of the games would be that people now acknowledge the value of persistent and sustained encouragement and will put that into practice on a more local level, supporting those around them. Having watched the athletes do amazing things, they may also urge one another to be more self-sufficient and call on reserves of inner strength in order to achieve, even at a moderate level. “If Tom Daley or Ben Ainslie can put initial set backs behind them then surely we can too.”

As a coach committed to people developing their potential, overcoming obstacles, becoming who they want to be and achieving their goals, I can only agree with these as being worthy outcomes from this major event. If people take up more sport in the next months and years then that would be great. However, if they develop and grow personally, then they will be the ones leaving the legacy for the people that come after them.

There has been, and I’m sure will continue to be, much talk in the media about the legacy of the Olympics; for Boris, for the monarchy, for the east end of London, for the nation. I am primarily interested though in what your legacy will be. It might be related to your sporting achievements or not. What great things will you leave behind you? For me there are three questions to look at:

  • What mark will you leave behind?
  • Who will benefit from it?
  • What are the foundations to lay and how is the building progressing?

What mark will you leave behind?

Often legacy is a word that is synonymous with money and possessions – it is that which is apportioned by the due legal process of will reading. This though is to constrain it as a word and an idea to the merely tangible.

Now, your legacy might well be stored in physical things. Buildings and monuments can well be a legacy left to your family, town or country; much like the Olympic stadium, it may be used for generations to come. This is especially true it seems in a country like Germany where the tradition of building a house and then passing it on to your children is stronger than in the UK.

Money

Maybe you will leave a whole pile of money behind when you are gone which might prove to be a legacy for people known to you or others further afield. Certainly the value of this legacy will not lie in the amount but in what it is spent on. Take for example someone like Bill Gates who has used some of his vast fortune to set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which, according to their website, aims to “help all people lead healthy, productive lives”. Consequently, money is spent, in the USA and further afield on mainly health-related programmes, such as Rotary International’s polio eradication scheme.

Buildings

Possibly your legacy will be a public building, maybe even named in your honour. I was hearing this week about ‘Clare Short schools’ in Malawi – the MP and Minister for International Development was responsible for arranging funding for building them and so she is remembered.

Ideas

You could leave behind an invention or idea that transforms life for people. Another Rotary International example springs to mind of Tom Henderson from Cornwall who created ShelterBox, a project providing crates for families in disaster areas that contains what they need for temporary rehousing when everything else has gone. Read all about it at http://www.shelterbox.org

Organisations

Could your legacy be an organisation or association that you have started, like Robert Baden-Powell did? I work with a sailing organisation that works with around 50 young people every year. After running for 65 years, it has impacted a lot of young people even though the original founder is now dead.

At the end of the day, it probably doesn’t matter what it is that you leave behind assuming you have done it from a sound value-basis and you, or others after you, finish what you started. What you don’t want is to build another McCaig’s Folly or similar bricks and mortar carbuncle to adorn our landscape that no longer has much function other than to remind us of the builder and their pride – I certainly don’t know much else about the aforementioned Oban resident.

A Legacy for the Future: The Moroccan Argan Oil Industry

“I’ve found that some of my best projects have been started, not on the basis of rigorous prior analysis and planning but simply from an impulse that says, “Here is a chance to do something good.” “

Muhammad Yunus, Creating a World Without Poverty
The industry of the Moroccan Argan oil production bears a striking resemblance to the humble beginning of Muhammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank, a microcredit organization that brought financial services to the poor who wanted to start little businesses of their own. As with Yunus’s vision of providing a stable source of income for the impoverished, especially the women of Bangladesh, the production of Moroccan Argan oil is also seen to involve the ultimate goal of providing livelihood and eventual empowerment to the women of the traditionally male-dominated society of Morocco. It has given the women employment that assures them of continuous income for it involves a form of labor which at the moment had been proven to be only possible with the arduous work of human hands.

Growing Independence for Women
The primary and most apparent benefit of the increasing popularity of Moroccan Argan oil as a product is the increasing demand for the labor that would be necessary to supplement the growth in the production, which would inevitably follow as supply, must adequately meet the growing demand for the oil as a commodity. This is the most basic of market conditions; an increase in demand must be met with an increase in supply. There would be an increase in the number of women given employment and this would naturally lead to the development of women’s independence and give them a greater sense of self-esteem as they find themselves equipped with the means to earn their own incomes. They now have the option to spend on acquiring a higher education, on getting better nourishment for their families, or on saving to invest for the future. Any of these options would help them in fighting poverty, one simple step at a time.

Carrying on with tradition
With more women necessary for greater production, the uniquely Moroccan tradition of the Argan oil extraction is now certain to be passed on to more members of the next generation. As it has been proven that it is a stable source of income, it is highly likely that mothers would encourage their daughters to continue the practice. And even if one is not introduced to it as part of the family business, the increasing popularity of the Agran oil as a valuable exported product would still attract more to join the ranks of those employed for its production and the attention given this tradition would only increase with time as the Argan oil production becomes more integral in the livelihood of the women.

Environmental Implications
Closely following the increasing role of the oil production in the lives of the people of Morocco, there would be the recognition that the Argan trees are a significant and valuable resource which would have to be conserved in order for it to continue its role in various people’s subsistence. Just like any other natural resources, the Argan trees could be damaged with excessive harvesting. An example is that there would be an increase in the people trying to get the Argan nuts, which contain the oil-rich kernels. They would then use the traditional way of harvesting the nuts, which is to bring spry goats to eat fruits from the trees, and then collecting the nuts from the goat’s dung. With more people bringing more goats, unintentional damage could be done to the branches of the trees which would in turn lead to less fruits being borne by the trees. And thus actions to increase awareness of these implications must be taken.

Pre-emptive actions to keep the Argan tree population at a healthy number is also necessary as protecting the trees from getting cut down will lead an improvement in the local environment because the trees have always been of great importance to the local ecosystem. Being an endemic species in the harsh Moroccan deserts, these trees’ structure is uniquely adapted to have the best chance of survival in the dry, arid region. The deep roots of the trees help prevent desert encroachment while also ensuring landscape stability as they prevent soil erosion. The tree’s canopy provides shade for other agricultural produce. The leaves and fruits are naturally food sources of various animals. Lastly, the trees help in replenishing the aquifers, the underground layer of permeable rock from which groundwater is usually extracted from. For such a dry region like Morocco, this is of utmost importance.

A Triumph and Nature’s gift
Acknowledging the potential of the Moroccan Argan oil industry has been the first step of many in traversing the road to alleviating poverty in the region. The conspicuous success of the oil production which is being frequently carried out by women’s cooperatives encourages other agricultural producers to take a closer look into the cooperative model, where people voluntarily cooperate for a mutual social, economic or cultural benefit. It has also brought to the surface the urgency of taking care of our limited resources and their impact to the environment. The fact that the Moroccan women have proven their competence in handling the production of Argan oil had also shed some light to their growing role in their local communities as independent earners and decision-makers. With the Moroccan Argan oil industry flourishing, we are once again reminded of Nature’s generosity as it gives us the chance to learn to harness its resources to secure our future and we are impressed by the ingenuity unearthed in our age-old traditions as the seeds for progress are finally brought to life with the simple idea that we must leave behind something good for the future generations. The future must be something worth looking forward to.