A quick whirl through Allerton's gardens

Diana Pavilion at Allerton Garden on Kauai. Photo credit: Adapted from photo by Ron Cogswell.

Robert Allerton (1873-1964), descendent of one of the wealthiest Mayflower passengers, aspired to be an artist. He spent two years studying in Europe, financed by his agricultural magnate slash bank founder father Sam Allerton (1828-1914), but burned all his paintings before moving home. Land was to be his canvas, and sculpture his medium.

Not long after returning from Europe, at the turn of the last century, Robert cleared land near Monticello in Illinois inherited from his father (Sam Allerton owned more than seventy farms in Illinois) to construct a home, employing architect friend John J. Borie, III to develop plans. The mansion, featured in a 1904 issue of House Beautiful magazine, was apparently unprecedented, even in the wealthy Montecito community. If you look at modern satellite imagery, the estate looks to cover an area about the size of nearby Montecito itself. He entertained a myriad of guests there, including his father occasionally, who would adorn a bust of Caesar at the bottom of a stairway in the mansion with his toupé as a joke.

Allerton mansion in Illinois. Photo credit: Adapted from photo by Michael Morrow.

Although the mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the American Institute of Architects included the property on a list of "150 Great Places in Illinois" in 2007, Robert seemed to care most about the gardens, hoping they would be made available to the public. Today, one can  tour what Robert called "The Farms" (now known as the Allerton Park and Retreat Center), or even stay overnight.

The National Park Service designated  The Farms' grounds a "National Natural Landmark" in 1970. The "Formal Garden Area", consisting of a series of gardens along a quarter mile walk, was developed around the same time as the mansion was constructed and constitutes just one component of The Farms. Robert later completed other projects on his property, including The Sunken Garden (ca. 1917), The House in the Woods (ca. 1917), The Death of the Last Centaur (ca. 1929), The Sun Singer (ca. 1931), and The Lost Garden (ca. late 1930s).

Estate entrance. Photo credit: CECrane.

Friend and architect David Adler transformed Robert's landfill into The Sunken Garden. Photo credit: Adapted from photo by Ron Frazier.

The House in the Woods, designed by Joseph Corson Llewellyn and built in 1917, housed the estate's head gardener and his family. The front door is the mansion's original front door, repurposed here after the mansion was remodelled in 1916. Robert had the Shepherd and Shepherdess sculptures relocated from the Square Parterre Garden to frame the view of the home. Photo credit: CECrane.

Sculpture in the House of the Golden Buddhas. Photo credit: Crystal.

Entrance to the Avenue of the Chinese Musicians. Photo credit: Adapted from photo by CECrane.

The Chinese Maze Garden layout is said to have been inspired by a pattern on Robert's silk pajamas and originally featured apple and pear trees espaliered along the concrete walls. Photo credit: Adapted from a photo by Ron Frazier.

The Sun Singer sculpture creator Carl Milles thought the siting of his work was "magnificent". See a photo of the statue undergoing restoration here. Photo credit: Adapted from a photo by Philip Brewer.

According to Burgin and Holtz (2009), Robert felt that a painting that hung on a wall in the same spot for too long soon went unnoticed, and likewise preferred to periodically rearrange his garden sculptures (except for the largest ones, which for logistical reasons apparently stayed put).

Robert travelled widely through Europe, Asia, and the Pacific, collecting pieces wherever he went. He narrowly missed boarding the Titanic on one trip home, and lost friends to that tragedy. Returning home on another trip with his adopted son John Wyatt Gregg, they made an impromptu stop in Hawaii, and ended up spending a night on the island of Kauai at the suggestion of prominent Honolulu citizen and Robert's childhood friend Louise Dillingham  because the Halekulani Hotel was full. Louise arranged for them to visit the McBryde property in Lawai while they were there.

Allerton Garden from above. The military installed barbed wire along the beach during World War II. The Allertons spent years afterwards removing bits of metal from the sand. Photo credit: Adapted from photo by Pat McGrath.

The McBryde property originally belonged to Queen Emma (1836-1885), who planted bougainvillea near her home (I've heard bouganvillea can still be seen on the property). The McBrydes purchased the property when she died. Using much of the property for farming sugar cane, taro, and rice, McBryde relocated Queen Emma's home from its cliff-top vantage point overlooking the valley down into the valley to accommodate expansion of sugar cane production.

When Robert and John visited the property, it happened to be on the market for sale. They immediately seem to have fallen in love with it, and eventually made this place they called Lawai-Kai (kai in Hawaiian means "sea") their permanent residence. They quickly built a new house to replace the McBryde home. To mark their first New Year's Day there in 1939, they planted a breadfruit tree. They imported many statues from The Farms and exotic plants from their travels throughout the tropics. An expert stone worker named Mr. Yamamoto built several walls on the property.

Allerton home on Kauai. Photo credit: Adapted from photo by Cheryl Marland.

Photo credit: Adapted from photo by chuck b.

Over the course of decades, Robert and John worked around nature to create a garden unlike any other in Hawaii. Confining tropical plants to rigid lines in the European style was impossible, and so they learned to adapt their formal style to the growing habits of plants in this Polynesian island setting.

Just as at The Farms, John and Robert entertained many guests at Lawai-Kai, including Georgia O'Keeffe in 1939, who came to Hawaii to paint tropical fruit and flowers for the Dole Pineapple Corporation, and Richard Nixon forty years later in 1979.

The Lawai gardens were featured in both print and film. In the 1950s, Harper's Bazaar (written and illustrated by Cecil Beaton) and Life magazine (3/17/58) both ran articles, and South Pacific (1958) was filmed on the property. Jurassic Park and Lt. Robinson Crusoe (1966) are among several other movies filmed there.

John attempted to replicate the Italian Villa Farnese at Caprarola waterway in this area fronting the Lawai stream. Contractor Hironaka and employee Wataro made the shell from a mold, and the mermaids are replicas of sculptures by Libero Andreotti that Robert and John found at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. Photo credit: Adapted from photo by julie corsi.

Robert was instrumental in the founding of Pacific Tropical Botanical Gardens in 1964, and donated a million dollars to support the project and purchase the adjoining property (known today as McBryde Garden). Guided and self-guided tours of the Allerton and McBryde gardens, now under the auspices of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG), are available to the public. Robert and John supported the NTBG, Art Institute of Chicago, and Honolulu Academy of Art (now Honolulu Museum of Art) throughout their lives.


Sources and more information:

The Robert Allerton Story by Kathryn Hulme (1979)

Robert Allerton: The Private Man & The Public Gifts by Martha Burgin and Maureen Holtz (2009)

Allerton Park & Retreat Center

National Tropical Botanical Garden

Wikipedia article - The Farms

Wikipedia article - Allerton Garden

Note: I just happened to pick up the two books listed above, but there are several others out there that are probably just as interesting.

Interesting conservation work being done around the world: notes from the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress

Corrugated cardboard stools, seating, partitions, podium, and stage at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress. Carpet colors were coordinated with "pavilion" themes (e.g., blue carpet for the Water Pavilion area) and served to define distinct areas within the large convention hall.

The IUCN World Conservation Congress is happening right now, held for the first time ever in the U.S. The quadrennial conference reportedly has drawn some 9000 participants from all over the world. President Obama, Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, and E. O. Wilson were just a few of the noteworthy speakers. There were over 300 sessions scheduled per day over the weekend and over 1300 sessions planned in total over the ten day time frame. A good portion of those sessions were free to attend. Among those, here's a recap of some of the fascinating work presented.

Japanese tea production

Using grasses sourced from local grasslands as mulch for Japanese tea production in satoyama landscapes produces high quality tea and helps to preserve the grasslands. Watch a video about this farming method here. Link to IUCN workshop:

Banking endemic Hawaiian seeds

There's an effort on the island of Kauai in Hawaii to bank seeds from three endemic canopy tree species. Banking seeds conserves genetic diversity, facilitates breeding work, and supports the supply of saplings to the landscaping industry and others. Link to IUCN poster:

Conference reception lobby.

NRCS EQIP Landscape Initiatives

The NRCS EQIP program provides funding to landowners for conservation projects. There are several landscape scale efforts described here.

Why people use parks: psycho-social-spiritual benefits of NYC parks

There will be a new study published next month in the Journal of Ethnobiology that investigates the psycho-social-spiritual benefits of New York City parks (43 parks included in study, excluding Central Park and Prospect Park because of their unique management). Link to IUCN poster:

Potted plants define a listening booth where visitors can don some pretty nice noise cancelling headphones that immerse the listener into the sound of several primary tropical rainforests around the world.

3D tropical primary forest soundscapes

There's an ongoing effort to record three dimensional sound of tropical (+/- 5 degrees from the equator) primary forest landscapes. There are many reasons why this is a useful undertaking, one of which is that the recordings provide a historical point of reference. As local (e.g., oil drilling, as in the case of Yasunì, Ecuador, one of the recording locations) and global (e.g., climate change) influences effect these ecosystems, this work serves as a kind of aural version of HALS documentation for rainforests. What's neat is that you can see how different species utilize different frequencies or timing in the data, and how every sound niche seems to be occupied. Apparently the "sound imprint" of primary forest looks much different than that of more disturbed ecosystems. In the listening booth pictured above, sounds are spatially fixed such that if you move, the source of the sound relative to you does not. The recently patented Eco-acoustic Theatre is like a theater inside a geodesic dome which, as I understand it, would allow you to hear these rainforests as though you were actually standing within them. Link to IUCN poster:

Orchid-gami handout. You can punch out the shapes and assemble them to create various orchid species out of paper, and learn a little about each one in the process. The finished product is shown in the top right corner of the left paper.

International orchid conservation

Here are a few interesting points from the talk about orchid conservation:
  • Orchids eat fungi.
  • Search for a specific North American orchid species or learn more about them on the Go Orchid website.
  • There are about 3000 botanical gardens worldwide.
  • Naples Botanical Garden is adjacent to natural habitat of the ghost orchid, one of the hardest orchids to grow.
Link to IUCN session page: Direct link to video about orchid conservation:

The globe image displayed across the nine screens of NASA's Hyperwall rotates to show fires (red), dust (orange), sulfates (white), sea salt (royal blue), and atmospheric carbon (green). The Web Fire Mapper and Worldview tools accessible online are an interesting way to view data on the global scale. Link to IUCN session page:

3D printed seascape (right) and 3D virtual coral reef movie viewing using special goggles (left).

3D imaging of coral reefs using drones

Have you ever looked down at a water feature with a bunch of pennies in the bottom and the shapes of the pennies are distorted from the movement on the surface of the water and the water itself? There's a pretty cool NASA project that has figured out how to exploit these distortions to eliminate them from imagery using algorithms in a process called "fluid lensing".

Another problem with aerial photography of water is how light refracts. Have you ever swam in a pool and noticed a pattern of tiny bands of light that are shaped kind of like the spots on a giraffe? These are called caustics, and this project has also figured out how to take advantage of these discrete lighting conditions to provide visibility of underwater coral features at greater depths.

You can view before and after images and video on the presenter's website, and listen to an HPR interview here.

Drones are flown over coral reef to capture the imagery and biologists conducted field surveys for validation. Aside from potentially getting some incredible images, algorithms have been developed to distinguish between living (organic) vs. non-living (inorganic) matter and branching vs. mounding coral, and the technology could also be used to identify specific species in an area. Somehow it is also possible to generate a 3D model of the underwater coral reef seascape (pictured above).

If you're attending the conference, there are two more presentations tomorrow (9/7/16) about this work. UPDATE: The evening presentation was cancelled as of about noon, 9/7/16.

How to save endemic Hawaiian birds

Hawaii is a biodiversity hotspot. There are 142 known bird species, 95 of which are extinct. Of the surviving endemic species, most are listed as either threatened or endangered. The good news is a lot of work is being done to save them. The strategies discussed in this session included:
  • Ungulate management: mammals like feral pigs and deer eat trees that birds rely on for survival; controlling them either through hunting or fencing (exclusion) has been helpful.
  • Revegetation (tree planting) to create habitat. 
  • Translocation (moving a population from one location to another): millerbirds were successfully moved from Nihoa Island to Laysan Island, an example of restoration (on Laysan - the Nihoa millerbird is an analog for the Laysan millerbird).
  • Predator mammal proof fencing: erecting specially designed fencing and removing all predators from within the fenced areas create safe haven "islands" for birds; shearwater birds imprint on the night sky they first see when they leave their burrows for the first time so it is thought that exposing hatchlings to the sky within the enclosure will result in them considering the enclosure "home".
Also, some interesting historical notes: albatross eggs were collected on Laysan Island for their albumin which was used in photography, and the birds were once killed for their feathers, which were used to make mattresses. More on the history of albatross in the Pacific in this presentation PDF. Link to IUCN session page (where more presentation PDFs are available):

New US Forest Service apps

There are several online applications the US Forest Service just released this year:
  • Forest Atlas of the US: see the extent of tree canopy cover across the continental US, the ranges of different tree species, view historical fires spatially by year and size across the US, and more.
  • My City's Trees app: visualize landscape scale data on land cover type, city extent, watershed extent, and ecoregion extent by city.
  • Native Plants Finder: find native plants and butterfly and moth species by zipcode and make a plant list for your landscaping or gardening project.
  • Visitor Map 2.0: an interactive online visitor map that integrates Twitter and Yonder data to help visitors plan their trips and locate trails, campsites, and other points of interest.
Link to IUCN session page:

Landscape scale conservation with the LCCN

The Landscape Conservation Cooperative Network consists of 22 public-private partnerships that work to address conservation issues in 22 regions. Read more about their projects here. Link to IUCN session page:

New books related to cultural landscapes

One of the speakers was a co-editor of two newly published books related to cultural landscapes:
  • A Thinking Person’s Guide to America’s National Parks (2016), and
  • Conserving Cultural Landscapes (2015)
Related IUCN page:

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