Landscape Education in the UK: past present and future

On Saturday 1 April 2017 MERL hosted a FOLAR (Friends of the Landscape Library and Archive at Reading) study day on the topic of: ‘Landscape Architecture and Management Education in the UK: past present and future’.  

The day included talks and a pop up display of archive and library material from our Landscape Institute collections.  FOLAR Chair, Penny Beckett, gives an account of the event:

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections

The best discussion we’ve had about UK landscape architecture education in a long while

So said one of those who attended the recent seminar at MERL organised by FOLAR.  Chaired by John Stuart-Murray (University of Edinburgh), this half day event had 4 speakers: Guy Baxter, the University Archivist, who spoke about the first English university course in Landscape Architecture set up at Reading in the 1930s; Jan Woudstra (University of Sheffield) on the development of English Landscape Architecture Education and after the tea break, former Reading senior lecturer Richard Bisgrove who spoke about the Landscape Management degree at Reading which ran from 1986 to 2009.

Our Archivist Guy Baxter speaking at #folar2017

The last speaker was Robert Holden (former University of Greenwich), who gave us much food for thought about the current state of landscape education in the UK. It appears to be in decline, while at the same time the demand for qualified landscape architects by employers outstrips the supply of home grown graduates. Much of the question and answer session after Robert’s talk explored why this might be the case when the situation seems very different in both the USA and other European countries. Earlier, Jan Woudstra had suggested possible reasons, citing the encroachment of ‘new’ course topics, such as ‘landscape urbanism’ into a subject area once occupied by landscape architecture alone. He mentioned too the lack of landscape research in the UK (though Sheffield boasts a healthy 45 PhD students!); the difficulty too of conveying a consistent image to the wider public, prospective students and their parents  about what the profession landscape architecture is all about. The irony is that the work of landscape professionals lies at the very heart of the current political agenda, while landscape architects and managers have long been used to the interdisciplinary working that is now essential in our 21st century world.

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections, 1930s journals

Guy Baxter’s talk made interesting links between the pre-war students at Reading and some of the members of the fledgling Institute of Landscape Architects (ILA) they helped to establish. The Institute’s archives deposited at MERL reveal the connections. The first ILA member, for example, ‘Member No. 1’ was Marjory Allen (Lady Allen of Hurtwood) the landscape architect who was an early advocate of the importance of providing for children’s play in our urban areas.

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections

Richard Bisgrove described the genesis of the BSc (Hons) in Landscape Management course he set up at Reading in 1986. It ran successfully for many years, training students who then went into various branches of the landscape profession. Lecturers on the course included Tony Kendle who later went to the Eden Project and Ross Cameron who moved to the University of Sheffield.

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections

One small downside of the day was that the full programme allowed little time to look at the wonderful display of archive material put out for us in MERL’s Reading Room. So to the MERL staff involved, can I offer both apologies as well as many thanks for helping to make such a thoroughly enjoyable and informative day. A video recording of the seminar itself will be posted on the FOLAR website shortly.

Penny Beckett, FOLAR Chair

You can find out more about our Landscape Institute collections, using our Reading Room, FOLAR or see tweets and Instagram posts from the event.  

 

Is this a garden or a teeny tiny farm?

Science engagement officer, Robyn Hopcroft, provides an update on our sugar beet growing project.

It’s National Gardening Week, and at The MERL we’re lucky enough to have a beautiful garden with a large lawn, herb garden, woodland area, and several community growing projects. It’s a great space for experimentation with different plant varieties and one of our current projects involves growing sugar beet – a vegetable that’s normally grown on farms rather than in gardens.

I must say that I felt very nervous waiting for our crop to germinate. The soil temperature and pH were right and we planted according to advice provided by British Sugar. But I was still worried that the seeds wouldn’t grow. I’m now pleased to say that our beets have germinated and are getting bigger and stronger by the day.

Photo of one of new sugar beet seedlings

But I still have concerns…

We applied fertiliser, as directed, and I worried that it might burn the new seedlings. We thinned the crop and I felt terrible for killing off perfectly good seedlings. Now, as the beets grow, I’m checking the bed with obsessive frequency – weeding and watering and fretting about the possibility that tender new leaves might be delicious to caterpillars and snails and vulnerable to any number of diseases. And what if the soil that I’ve painstakingly sifted using a hand-held riddle is still too stony to support a root crop like sugar beet?

Delving into the Sir Alfred Wood archive didn’t do anything to allay my fears – I’m now terrified that we’ll fail and end up with ‘fangy beets’:

Image of part of a vintage leaflet from 'Pictorial Hints on the Growing of Sugar Beet' (Presented by the Beet Sugar Factories of Great Britain'.

From Pictorial Hints on the Growing of Sugar Beet
(Sir Alfred Wood Collection, Reference: D MS1087 36/2).

Is this how a farmer feels in springtime? Excited about the possibilities, but acutely aware that it could all be snatched away at a moment’s notice by an oversight or act of nature? In my case I guess it’s just run of the mill gardening angst. Both the gardener and the farmer must deal with uncertainty, but if our sugar beet crop fails, it will be a mere disappointment – it won’t affect my pay cheque. Yet scale our tiny Beet Box up to 100,000 beets per hectare and the stakes are so much higher on a real farm.

A novice like me can just ‘have a go’ at gardening and see what sprouts, but a beet farmer (or any farmer) must be an expert in her domain. Keeping up to speed on the latest research and advice and combining this with experience in the field (or knowledge handed down through generations) helps a farmer to manage risk and respond to set backs, increasing the chances of bringing a profitable crop to harvest.

I think I’ll stick to gardening for now and see how I feel about beet farming at the end of the season.

Discovering the Landscape: Student bursary winners announced

We are delighted to announce that Moa Carlsson and Tianyi Jiang have been awarded Landscape Student Travel Bursaries.

The purpose of the two student travel bursaries is to enable students to access collections held at Reading related to landscape, including landscape design, management and architecture.

Moa is a doctoral student at the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is currently a visiting student at the University of Cambridge.  Working on landscape perception and the history of computing technology in Britain 1950-70, Moa will be using her travel bursary to visit MERL to use our Clifford Tandy collection alongside the corporate records of the Landscape Institute.

Example of a slide from our Clifford Tandy Photographic Collection

Tianyi graduated from the Beijing Forestry University and is currently undertaking postgraduate studies in landscape architecture at the University of Edinburgh.   Interested in how science and technolgoy can be used to improve our environment, Tianyi will be using materials from our Geoffrey Jellicoe, Michael Brown and Preben Jakobsen collections to support her studies.

An example of material from the Preben Jakobsen collection. AR JAK_PF_53 1

We look forward to welcoming Moa and Tianyi to our Reading Room over the summer.

Find out more about our Landscape Institute collections and how to visit us.

 

Why is there a flying saucer in The MERL garden?

Science engagement officer, Robyn Hopcroft, reveals one of our new growing projects and the feat of DIY ingenuity behind an unusual landmark in our garden.

If you’ve visited us in the last couple of weeks, you might have noticed that something funny is going on with our garden. Perched above one of the raised beds there’s a suspicious object. Something that bears an uncanny resemblance to a spaceship. Well let me put your mind at ease. I can explain. It’s all part of a new growing project and that spaceship is here to help.

Image of flying saucer - like object in The MERL garden.

Alongside our new community growing spaces, we have built a raised garden box with a focus on science and technology. Our inaugural project will see us attempt to grow sugar beet. Being museum folk, we love a terrible pun, so I feel no shame whatsoever in revealing that our project is rather dubiously titled ‘Beet Box’.

Image of sugar beet by Okt154 (through Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike License).

Who knew this is where much of our sugar comes from? Image by Okt154 [CC BY-SA 4.0].

Is the world ready for Beet Box? We think so. Around 7.5 tonnes of sugar beet is grown in Britain each year and these crops are used to manufacture a large proportion of the sugar that we consume. With this in mind, we’re keen to learn more about the history and practicalities of this industry. We might only produce a few kilos of beets and a very small amount of sugar, but this provides a good opportunity to explore the process of sugar production from first-hand experience. It seemed fitting that we sow our seeds on British Science Week, and using expert growing advice and seeds provided by British Sugar gives us the best chances of success. Let’s cross our fingers that conditions will be right to take our tiny crop to harvest.

Image of science engagement volunteer, Don, watering in our newly planted beet seeds.

Science engagement volunteer, Don, watering in our newly planted beet seeds.

So where does the spaceship come in? 

We wanted to do more than just grow beets, we also wanted to explore how technology could be used to track growing conditions. We’re delighted to be collaborating with Reading Hackspace on the project, and several their members have kindly donated their time and expertise to design and set up a monitoring system for Beet Box. Having installed soil and weather sensors, they also plan to use a solar-powered camera to capture information about the growth of the beets, and the solar panel is intended to sit inside that nifty Perspex spaceship enclosure.

Image of Richard and Mike from Reading Hackspace installing monitoring equipment in the Beet Box garden bed.

A work in progress: Prior to planting, Richard and Mike from Reading Hackspace
started installing monitoring equipment in the Beet Box.

The Hackspace folks are a community of enthusiastic makers who use rLab – a peer led workshop, open to anyone who is interested – as a base for knowledge sharing and work on a wide range of fascinating projects. The team working on Beet Box have taken care to design a system for the garden box that is open source and uses widely available components, providing an opportunity to use the project for educational purposes and to allow anyone to replicate or take inspiration from the setup.

Image of our newly-sown Beet Box garden bed.

In the weeks and months to come, we will share more detailed information about the system and the progress of our beets, and get feeds up and running so that data from the project is freely available online. In the meantime, we anxiously await the germination of our beet seeds.

Tanya Harrod: Archaic Modernists: Women, Textiles and the Margins of Europe

Paddy Bullard reflects on Tanya Harrod’s seminar as part of the Department of English Literature and the MERL speaker series on the ‘Tangible and Intangible Countryside’

Tanya Harrod is the doyenne of modern folk art studies, and the most distinguished historian and critic of craft working in Great Britain today. She is best known as author of the monumental Crafts in Britain in the Twentieth Century (Yale, 1999), and of The Last Sane Man: Michael Cardew, Modern Pots and Colonialism, which won the James Tait Black prize for biography in 2012. Most recently she published a collection of journalism and occasional writing, The Real Thing: Essays on Making in the Modern World (Hyphen Press, 2015). She is a founder-editor of The Journal of Modern Craft, and previously was visiting professor at the Royal College of Art, 2000-2010.

A giant teapot by Michael Cardew, on display in the MERL galleries.

On Tuesday 31 January 2017 Tanya came to MERL to give a paper on ‘Archaic Modernists: Women, Textiles and the Margins of Europe’. Tanya’s research focused on a group of ‘erudite, rather intrepid women’ who brought a huge charge of invention, spontaneity and ambition to British textile design during the 1920s and 1930s. They included Phyllis Barron (1890-1964) and Dorothy Larcher (1884-1952), who together led a revival in hand-block printing in England, and their sometime employee Enid Marx (1902-1998) and her partner Margaret Lambert, designers whose collection of ephemeral and vernacular art was put on display at Compton Verney House in 2004.

Tanya argued that these women and others in their circle were united by a determination to find a principle of progress for their craft – textile manufacture – in the ‘living vernacular’ of small scale rural manufacturers. These artists were progressive, modernistic thinkers, quite distinct from the ruralists and proto-organicists (she mentioned MERL favourite H.J. Massingham among others) of their day. Above all, they felt that the British countryside was exhausted as a source for their new designs, because truly local and vernacular traditions of textile design had been so long superseded by machine-led designs and processes. So these women looked much further afield. Tanya’s paper was at its most revealing as she described their undaunted travels and discoveries in some of the remoter corners of western Europe and the Balkans. As she summed her discoveries, ‘abroad was their deep country’.

 

Discovering the Landscape: Book now for a place on FOLAR’s Landscape Education study day

Landscape Architecture and Management Education in the UK: past present and future

Delegates at the 2016 FOLAR study day browsing a pop-up exhibition of landscape library and archive material in the MERL Reading Room

Delegates at the 2016 FOLAR study day browsing a pop-up exhibition of landscape library and archive material in the MERL Reading Room

What?

This year’s FOLAR (Friends of the Landscape Library and Archive at Reading) Seminar deals with the origins and history of landscape architecture and management education in the UK, past, present and the future.

Who?

Speakers will include Guy Baxter, the University of Reading Archivist, on the history of the first landscape architecture course in the UK, that at Reading (1930-1959). Then Jan Woudstra will survey the origins and growth of landscape courses nationally. Richard Bisgrove will outline the story of the BSc Landscape Management at Reading (1986-2010). Finally Robert Holden (formerly University of Greenwich) will review current trends, speculate about the future and in particular look to the past to see lessons that can be applied today. The chair will be John Stuart-Murray of the University of Edinburgh.

The FOLAR AGM is from 10.30am-12.00pm, and all (members and non members) are welcome from 10am onwards, lunch will 12-12.30pm and the afternoon seminar will run from 12.30pm-4pm. Duplicate books from the LI collection will be on sale.

When?

Saturday 1 April 2017

10.30-4

Where?

MERL (Museum of English Rural Life), Redlands Road, Reading, RG1 5EX

Booking?

Please complete this FOLAR booking form and return it by email to info@folar.uk or by post to the address on the form.

Cost: for FOLAR members £15 incl. lunch (a £35 payment on the day would include FOLAR membership renewal).

For non members the cost of the seminar incl. lunch is £25.

PLEASE BOOK EARLY FOR THIS EVENT as we have a limit on numbers – 50 maximum.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Access to The MERL periodicals

Due to essential maintenance work, we regret to inform you that The MERL periodicals will be unavailable from Monday 13th February 2017 until further notice.

These are the volumes found in the rooms at the far end of the open access library corridor and includes Country Life, The Engineer, Farmers Weekly, Farmer & Stockbreeder, The Field and Royal Agricultural Society Journal among other journals.

We will make an announcement when they are accessible again.

Beekeeping, not just a hobby

Science engagement volunteer, Eilish Menzies, considers beekeeping and the role that it plays in food production.

Walking through the MERL galleries you can see the crucial role bees play in past and present global food security. By simply taking a stroll through the collection, you can really get a sense of the progressive steps that honey production has made and inspired throughout agriculture. Our library, archives and Special Collections also contain multiple historical books on bee keeping, bee anatomy and honey cookbooks. However, for a process so old and ingrained in societies all over the world, it seems strange that we are now facing an international reduction in bee colonies.

Much like humans, bees are social creatures, meaning they live together in large colonies. They present one of the few examples of true eusociality, where all individuals in the hive work by cooperative division of labour. The hive is essentially controlled by one female, known as the queen, whose sole function is to reproduce. As the name would suggest, honey bees produce honey. This is their primary source of food and it is obtained from the nectar of plants.

Bees on the whole are incredibly important players in the ecosystem ballgame. When foraging for food they act as pollinators for a range of different plant and tree species, and contribute £200 million to crop production every year in the UK. It’s estimated that one in every three mouthful of food we eat is dependent on pollination by bees.

Image of bees in a hive

Illustration from Life of the Honey Bee.
© Ladybird Books Ltd www.vintageladybird.com

Our relationship with bees stems back millions of years, when ancient human cultures would collect honey from wild bee colonies. However, this wasn’t for the faint hearted, as it almost always involved climbing to high and hard to reach places and sticking your hand in a nest of unwelcoming bees. It wasn’t long until humans began to domesticate bees by providing artificial spaces to house the hive. As the growth of bee keeping continued to spread, many new structures were produced to improve the collection of honey. The typical hives you see today are known as Langstroth Hives, named after Lorenzo Langstroth. His design has remained relatively unchanged for over 160 years.

Photo of Langstroth Hive from the MERL 'Year on the Farm' gallery

A Langstroth Hive from our A Year on the Farm gallery.

As for the future of bee keeping, things seem a little bit uncertain. National statistics show that bee populations have not been able to keep up with the increased demand for honey. Disease and harsh winters have meant the global production of honey has become much more irregular, leading to an increase in price. As pollinators, bees are responsible for large proportions of global agriculture, meaning a decrease in their population could have severe consequences on food production and ultimately our survival. This issue becomes apparent when you consider the role of bees within the pollination of rural crops around the globe. Smallholder agriculture makes up 80% of the crops in Africa and Asia and is particularly important in developing communities. For the 2.5 billion people living off of these crops, optimising pollination could be the primary approach in food security schemes.

As the MERL galleries demonstrate, change and uncertainty has always plagued our agricultural industry. We can only hope that the bee populations and the honey industry continue to adapt to these changes and that our future collections will be filled with the results of these achievements.

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Melissa Harrison: At Hawthorn Time

Written by Dr Paddy Bullard, Associate Professor in Literature and Book History at the University of Reading. @MatWitness

WhatsOn_Detail_Harrison2

Melissa Harrison is a novelist, photographer and nature writer based in south London. Her first novel, Clay (2013) established her as a leading voice among the new ‘urban naturalists’. Her second, At Hawthorn Time (2015), is a powerful and ambitious attempt to find voices for several different kinds of modern country-dweller: the itinerant causal labourer, the middle-class incomer, the rooted but economically marginalized rural twenty-something. Melissa also writes non-fiction, including Rain: Four Walks in English Weather, published by Faber in 2016 in association with the National Trust, and contributes to the ‘Nature Notes’ column in The Times.

On Tuesday 17 January Melissa visited Reading to open the MERL/DEL Visiting Speaker Series, a new programme of lunchtime talks organized by the University of Reading Department of English, in collaboration with The Museum of English Rural Life. The theme of the series this year is ‘The Intangible and Tangible Countryside’. Over five talks our speakers will look at different aspects of rural life and culture. The talks focus on how the stuff of the countryside ­– the land, its flora and fauna, its products and artifacts ­– is bound up with all sorts of elusive, immaterial things – with sounds and stories, memories and inheritances, skills and crafts. The series showcases five diverse experiments in disentangling the tangible from the intangible when we describe rural life, or when we imagine what rural life might one day be.

HawthornMelissa read three passages from her novel At Hawthorn Time, and responded dexterously to questions from the audience, and from me as session chair. Over the course of the reading we got a strong sense of the themes and ideas that preoccupy her, and that lie behind her fiction. Cultural and social ownership of the countryside – the perennial question of how to balance the interests of different occupants of and visitors to rural spaces, of whose interests should preponderate – is an especially important subject. For Melissa, conflicts of use and conflicts of meaning will always dominate the public conversation about green spaces and natural environments. In her fiction she sees rural spaces as test spaces for social pluralism, where the incompatible interests of people from different classes and backgrounds can be held together meaningfully, and in spite of that incompatibility.

The MERL curatorial team responded especially warmly to the passages that Melissa read, and to her commentary on them. There was a real sense of sympathy and shared purpose here – after all, the recent redesign of MERL has been all about opening up the collections to tell stories of the different groups of people who have lived and worked in the English countryside. As a novelist Melissa shares with the MERL curators a desire to describe and to narrate an English rural heritage which is vivid and meaningful to the widest possible range of people today, young and old, in both town and country. We all hope that this is only the first of many visits that Melissa makes to MERL and to Reading.

Our next speaker in this free series will be Tanya Harrod, the author of the prize-winning The Crafts in Britain in the Twentieth Century. She will be speaking at The MERL on Tuesday 31 January, 12-1pm. Click here for more information.

Melissa exploring the museum and signing copies of her book.

Melissa exploring the museum and signing copies of her book.

Students: apply for a landscape research bursary before the end of February

Why should I apply?

Our landscape collections are pretty special.

Read this overview of our landscape collections or search our combined library, archive and object catalogue.

Take a look at reasons to use our landscape collections in your research and topic and resource ideas.

Highlights from our Landscape Institute Collections

Highlights from our Landscape Institute Collections

But could I apply?

Are you:

A) A taught undergraduate or postgraduate student?

B) Studying landscape architecture, design or management?  History, geography, architecture, environmental science, ecology or design?

C) Desperate to impress your dissertation supervisors?

D) Reading this before 28 Feb 2017?

Then we look forward to receiving your application!  (Just ask us if you want to check you are eligible).

If you are a taught student in part or full-time higher education, you can apply for one of landscape student travel bursaries.

We welcome your innovative ideas on how you will use our collections in your research.

How do I apply?

The purpose of the student travel bursaries is to enable students to access collections held at Reading related to landscape, including landscape design, management and architecture.

We are offering 2 bursaries of £150 each.

Applications will be by email to merl@reading.ac.uk (please put “Landscape Bursary” in the subject line).  Applications will be invited from any student in part or full-time higher education.

Interested applicants should submit a CV, and a short statement (max 400 words) outlining their interest in and current work on landscape, stating how the bursary would be spent and how it would be beneficial to their studies.  Applicants should identify those materials in the archive that would be of most benefit to them.

Timetable

28 February 2017 – applications close

31 March 2017 – successful candidates announced

Any work will need to be carried out and monies claimed by 31 July 2017.

 

Please feel free to get in touch with our Reading Room if you have any questions. We look forward to welcoming you and telling you more about our landscape collections.  

Written by Project Librarian: Claire Wooldridge