Corten steel aesthetics: still questionable, but here to stay

In the summer of 2010 I expressed my dislike of clearly visible corten steel edges in restored or recreated garden parterres. In a comment to that post some very good suggestions were made to better conceal the steel rims (by either letting the young plants grow a bit, or raise the level of gravel). My chosen example of Het Park admittedly consisted of only young planting at the time, so the suggestion that these parterres needed more time to fully mature made sense.1The corten steel in Het Park is still ugly, by the way. Four years of maturing has not helped at all. The same comment suggested it would be almost impossible to spend so much money on corten steel edgings, just to have them disappear completely. I think that is hardly an argument to create something visually unappealing.

I still don’t think these edges are visually appealing, so I was curious how Het Loo would deal with this issue. Here they restore, replace and recreate the parterres surrounding the house. Initially forced by box disease and a leaking irrigation system, but also inspired by new insights and knowledge, resulting in markably lower and thinner hedges.2A few images pointing in that direction can be seen here: Cascade weblog. The last phase of that process has begun this September, thus ending the unique combination of newly restored parterres in the west half, and the old parterres in the east half of the lower garden, that could be seen this year.

So. How does Het Loo conceal the corten steel rims in their parterre? They do not.

In fact, Het Loo takes the whole thing two steps further by not only displaying these rims in full sight, but by also using them as guiding rails for the cutters. A ‘slider’ is attached at the end of a stick, on which either a vertical or horizontal cutting blade is mounted. This slider is placed on the corten steel edge, which thus functions as a rail.
The cutter is switched on and the gardener commences his stroll among the hedges: parterre hedge clipping 2.0 in full swing.

The result in the Koninginnetuin (recreated last winter) looks like this (click to enlarge).
Hedges end well within the confines of the steel boundaries. Because this vertical rim functions as a rail, and the distance between rail and hedge is fixed by the way the cutter is constructed, this is how the parterre is going to look ‘forever’.
The hedges will of course mature and fill up more, but there is no room for them to gradually grow beyond the set width and (maybe) cover the steel. The soil and gravel can’t be raised to level with the edge of the steel rim, because that would compromise the smooth running of the slider guiding the cutting blades along the hedges.

This is it then. These eyesores are here to stay, clearly visible and more out in the open than ever. Practical reasons for doing so have clearly won over the -well: my :-)- aesthetic preference of experiencing a garden without having the actual construction of garden elements thrown in one’s face; and without seeing the tricks which enable gardeners to maintain the garden’s well-kept image.

Aesthetics is just one element of gardening. The cost of maintenance is (and has of course always been) an important factor. And let’s not forget about some health issues that gardeners at Het Loo will not have to face anymore, because they can keep their backs straight while clipping some 25 kilometers of hedges.
But still…

Edited @ September 28th, 2014 for spelling, a wrong link and a missing link.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. The corten steel in Het Park is still ugly, by the way. Four years of maturing has not helped at all. The same comment suggested it would be almost impossible to spend so much money on corten steel edgings, just to have them disappear completely. I think that is hardly an argument to create something visually unappealing.
2. A few images pointing in that direction can be seen here: Cascade weblog.
Summary

In de Benedentuin van Paleis Het Loo wordt op dit moment de laatste hand gelegd aan de recreatie van de parterres. De figuren zijn gelegd in corten-staal, en op basis van nieuwe kennis over de oorspronkelijke situatie worden de haagjes lager en smaller dan voorheen het geval was.
De corten-stalen randen zijn wat mij betreft veel te goed zichtbaar, en helaas heeft dat ook praktische redenen: ze dienen als rails voor het vrijwel geheel gemechaniseerde knipproces. Wat mij betreft had die stalen rand minder zichtbaar gekund, maar de praktische voordelen zijn onmiskenbaar.
Toch jammer.

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4 Comments

  1. Difficult one. But doesn’t Corten Steel also rust away ultimately too, so that it isn’t a long term solution?

  2. Well, I think the material was chosen for it’s ability to remain intact for at least 30 years. It probably should, to justify the cost involved -public funding, and all. I did write ‘forever’, but it will still be a long time. I hope (sort of expect) to be around for the next replacement, though ;-).

    And it’s not necessarily the material I have problems with, it is the way and extent in which it is poking out of the ground. This is (informally, and not necessarily at Het Loo) justified by either the cost of the material or by the fact that it has a soil-like colour.
    But that -in my view- doesn’t really ‘fly’ when you combine the material with a parterre that for the most part consists of coloured gravel and green hegdes.
    Nor when you let it stick out from the soil this high.

  3. I wonder (only very casually and reflectively) whether if it had been part of the original design (I know – impossible) that would give it a different ‘feel’?

    But maybe you should just visit in dead of night with a club hammer?

    Xxx

  4. Haha, that would mean 25 km of club-hammering for me, I’m not sure how well that is going to go…

    Your have a good point, of course. But as far as we know, it is not just a variation on a theme. It is a relatively new phenomenon, which (can’t stress that enough) in my view is growing out of proportion.

    Designing, creating and maintaining garden features is essentially about wanting them to look a certain way, and about solving the myriad of bigger and smaller problems that arise from that wish.
    It is in the elegance of the chosen solutions where the best gardens distinguish themselves from the lesser and mediocre ones. And here, at Het Loo, I miss that elegance.

    I’m not saying that the parterre is mediocre, let alone the whole ensemble. But the details should not just be about solving practical issues. And these parterres do give that impression.

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