...the Porter Garden Telescope. Russell Porter was an artist, engineer, and amateur astronomer/telescope maker, and in the 1920s in Springfield, Vermont he made some number (at least 53, according to the highest serial number found, but the exact count is unknown) of what must surely be the most beautiful telescope ever manufactured, designed specifically for the garden. Only 14 are known to survive, one in the Smithsonian museum.
Porter combined all he knew of art and science in an art nouveau style masterpiece made like an unfurling flower with a mirror at its heart. The bronze housing was designed to remain outside, mounted on a plinth like a traditional garden sundial (if oriented correctly it could in fact operate as one) and the optical components were removable, to be used for viewing biplanes and other heavenly apparitions if the weather was fair and kept safely inside if not.
[Period images are from stellafane, the home of Springfield Vermont Astronomy, which owns several of the original Porters. They are seeking the watercolor (second image above), which was stolen from their collection. Modern photos are from Edmund optics, who provide the optical components for the reproduction telescope. Images of one of the original garden telescopes can be seen at a fansite here]
When people hear I have a master's degree in Garden History, their first response is often to laugh. It does have something of the underwater-basket-weaving ring to it. Next they're surprised, as I myself was initially, to find out that it is in fact a serious and scholarly 'field' of study; much like architectural history, only about landscapes instead of buildings. Then, then, they're fascinated. It only takes a little explaining for them to catch on that gardens are so much more than just a pretty place. So much more than just a collection of plants. I hope to share what, and why, with this blog.
History begins with the last moment. So this blog will also include recent garden history...spaces and objects of interest now, as well as what is past. No generation has a lock on what is beautiful or innovative, so the best understanding, the best design, the most satisfying garden places, have something of both past and present, now and then.